Associated Case Study:   South Eastern Australia

The following is a short description of policy and research questions of an accosiated case study of POLICYMIX.  Associated case studies are conducted by researchers not formally part of the POLICYMIX project, but with a research interest in exchanging guidelines, results and recommendations on the economic instruments for biodiversity conservation and ecosystem service provision.   This page will be continually updated as the case study is carried out during 2011-2013.

Author: Dr Stuart Whitten, CSIRO Ecosystem Sciences,, +61 2 62421683


1. Introduction
2. National/federal level case study
3. State and the local case studies

 1. Introduction



Australia is one of the 17 megadiverse biodiversity nations. Despite the efforts to manage biodiversity in Australia, biodiversity loss continues.  Land and water management and landuse conversion, including urban development, climate change, and invasive species are major threats facing biodiversity in Australia. These same factors have degraded the ecosystem services from many landscapes across Australia. 

Land use Australia

These same factors have degraded the ecosystem services from many landscapes across Australia. Compared to most temperate climate nations Australia has a relatively low proportion of forests with potential commercial use (2% of total land area) and an even smaller area under private management. In contrast woodlands are primarily privately managed and are critical for biodiversity; including a number of nationally threatened ecosystems (listed under the Australian Government Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation (EPBC) Act 1999) such as box gum grassy woodlands, peppermint box woodlands, and weeping myall woodlands. These woodlands are also listed as threatened communities under similar State (province level) legislation. Woodland ecological communities are subject to similar transition processes as forest ecosystems in many countries.

Woodland biodiversity is threatened because they are poorly conserved, highly fragmented, and have largely been cleared and converted to an agricultural landuse matrix where ongoing landuse conversion and degradation threatens biodiversity values. Degradation tends to follow a trajectory starting with grazing by domesticated livestock, proceeding via addition of nutrients and fodder species, and finally replacement of native vegetation by introduced crops and pastures.

A critical issue in the biodiversity and ecosystem service settings under consideration is the need to reconstruct the landscape to provide the basis for functional ecological persistence of biodiversity in the face of ongoing threats. The focus is proposed to be on the policy mix(es) that are able to support landscape reconstruction, downplaying the necessity of being able to measure success in landscape reconstruction (for which other research is ongoing in CSIRO and other organizations in Australia).

2. National/federal level case study

The national level case study is proposed to focus on box gum grassy woodlands and related overlapping or related threatened ecological communities (such as weeping myall woodlands, grey box woodlands, and a range of native grasslands). This community is of interest because of the ecological richness of the community and the ongoing threats to its viability.

Conservation status and objectives
The ecological community formerly covered more than 5 million hectares across the region illustrated in Figure 1 below. It is estimated that less than 5% of this community remains in good condition ( There has been significant and ongoing government investment in these grassy woodlands through a variety of different programs and at different levels of government indicating the continuing policy relevance and interest in further policy reform. 

The draft recovery objectives for this community which can be extended to most ecological communities in this region (which are also extensively cleared or modified) are 1:  

Figure 1: Distribution of box gum grassy woodlands.
  • achieving no net loss in extent and condition of the ecological community throughout its geographic distribution;
  • increasing protection of sites in good condition;
  •  increasing landscape functionality of the ecological community through management and restoration of degraded sites;
  • increasing transitional areas around remnants and linkages between remnants; and
  • bringing about enduring changes in participating land manager attitudes and behaviours towards environmental protection and sustainable land management practices to increase extent, integrity and function of Box-Gum Grassy Woodland.. 


Recovery to date has focused on reducing loss of the remaining ecosystem inclusive of the ecosystem service benefits that this is likely to provide. Future investment is likely to be increasingly focused on achieving a sound basis for functional ecological persistence of the community in specific landscapes. It is this broad objective that frames this case study. 

2.1 Main economic instruments in use in forest/biodiversity conservation and related regulatory instruments

A range of instruments have been applied to the protection and management of grassy woodlands through a mixed set of delivery approaches. The primary responsibility for natural resource management (including biodiversity) lies at the state government level in Australia. Federal government interest in grassy woodland management is primarily driven by identification as an ecological community of national importance.

Regulatory instruments are intended to prevent direct loss of biodiversity through landuse clearing and other direct impacts. At the state level there are vegetation clearing laws which are intended to eliminate broad-scale clearing in each of the states (for example in NSW the Native Vegetation Act 2003). Similar protection is given at the national level for listed communities via the EPBC Act 1999.

A range of other interventions have also been undertaken at the national and state scale as follows including notes on the primary delivery pathway.

