The Australian National University recently released ‘Australia’s Environment in 2019’ which is a scorecard that aims to provide insight into the condition and trajectory of natural resources and ecosystems across Australia. The information shared in the scorecard has been analysed and interpreted from a large amount of station, satellite and survey data.
We asked South West Catchments Council’s two Program Managers, Dr Mike Christensen and Dr Brian Chambers to comment on the findings of the scorecards.
Q: How does the scorecard for the SW compare to other regions in WA? In Australia? What are the overall trends?
A: The scorecard for the South West Natural Resource Management Region shows that the overall condition of our environment has declined over the past 12 months. This is consistent with the changes observed in the other NRM regions in WA and across the country more generally. The reduction in the condition of the environment has been driven by a number of factors including low rainfall and increased temperatures due to climate change and drought in certain areas. These two factors have driven declines in a range of indicators including soil moisture, river flows and vegetation condition. Overall, the trends observed in the SWCC region and across the country is that the condition of our environment is continuing to decline, an issue that we need to address as a matter of urgency.
Q: What does this scorecard actually mean for the South West, is the future looking bleak or are we doing OK?
A: Ongoing decline in the condition of our natural environment needs to be addressed as this decline will result in a reduction in agricultural production and in the general quality of life that can be expected in our region. The scorecard is yet another example of how each of us needs to do their part to reduce their impact on the environment and work towards living more sustainably.
Q: Can you explain some of the results for us?
A: Tree cover is quite consistent with a small drop from 2018-2019. Part of this is measurement variation, but the harvesting of timber plantations is the primary driver of this change. Bushfire extent shows that the 2019 bushfire season was about average.
A number of the results in the scorecard clearly demonstrate some of the threats faced by our native species. Declining rainfall and river flows are impacting on our native fish and crustaceans and the general heath of our wetland ecosystems, as well as impacting on agricultural productivity and resilience. Declining vegetation condition impacts many other species such as the western ringtail possum and our iconic black cockatoos.
The scorecard largely neglects to mention insects, such as pollinators and other beneficial insects. This is partly because so little is known about them, but also because little is known about their importance in the scheme of things (as providers of ecosystems services). We’re hoping this will be addressed in future scorecards.
Q: What do we need to do to improve our result in future, are we on track to do this?
A: The primary driver of this decline in environmental condition is climate change. In order to improve this scorecard we all need to contribute to reducing carbon emissions. SWCC is stepping up its advocacy to government to put realistic and achievable actions in place to move our economy towards being carbon neutral. We are WA’s NRM representative on the Environmental Protection Authority’s Stakeholder Reference Group and have recently contacted a range of MPs to garner support for an environmental focus through the COVID-19 recovery period. Plus we’re driving our own initiatives independent of government, currently through investing effort in co-designing a carbon farming product that can have relevance and appeal to farmers in the productive agricultural zone.