Advice to the Minister for the Environment from the Threatened Species Scientific Committee on Amendments to the List of Key Threatening Processes under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999.
Fire regimes that cause declines in biodiversity include the full range of fire-related ecological processes that directly or indirectly cause persistent declines in the distribution, abundance, genetic diversity or function of species or ecological communities. There is now strong scientific evidence that certain fire regimes threaten the persistence of much of Australia’s biodiversity, even though it evolved through recurring fires over tens of millions of years. Particular fire regimes (combinations of fire frequency, intensity, season and type), their landscape patterns and their interactions with other processes (e.g., drought, introduced species, disease, certain human activities) have been identified as a threat to more than 800 native species and 65 ecological communities listed as threatened under Australian legislation as at December 2020 (DAWE, 2021a). These numbers are likely to increase as further data emerge on the impacts of bushfires in 2019-20, making fire regimes that cause declines in biodiversity one of the most pervasive threats to Australia’s biodiversity. The fire regimes that cause declines in biodiversity involve a diverse array of mechanisms. Indigenous people know many of them as ‘wrong-way’ fires, recognising the very complex intersection between fire regimes that cause declines in biodiversity with those that are inappropriate for culture and healthy country. While acknowledging the complexity of fire, culture and country, this Key Threatening Process listing describes which fire regimes cause declines of particular groups of species and ecological communities.
Fire regimes that cause declines in biodiversity vary across Australia between landscapes and climate types. The mechanisms that underpin fire-related threats are diverse - different fire regimes have been shown to disrupt life cycles or degrade habitats in various ways, depending on the characteristics of different species and ecological communities. How fire regimes threaten biota also varies across Australia between landscapes, habitats and climate types, and differ substantially between northern, central and southern Australia. Also, their impacts depend on contextual factors including drought, predation, herbivore activity, disease, and weed invasion.
While some fire regimes threaten species directly by reducing their survival and/or reproduction, many impacts of fire regimes on biodiversity are indirect, either because they alter habitats, disrupt dependencies among species, or exacerbate impacts of other threats. Fire regimes that threaten biodiversity may also degrade ecosystem functions, reducing the capacity of ecosystems to sustain native flora and fauna and to supply ecosystem services that support human well-being and livelihoods.
This Advice describes the suite of fire-related processes that threaten Australian biodiversity and demonstrates that ‘Fire regimes that cause declines in biodiversity’ is eligible for listing as a Key Threatening Process under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 because it meets all 3 listing criteria:
- it could cause a native species or an ecological community to become eligible for listing in any category, other than conservation dependent;
- it could cause a listed threatened species or a listed threatened ecological community to become eligible to be listed in another category representing a higher degree of endangerment;
- it adversely affects 2 or more listed threatened species (other than conservation dependent species) or 2 or more listed threatened ecological communities.
Minister’s reasons for decision not to have a Threat Abatement Plan under s 270A(2) EPBC Act
Date of decision – 19/7/2022:
Despite evolving through recurring fires over tens of millions of years, there is now strong evidence that certain fire regimes are threatening much of Australia’s biodiversity. Particular fire regimes, their landscape patterns and interactions with other processes (such as drought and introduced species) have been identified as a threat to more than 800 species and 65 ecological communities listed as threatened under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (EPBC Act).
'Fire regimes that cause declines in biodiversity' is listed under the EPBC Act as a key threatening process. Having regard to advice of the Threatened Species Scientific Committee and outcomes of government and public consultation, I have decided not to have a threat abatement plan for this key threatening process at this time.
Preparation of a threat abatement plan is not the most effective or efficient way to complement and coordinate these efforts of governments, land managers, knowledge experts, and First Nations people and communities, who are working hard to improve fire planning, management and recovery. We will need to build on these efforts and work collaboratively to effectively manage the adverse impact of fire on biodiversity. The statutory requirements of a threat abatement plan are likely to limit our ability to develop an effective plan, and impose significant, unnecessary transaction costs and delays.
Instead of a threat abatement plan, I will support development of alternative approaches to reducing the risk of fire to Australia’s biodiversity, including stronger action on climate change. This should be developed collaboratively, complement existing efforts and improve coordination.
In line with statutory requirements, I will again consider whether to have a threat abatement plan within five years of this decision.
Minister for the Environment and Water, Tanya Plibersek