Daniel Lunney, Lisa O’Neill, Alison Matthews, Dionne Coburn and Chris Moon
[Update of EMR summary – Lunney, Daniel, Lisa O’Neill, Alison Matthews and Dionne Coburn ( 2000) “Contribution of community knowledge of vertebrate fauna to management and planning. Ecological Management & Restoration, 1:3, . 175-184. https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1046/j.1442-8903.2000.00036.x]
Key words: national parks, SEPP 44, adaptive management, social criteria, extinction, wildlife survey, coastal forests.
Introduction. Our EMR feature published in 2000 reported on research that commenced in 1997 when we set out to identify the species and locations of the vertebrate fauna of Iluka peninsula, at the mouth of the Clarence River NSW, Australia. Much of the peninsula had been damaged by post war sand mining and creeping urban growth. We had recognised that there was a growing interest by local communities in conserving biodiversity (Fig 1), as Iluka had residential areas not far from a magnificent Nature Reserve (Iluka NR) and a National Park (Bundjalung NP). We conducted a community-based survey, sent to every household, which used a large, coloured map of the peninsula and a questionnaire asking respondents to mark the locations of the fauna they had seen. As a result of the survey, we concluded that vertebrate fauna does live on private land, that local knowledge is valuable, and that there is both community concern over declining fauna and support for planning, management and long-term fauna research.
The rise of citizen science. We were not the first to use a community-based survey for wildlife in NSW. A team (Philip Reed and Dan Lunney) in 1986-87 greatly expanded on some skilled, but tentative, efforts to survey Koala (Phascolarctos cinereus) in NSW by the small but effective Fauna Protection Panel. We produced a small questionnaire, which was distributed in 1986, and when we came to analysing the data in 1987, we joined up with CSIRO scientist Paul Walker who had a new tool, GIS, still in its infancy, but which showed great promise. By the time of the Iluka study, GIS was central to our methods.
Over the last 20 years there has been a revolution in the acquisition and application of community knowledge (Figs 2 and 3), a better appreciation of its extent, and limitations, and how to better integrate a greater diversity of disciplines for a more effective planning and management outcome. A Google Scholar search for ‘citizen science’ in July 2019 returned over 2 million results, establishing this phrase in the scientific literature to describe projects that enlist the community for collecting or analyzing scientific data. The rise and success of citizen science undoubtedly stems from the power of the internet and web-based tools that members of the public can use to record species’ locations, providing answers to such questions as: is a species increasing, decreasing or stable? – answers to which increase the capacity for managers and planners to be better targeted in their decisions. Such web-based technology also helps to overcome resource limitations where scale is an important factor. For example, for our 2006 state-wide koala and other wildlife survey we put a major effort into the distribution of the survey, a paper form with a large map. Now, the current 2019 survey is web-based, a procedure we explored in north-west NSW in 2014 where we selected the study area to be 200 by 300 km.
A further innovation comes from linking sociology to ecology and expanding the term from citizen science to ‘crowd-sourced information’. An example is a study in the four local government areas just north of Iluka, namely Lismore, Byron, Ballina and Tweed. The sociological side, led by Greg Brown, used the threatened koala as a case in point. The study demonstrated a novel, socio-ecological approach for identifying conservation opportunity that spatially connected landscapes with community preferences to prioritize koala recovery strategies at a regional scale. When multiple criteria (ecological, social, and economic) were included in the conservation assessment, we found the social acceptability criterion exerted the greatest influence on spatial conservation priorities. While this is a long way from our 1997 Iluka study, it is in the same lineage and represents two decades of development of what has become a widely accepted approach to regional planning.
Lessons learned and future directions. Looking back at the Iluka story, in one sense, it is a sorry one. When we first started our research on the Iluka peninsula in 1990, there was a visible population of koalas. It dwindled to extinction over the next decade so the locations of koalas in our EMR paper were of recent but fading memories. By defining our study area to a small location, it was possible to identify the cumulative impact of mining, housing, disease, roadkill, dog kill and fire. There have been reports of koalas being back on the peninsula as early as 2002 (Kay Jeffrey, local resident) and there have been subsequent sightings (John Turbill DPIE pers comm August 2019), we presume moving down from such locations as the northern part of Bundjalung National Park
Looking back on our EMR paper, we also see that the Emu (Dromaius novaehollandiae) was one of the most common species recorded by the community on the Iluka peninsula. It has now gone (John Turbill DPIE, pers. comm., August 2019). The coastal Emu population in northern New South Wales is now recognized as being under threat and a citizen science project called ‘Caring for our Coastal Emus’ has been established to collect recent emu sightings from the public using a web-based emu register to pin-point locations on a map. This register is administered by Clarence Valley Council and reflects the shift from the 1990s where the tools and expertise for collecting scientific data for management and planning were beyond the scope of local government. Today, local councils are considerably more engaged in conservation and community education projects. Indeed, the Clarence Valley Council (2015) has prepared a Comprehensive Koala Plan of Management (CKPoM) for the lower Clarence, which includes Iluka, although it was not adopted beyond council level. The plan recognizes the importance of reducing further clearing and protecting and rehabilitating those areas that remain, and identifies that further studies and monitoring are required to establish the current status of the Iluka koala population.
In the early 1990s, we had prepared a possible plan of management for the koalas of Iluka peninsula but there was no legal incentive to adopt it. Thus, in late 1994, when one of us (DL) was asked by the then NSW Department of Planning and Urban Affairs to help write a SEPP (State Environmental Planning Policy) for koala habitat protection, the potential value of doing so was clear to us. SEPP 44 was written in three days, with a promise to revise it in 1995. SEPP 44 has proved to be valuable, although in recent years, the process of preparing and submitting CKoPMs from councils to the NSW state government seems to have stalled.
In conclusion, our EMR feature was written at the time of an upward inflection in the study of koalas, of fauna survey using crowd-sourced information. We are now better equipped to use the new techniques from over three decades of what might be described as adaptive management of the ideas in our original EMR paper. We also press the point that research, exploring new ideas, incorporating new techniques and publishing our findings and thoughts make a crucial contribution to conserving not only koalas, but all our wildlife and natural areas, both in and out of reserves. Such research is therefore vital to the survival of our wildlife.
Stakeholders and Funding bodies: In addition to the funding bodies in our EMR paper of 2000, support for the research supporting the above comments has been extensive, as reflected in the acknowledgements section of each report.
Contact. Daniel Lunney, Department of Planning, Industry and Environment NSW, (PO Box 1967, Hurstville NSW 2220 and the University of Sydney, NSW 2006. firstname.lastname@example.org).