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The impacts of salinity are also wider than lost agricultural production and include damage to water resources, biodiversity, pipelines, houses and roads. Salinity harms Australia's biodiversity (primarily through loss of habitat), while saline water damages bitumen and concrete.
The number of threatened species is one aspect of biodiversity that can be measured with some precision (graph 3.17). The Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (Cwlth) classifies listed threatened species into six categories - extinct, extinct in the wild, critically endangered, endangered, vulnerable, and conservation dependent. Since the introduction of this Act, the number of listed threatened fauna rose by nearly 20% from 323 to 384 (of which 130 were birds and 117 were mammals). In June 2006, about half of these species were vulnerable, a third were more seriously threatened (endangered) and the remainder were presumed extinct. There were increases in the numbers of endangered and vulnerable species, but the rise in species assessed as vulnerable was much lower (12%) than those assessed as endangered (23%). Increases may reflect taxonomic revisions and improved reporting, not necessarily a change in conservation status.
Table 3.18 details the current list of threatened species, both flora and fauna, as assessed under the Act.
Natural resource management (NRM)
Although Australia's biodiversity continues to be threatened by many factors, much is being done to protect native flora and fauna. One such measure is the protection of land and sea areas (and their biodiversity) inside conservation reserves. National parks and other protected areas are regions (of land and/or sea) specially dedicated to the protection of biodiversity and other natural and cultural resources. They are established under Commonwealth, state or territory laws or by other legal means. All governments participate in the development of a comprehensive, adequate and representative national reserve system as part of Australia's obligation under the United Nations Biodiversity Convention established in 1993.
Most national parks and other protected areas in Australia are declared and managed by state and territory governments although, during the last decade, some protected areas have been established which are managed by conservation or other groups. Declaration and management of Indigenous protected areas - Indigenous-owned land that is managed to protect its natural and associated cultural values - began in 1998.
The area of conservation reserves in each state and territory is recorded in the Collaborative Australian Protected Areas Database (CAPAD) <http://www.deh.gov.au/parks/nrs/capad> (last viewed August 2007) using the World Conservation Union (IUCN) classification system of protected areas. The classification system comprises seven categories based on the main (or primary) management intent of protected areas as follows:
With 63% of Australian land in private ownership, efforts to protect biodiversity now extend beyond the reserve system into some of this private land. This occurs through community landcare groups and conservation agreements made between landholders and governments. Some companies and community groups also operate conservation reserves. Indigenous communities are also involved in managing land, for example, Kakadu, Uluru - Kata Tjuta National Parks (Northern Territory) and the Booderee National Park and Botanic Gardens (New South Wales) are all managed jointly with traditional owners and the Australian Government. This provides an emphasis on maintaining and strengthening traditional ties with the land, which relies heavily on ensuring the land and the ecosystems it supports are in good shape.
In 2004-05, farmers reported having 324 million hectares of native vegetation on their land. This represents 73% of total agricultural land in Australia. A significant proportion of this reported area was in the rangelands, an area outside the cleared intensive land use zone. Farmers often reported these large rangeland areas as being covered entirely by uncleared native vegetation.
Farmers in Australia spent over $3.3b preventing and/or managing NRM issues and more than $1.1b to prevent or manage weeds in 2004-05. While weed activities were the most costly in dollar terms, it was land and soil issues which, on average, proved the most time consuming. On average, agricultural establishments undertaking land and soil activities spent 51 person days of effort on these activities. Of the agricultural industries, the Grain growing industry spent the most overall on NRM in 2004-05 (approximately $772m), followed by the Beef cattle industry ($639m).
NRM issues were reported as being present on 86.5% (112,357) of agricultural establishments in 2004-05, whereas 92% (119,417) reported undertaking some form of activity to prevent and/or manage these issues (table 3.20). This suggests a number of farmers preventively managed their holdings in order to avoid NRM issues affecting their land.
Decreased value of production and decreased value of holding were the two most common impacts of reported weed issues across Australia in 2004-05. Approximately 82% of agricultural establishments in New South Wales with weed issues reported decreased value of production as one of the weed issues. Increased fire risk also rated highly across the states and territories, but particularly so in the Northern Territory where 62% of agricultural establishments with weed issues reported this as a concern.
In 2004-05, decreased livestock production (63%) and decreased crop production or crop damage (60%) were the main impacts reported by agricultural establishments with pest issues. Decreased crop production or crop damage were particularly prevalent in Tasmania (79%), Western Australia (77%) and South Australia (72%). Approximately a quarter of agricultural establishments with pest issues reported damage to native vegetation as an impact.
Erosion, soil acidity and soil compaction were commonly reported land and soil issues across most states and territories. Dryland salinity was particularly significant in Western Australia, where 44% of agricultural establishments with land and soil issues reported this problem. Surface waterlogging also caused problems in Tasmania (51%) and Western Australia (41%).
The most frequently reported water issues in 2004-05 were surface and ground water availability, coinciding with the drought conditions experienced in many parts of Australia at that time. Surface water availability was a particularly significant issue in New South Wales and Queensland, where approximately 73% of agricultural establishments with water issues reported this as an issue in these states. The drought affecting eastern Australia during 2004-05 was also evident in the Australian Capital Territory, where 78% of agricultural establishments with water issues reported surface water availability as a major issue.
The generation and disposal of waste is an environmental issue of increasing importance. In 2002-03, Australians generated more than 32 mill. tonnes of solid waste, in excess of 1,600 kilograms of waste per person (table 3.21). Of this amount, approximately 27% of solid waste came from municipal sources, 29% from the commercial and industrial sector, and 42% from the construction and demolition sector.
In 2002-03, of the total waste generated (32.4 mill. tonnes), more than half (54%) was disposed to landfill and the remainder was recycled. Recycling has increased over the last 20 years to the point where it is a widely accepted part of waste management activities in Australia. Recycling in 2002-03 accounted for 57% of construction and demolition waste generated (7.8 mill. tonnes), 44% of commercial and industrial waste generated (4.2 mill. tonnes), and 30% of municipal waste generated (2.7 mill. tonnes). Waste recovered for recycling in 2002-03 was approximately 15 mill. tonnes. Table 3.22 shows an increase in waste generation per person, and a decline in waste to landfill achieved through a large increase in recycling over the period 1996-97 to 2002-03. The Environment chapter contains more information about household waste management practices and recycling.