As the only environmental NGO with a national focus on invasive species, the Invasive Species Council is tackling one of Australia’s most important and difficult conservation challenges. Invasive species threaten more biodiversity than any other factor apart from habitat loss and the majority of animal extinctions have been due to invasive species.
Australia needs stronger laws, policies and programs to prevent new invaders, and to eradicate, contain or control existing invaders. In working to close the gaps in Australia’s biosecurity net, ISC has the potential to make a huge difference to conservation of Australia’s unique wildlife and stunning landscapes.
Our achievements to date are in the form of bans on high-risk species, important policy reforms or steps on the way and greater public support for reform. Here are highlights of these achievements.
High risk invasive species
Preventing the introduction of new invasive organisms is the most effective and cost-effective approach to biosecurity. ISC advocates for policy reforms to prevent harmful new invaders and campaigns to prevent release and spread of particularly high-risk species.
- In 2012, the Rural Industries Research & Development Corporation instituted a requirement for risk assessment prior to research projects being initiated.
- In 2009, the federal government rejected an application to import bumblebees for horticulture.
- Research trials of giant reed in SA, promoted as a major biofuel crop, were discontinued in 2011.
- Other organisms have been refused entry into Australia including arowana (a predatory fish), savannah cats and barbary doves
Eradicating species once they have established is challenging but can be well worth a substantial short-term investment to prevent long-term biodiversity harm and much greater costs in the future. Apart from island eradication programs, most have been focused on agricultural threats. ISC has been a strong advocate to increase eradication efforts on environmental threats.
Red fire ants:
- In 2017 a $ten-year 411 M eradication program for south east Queensland was funded by national, state and territory government in part due to the national public awareness raising by ISC.
Yellow crazy ants:
- ISC supported community efforts that in 2016 secured $10.5M over three years for eradication from the Wet Tropics World Heritage Area.
- ISC pressured the Queensland Government in 2008-09 to survey timber yards for yellow crazy ants as part of an eradication attempt.
Mexican bean tree (Cecropia spp.):
- Cecropia species declared as a weed species by the Queensland government.
Containment and control
- Gamba grass, one of our very worst weeds with the potential to turn large areas of northern Australia into an exotic grass monoculture, declared and banned from sale.
- ISC spearheaded efforts to have feral deer recognised as a major threat to biodiversity in eastern Australia. In NSW, Victoria and Tasmania, deer are protected for hunters.
- A 2016 review by the NSW Natural Resources Commission recommended that the game status of deer be removed following strong representations from ISC.
- The Queensland government took action to prevent the spread of the carnivorous fish, tilapia.
Climate change and invasive species
Some of the greatest harms of climate change will arise from invasive species that benefit from new weather patterns and human actions. ISC has been at the forefront of raising awareness about threatening synergies between climate change and invasive species and the need for climate change adaptation programs to focus on invasive species.
- ISC was the first NGO in the world to focus attention on serious weed risks of proposed biofuel crops. Our widely cited 2007 report ‘The Weedy Truth about Biofuels’ was the first to assess the invasion risks of biofuels proposed for Australia. ISC assisted the Global Invasive Species Program to identify weedy biofuels for the World Bank. Our work was used to produce a Biofuels Information Exchange portal.
Corridors and invasive species:
- The House of Representatives Inquiry into climate change (2013) endorsed ISC’s proposal to focus on invasive species risks associated with wildlife corridors and the need for a greater focus on invasive threats in general.
- Publication of online bulletin, Double Trouble, summarising the latest science about the twin threats, with a global subscription base. We have also published paper and participated in conferences and workshops on the issue.
The rising influence of recreational hunting lobby groups in Australia is detrimental for feral animal policy and programs because they oppose effective control of prized ‘game animals’ (particularly deer), promote release of new invasive animals (eg. game birds) and divert resources from effective control programs. ISC has been influential in exposing these risks and campaigning to reduce their influence on policy.
Rejection of NSW Bill to promote hunting:
- ISC worked with other NGOs to successfully defeat the Game and Feral Animal Control Amendment Bill 2009, which included the establishment of game reserves, the release of exotic birds for hunting, and hunting in national parks.
Defeat of proposal for recreational hunting in national parks and abolishment of NSW Game Council:
- ISC played an important role in the successful National Parks Association of NSW campaign to defeat recreational hunting in national parks and the abolition of the NSW Game Council in 2013.
Feral animal control awareness:
- ISC’s critique of recreational hunting for feral animal control has built awareness within the conservation sector and general community about effective control programs.
Because of major gaps in Australia’s complex and inconsistent system of weed laws, the majority of environmental weed threats are unregulated. ISC has been working to promote a national approach, which would benefit both the environment and industry, and has also promoted reforms in some states.
Recognition of weed law gaps:
- The national review of Australia’s environmental law and a senate inquiry into threatened biodiversity recommended national reform to regulate environmental weeds.
- A 2014 review of weed management in NSW recommended a ban on the sale of weedy plants by plant nurseries.
- More funding for weed management in NSW national parks as a 2011 election commitment.
Action on particular weed threats:
- Highlighted risks of invasive pasture grasses promoted for salinity mitigation in southern Australia. Listing of tall wheat grass as a potentially threatening process in Victoria and for the Future Farm Industries CRC to withdraw support for its use. Declaration of two of Australia’s worst weeds – gamba grass and Cecropia – and greater caution with giant reed as a biofuel.
National law and institutional reform
ISC has been the main conservation advocate for invasive species reforms at a federal level, where biosecurity is mostly administered by the agricultural department. ISC’s challenge has been to persuade the government to take environmental threats more seriously, to implement an independent biosecurity authority with an expert biosecurity commission, and reform institutions and processes to engage with the environmental sector.
National inquiries and reviews:
- Building on the work of the Senate inquiry into environmental biosecurity (see below), the 2017 final report of the independent review of biosecurity accepted that environmental biosecurity needs to be given equal consideration to human health and agricultural production and recommended major structural changes to better address environmental risks.
- At the urging of ISC, a Senate inquiry into environmental biosecurity was established in June 2014. It reported in May 2015 and accepted many of the problems identified by ISC, referring to ISC evidence 85 times.
- Recommendations reflected ISC’s priorities in the following: a senate inquiry on weeds and pests (2004), a review of quarantine and biosecurity (2008), a review of federal environmental laws (2009), a House of Representatives Inquiry on climate change and biodiversity (2013) and the a senate inquiry into threatened species and communities (2013).
- ISC exposed a major loophole in Australia’s weed quarantine rules, which the federal government was forced to close under public pressure from a WWF campaign.
- Improved engagement of the biosecurity agency with environment groups, with our inclusion in a working group on new biosecurity laws and a community engagement working group.
One of the greatest barriers to effective action on invasive species is a lack of awareness within government and the general community, including within the conservation sector, about the severity and multiplicity of invasive species impacts. We aim to promote a more ecological view of invasive species in law, policies and programs, which have to date been largely shaped by an agricultural perspective
Coordination and awareness within the conservation sector:
- Greater recognition within the sector of invasive species threats and cooperation on issues. ISC’s proposals for reform of federal biosecurity laws and a new body, Environment Health Australia, endorsed by 28 NGOs.
- Poorly recognised invasive threats on the public and political agenda, through research and analysis of emerging issues, high quality publications, and media stories. Contributor of a chapter on Australian invasive species for an international encyclopaedia.
- Spoke at the 18th Global Biodiversity Forum in Cancun, Mexico, about ballast water, and participated in a workshop in South Africa on weedy acacias.