Image for Tasmanian Government killing off last 2000 Swift Parrots

• Tasmania Government ignores scientific advice on logging impacts, withdraws from recovery efforts
• Federal Environment Minister Greg Hunt refuses to act
• ANU scientists say parrot’s endangered status should be increased to critically endangered

The Tasmanian Government is driving the endangered Swift Parrot to extinction, government documents obtained by the Wilderness Society under freedom of information have revealed.

Last year the Tasmanian Government quietly changed its rules to allow the parrot’s breeding habitat to be destroyed by logging and withdrew from the Recovery Team, the national multi-agency expert group tasked with saving the species. The documents also show that Australian Environment Minister Greg Hunt has repeatedly refused to act to protect one of Australia’s most endangered animals.

“The actions and failures of the Tasmanian and Australian governments are driving the Swift Parrot to extinction. It’s that simple,” said Wilderness Society National Forest Campaign Manager Warrick Jordan.

“This is clear evidence that the whole system for protecting nature is fundamentally broken. The legal framework for logging in this country is a total farce that favours destroying nature.

“There are only 2000 Swift Parrots left, but the Tasmanian Government has quietly rewritten its own logging rules so it can ignore scientific advice not to log critical habitat and has withdrawn from the expert recovery team to avoid scrutiny. Under a Regional Forest Agreement (RFA), the Australian Government can stick its head in the sand and avoid responsibility for enforcing national nature protection laws.

“The Swift Parrot is well known to many Australians, visiting backyards in South Australia, Victoria, New South Wales and southern Queensland, but logging is destroying the nests where Swift Parrot pairs breed every summer in Tasmania.

“The Swift Parrot is a national responsibility but Australian Environment Minister Greg Hunt refuses to act, saying it’s Tasmania’s responsibility. If the minister can’t or won’t act in a situation where the damage is so clear and preventable, what is the point of Australian laws to keep nature safe for our kids?

“The Tasmanian RFA, which exempts logging operations from national environment laws, is currently being reviewed. If Mr Hunt genuinely feels his hands are tied, the RFA and nature protection laws should be reformed now before the RFA is extended for another 20 years and the Swift Parrot is lost forever.

“The FOI documents also show that ANU scientists have applied to the Australian Government to list the Swift Parrot as critically endangered. This literally means that this Australian animal will soon disappear forever without real action to save it.”

Key quotes from FOI documents …

1. Swift parrot status, threats, and adequacy of protection

Document 2: Critically Endangered Nomination

“Land clearing for plantation development and native forest silviculture has dramatically reduced landscape cover of nesting and foraging habitat for swift parrots. Across Tasmania, forest loss has been severe at all swift parrot important bird areas (SPIBAs) except Maria Island which support the bulk of critical swift parrot breeding habitat … Habitat loss and alteration has continued unabated in these critical areas over the same time period when swift parrots have been the subject of recovery plans highlighting the contribution of forest loss to the decline of the species.” 

“Swift Parrots are known to be seriously threatened indirectly by the loss of habitat via loss of breeding sites (tree cavities) and feeding sites (flowering trees) … across the range of the swift parrot, there is little evidence to show that conservation prescriptions aimed at ensuring that … ‘the species conservation status is maintained or improved’ … are effective. In contrast, there is strong evidence that forest loss is associated with dramatically reduced survival of swift parrots …”

“The most recent population estimate for swift parrots is 2000 birds … However, the authors of this nomination contend that most published swift parrot [numbers]… probably represent a substantial overestimate of the population size.”

Document 11: Swift Parrot Recovery Team Minutes May 20 2014

“Swift parrots need very specific hollow types … Mainland Tasmania forest loss and sugar glider predation severity were found to be correlated. There is now a need to think about how this relationship works and whether forest cover drives glider predation levels … Regarding forest management actions to deal with this issue it was pointed out that Forestry Tasmania is only obliged to retain 5% of a forest coupe for swift parrot habitat protection.” 2. Tasmanian Government (DPIPWE) non participation in Recovery Team

Document 20: Email to Recovery Team re April 8, 2015 meeting (March 25, 2015)

“Regarding participation by DPIPWE I can inform the team that [REDACTED] (CC’d here) on behalf of the DPIPWE have confirmed that ‘DPIPWE will not be participating in the Recovery Team under the current arrangements and that re-engagement will be dependent on consideration and endorsement of the Swift parrot Recovery Teams Terms of Reference by jurisdictions’.”

Document 28: Draft Recovery Team meeting minutes April 8, 2015

“Tasmanian update a) DPIPWE recovery team representation

“Serious concern at lack of representation by Tasmanian team members. Urgent need for Tasmania’s environment agency to be actively involved in recovery process. Recovery team needs to communicate with relevant management levels for reasons why DPIPWE are not being represented on the team.”
 
3. Correspondence with Minister Hunt

Document 30: [REDACTED] stakeholder email March 24, 2015

“Dear Minister Hunt,

I’m sure you are aware the Tasmanian Government is enthusiastically pursuing the renewal of logging in the breeding area of the endangered Swift Parrot despite clear evidence this will put extreme pressure on the viability of the species and the strong advice from experts against logging these areas.

I look forward to you exercising powers and meeting your ministerial responsibilities to protect endangered species with an injunction to prevent logging in swift parrot breeding areas. How soon are you going to do this?

Sincerely [REDACTED]”

Document 31: response to stakeholder from Minister Hunt

“I refer to your email of 24 March 2015 concerning the endangered swift parrot … Forestry operations conducted in accordance with RFAs are exempt from the provisions of the Environmental Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act1999 (EPBC Act) … Provision for the protection of threatened species under the Tasmanian RFA include that forestry operations must be undertaken in accordance with approved threatened species recovery plans, such as for the swift parrot … I note your concerns regarding the conservation of the swift parrot in Tasmania. However, if the forestry operations referred to in your email are being undertaken in accordance with the Tasmanian RFA, any concern about these operations should be directed to the Tasmanian Government …

Greg Hunt”

Document 32: TWS-ACF-ET-Birdlife Tasmania letter May 23, 2015

“It is our clear view that the Swift parrot is not being protected in line with the EPBC Act (1999), that there is a clear failure to effectively implement Objectives 1 and 2 of the Swift parrot Recovery Plan on the part of the Tasmanian Government, and that the requirements of the Tasmanian Regional Forest Agreement to protect Priority Species are not functionally being met.

“… the forest practices code ‘duty of care’ provisions … effectively restrict the area of a forest operation that can be set aside to protect threatened species to just 10%.

“… we formally request that as federal Minister for the Environment with ultimate responsibility for protecting MNES, you initiate a departmental investigation into the effectiveness of Tasmanian legislation, regulation and practice in protecting this species.

“We also request the Commonwealth ensure substantial, sufficient and enforceable habitat protection improvements in line with the extensive and expanding body of research to ensure the Swift parrot is protected in practice… [and]… immediate action is taken to prevent further damage to the species’ by ensuring logging and/or clearing is halted in Swift Parrot Breeding Areas while improvement are made.”

Document 33: Minister Hunt response to TWS May 12, 2015

“As you would be aware, forestry operations conducted in accordance with RFAs are exempt from the provisions of the Environmental Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (EPBC Act) … The management of forestry operations under the Tasmanian RFA, including the planning and development of reserves, is a matter for the Tasmanian Government.”

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