In October 2012, the Department of Environment and Conservation (DEC) released the Carnaby’s Cockatoo (Calyptorhynchus Latirostris) Recovery Plan (Recovery Plan). The Recovery Plan identifies objectives, performance criteria and actions required to assist the recovery of this endangered species over the next decade.
In particular, the Recovery Plan states that:
Carnaby’s cockatoo is specially protected under the Wildlife Conservation Act 1950 (WA) as fauna that is considered “likely to become extinct”. It is also listed as endangered under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (Cth) (EPBC Act); and
extensive clearing of nesting and feeding habitat during the 20th century is considered the primary reason for the decline in the Carnaby’s cockatoo’s population to endangered status. The critical habitat for the Carnaby’s cockatoo are the eucalypt woodlands used for breeding and the nearby vegetation that provides feeding, roosting and watering habitat, as well as vegetation that provides food resources in the non-breeding season.
Implications for development
The Recovery Plan states that Carnaby’s cockatoo is endemic to the South-West of Western Australia, and has a widespread distribution due to its highly mobile nature and seasonal migratory pattern.
Inevitably the birds will use private property, as well as public land, in the course of breeding, feeding, watering and night roosting.
The endangered status of the Carnaby’s cockatoo requires a level of protection be applied to all habitat necessary to conserve the species. Therefore, implications will arise for private land used by the species when development or activities that may impact the habitat are proposed.
Activities that could impact on the habitat of the Carnaby’s cockatoo include:
any activity or action that leads to the temporary or permanent loss of eucalypt woodlands, along with nearby feeding and watering habitat that support breeding;
any activity or action that leads to the temporary or permanent loss of native vegetation that forms habitat during the non-breeding season;
any action, including changes in land use and hydrology within catchments, that leads to cumulative loss or degradation of areas used for breeding;
the removal of extensive areas of commercial pine plantations on the Swan Coastal Plain (without adequate replacement); and
clearing of restored or revegetated areas of habitat.
Development or on–ground works that may result in a loss of Carnaby’s cockatoo habitat may require environmental impact assessment under the Environmental Protection Act 1986 (EP Act) and/or the EPBC Act.
In addition to the former, the Environmental Protection Authority (EPA) has indicated that it considers areas of Carnaby’s cockatoo habitat to be of high conservation significance and that it will be unlikely to recommend the approval of projects that will have significant adverse impact on the species.
Both the State and Commonwealth Governments have been discussing cooperative approaches to the assessment of urban land development proposals. This has included consideration of environmental offsets as conditions of approvals, such as funding for purchase of uncleared areas which contain like-for-like habitat, retaining vegetation on-site, planting new street trees and rehabilitation of nearby degraded sites.
Lavan Legal comment
Despite being a significant advance in providing much needed certainty to developers with habitat for Carnaby’s cockatoo, there still remains some questions as to:
what extent of clearing will trigger the requirement for assessment under the EP Act or the EPBC Act;
the scientific rigour of the findings underlying the Recovery Plan; and
how the Federal Department of Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities (SEWPaC) will interpret the Recovery Plan (if at all) in relation to assessments (current and future) under the EPBC Act.
A significant amount of work is still required to be done (at an industry level) to ensure certainty for developers and regulators moving forward in relation to the identification of relevant habitat and likely conditions and offset requirements.