I rarely get political on this blog, but what follows is an important part of my story, and of the struggle we’re in to try to save threatened species in Queensland.
A few years ago I resigned from my job in the Threatened Species Unit of the Queensland Government out of sheer frustration. I felt like I was hitting my head against a wall, and achieving very little for conservation. I had worked there for 7 years, in roles ranging from Senior Conservation Officer to Acting Director.
Yesterday the Queensland Audit Office released a report into Conserving Threatened Species in our state which summarises many of the reasons that I left. In particular:
…The department does not systematically plan where to deploy its available resources to achieve the most effective balance of actions to protect habitats, mitigate threats and reduce species decline. It is not clear how much the department spends each year in total on threatened species management as it does not effectively track and account for funding used on specific activities…
…With few exceptions, the department does not currently know how threatened species are faring and whether management actions are having the desired impact.
…The department’s decisions about which species receive its greatest conservation efforts are often determined by iconic value, individual interests, departmental knowledge and advocacy, rather than by objective assessments of appropriate priorities…
…Despite, managing land with over 1 000 threatened species and having a total 2017–18 budget of $111.3 million, the Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service (QPWS) does not identify specific allocations of funding for the protection and recovery of threatened species on the land it manages.
Sadly, the main recommendation of this report is more ‘plans’.
We don’t need another plan. We know that many species are in decline, but we also know – in great detail – what needs to be done.
We need the government to actually support and implement actions on the ground to DO SOMETHING. Now.
I am deeply troubled by what I have just described above. It means that the urgent issue of saving our biodiversity in Queensland is being completely mismanaged by the government department that is supposed to be the leader in this area. But I am glad that the concerns I have held for many years have been documented by the Queensland Audit Office. They are not just the gripes of one disgruntled employee. Let’s hope that some change will come, for the better.
I’d also like to stress that parts of the Queensland government still do strive to formulate science-based policy, and they do it well. E.g. the Queensland Herbarium. There are still good scientists working for the government who are allowed to excel at their work.
Many good groups and individuals are trying to conserve and recover threatened species across Queensland, and many are achieving great things. The government needs to support these people by identifying priorities, coordinating actions, managing up-to-date data and providing expert advice. It needs to invest resources and show leadership in the areas that a government body is best placed to act (e.g. scientific monitoring and analysis, the employment and training of species experts, and the management of public lands, just to name a few).
The scientific research most needed for conserving threatened species is often not ‘sexy’ or ‘novel’ enough to receive attention from Universities and academic funding bodies. This is where the government must step in. Essential tasks include measuring the abundance, distribution and population trends of species; identifying and quantifying threats; measuring the effectiveness of actions to counter threats, and basic ecology and life history studies.
On a lighter note, if the department I worked for had not been so dysfunctional, I would probably still be working there today. I may have even made some good progress to recover some of our threatened species.
But this blog would not have been created, nor would all the artwork, or the stories, or the books that you can find on these pages. Perhaps no nature journaling workshops either. So when one door closes, another opens. I’m a firm believer of that.
For those of us who care deeply about the environment, there are many, many different ways to try to make a difference in the world. You never really know which is the most effective thing you could be doing. Immediate and obvious results may not be far-reaching or long-lasting. Or you may have no idea that you’ve inspired a complete stranger, on the other side of the world, who will then go on to do amazing things.
I think the most important thing is to find something that you are good at, and that is sustainable for you. Then try your best. That’s all you can do.
Thanks for reading.