Information approaches were prevalent during early phases of intervention and continue to provide important elements today.  These include activities such as:

  • Information campaigns direct to landholders, via the internet, field days and other delivery  paths. These are undertaken by government, quasi-government (CMAs, Land for Wildlife) and not  for profit organizations such as Greening Australia;
  • Management advice through Catchment Management Authorities which are regional organizations  (some statutory and some incorporated) intended to provide a conduit for advice and funding  of natural resource management to private landholders; and
  • Demonstration projects illustrating options for improved landscape management (these were an  important component of the National Landcare initiative in the late 1980s and early 1990s).

Incentive based approaches have become increasingly important through time. Investments are usually a joint program between state and federal governments, however more the more recent focus on grassy woodlands under the Australian Government Environmental Stewardship Program is a stand alone national initiative. Again a variety of approaches and delivery pathways have been used including:

  • Various taxation initiatives intended to reduce the cost to landholders of improved natural resource management (with relatively little uptake);
  • Cost share grants which required landholders to invest a minimum amount, or proportion of total project costs. These were the favoured investment pathway during the 1990s under a range of government programs. Entry to these programs was partially first come – first served and partly competitive favouring a mix of environmental benefits and reduced costs to government;
  • Non-cost share grant programs (similar in operation to previous); and
  • Incentive payments through conservation auctions have been introduced most recently through the Australian Government Environmental Stewardship Program.

Other approaches that have also been applied in parallel or in coordination with regulatory, information and incentive approaches include:

  • Biodiversity offset programs are in place at the state level and under the EPBC Act 1999 requiring damage to ecological communities to be offset by at least an equivalent improvement in quantity or condition elsewhere;
  • Revolving funds are in place in each state providing purchase, covenant, re-sale opportunities;
  • Conservation covenants or equivalent legal protection measures are available at the national, state and in some cases the local government level; and
  • Not for profit environmental groups are also prevalent but less active in agricultural settings.

An important change to the targeting of investment has occurred more recently through the Australian Government’s Environmental Stewardship program. This program specifically targets management of grassy woodlands for their conservation value and is intended to deliver an improvement in condition and extent of the ecological community. A second feature of the environmental stewardship program is an evolution from investment only within the defined ecological community towards investment in the surrounding agricultural landuse matrix with the objective of improving the condition of the grassy woodland ecosystem. Future investment is likely to target landscape reconstruction with an objective of enhancing functional ecological persistence of grassy woodland meta-communities (see below).

2.2 New instruments under consideration or to be assessed  

Governments are moving towards increased use of market based approaches to their investments in conserving and managing ecological services. Two changes to existing approaches are currently being discussed (and are likely to be implemented in some form): 

  • Landscape approaches to conservation auctions: conservation auctions to date have been assessed on the basis of marginal gain at the paddock scale (i.e. usually modeled improvement in condition of the specified area under contract). An alternate approach is to model the predicted marginal improvement to the probability of persistence of a meta-community or to landscape ecological health. A modified metric for conservation auctions has recently been developed that extends their focus to activities in the agricultural matrix with impacts on the specified grassy woodland site (evaluating the effectiveness of this approach is anticipated in the near future). The revised conservation auction design will also require innovation in implementation to ensure that the ecological benefits from coordinated bids occur (for example through some form of information feedback to landholders or a modified agglomeration bonus).
  • Extension of EPBC listing to threatened landscapes (anticipated as a result of recent review): this will assist the integrated investment in meta-populations and meta-communities by encompassing the heterogeneity of vegetation communities found in landscapes and facilitate enhanced consideration of the positive and negative effects of different activities in the landscape with respect to the conservation objective.

3. State and the local case studies

There are several opportunities available for state and local case studies of specific instruments or specific attributes of instruments. We propose to negotiate these along with seeking local co-funding if this case study seems like a promising addition to the POLICYMIX project. Three opportunities are described below.      

State-level maps, if applicable: maps of reserve areas and forest cover (with legend)
See Figure 1 above for distribution of box gum grassy woodlands in south eastern Australia. A map showing reserve areas and recorded presence/absence will be provided if the case study is accepted.






State-level maps, if applicable: maps of reserve areas and forest cover (with legend)
See Figure 1 above for distribution of box gum grassy woodlands in south eastern Australia. A map showing reserve areas and recorded presence/absence will be provided if the case study is accepted.

3.1 Introduction 

Case studies will be based in sub-regions of the grassy woodland area set out in Figure 1. The likely candidates are at present:

  • The Lachlan, Murrumbidgee and Central West Catchment Management Authority regions in NSW. This case would relate to the Environmental Stewardship investments and the implications of changes to that approach (primarily in terms of measuring outcomes and integrating these measures into program design). An extension to this case could focus on the investigation of a landscape oriented conservation auction.
  • The Queensland Murray Darling Catchments area in southern Queensland or Wimmera Mallee in Western Victoria. This case would focus on how different approaches can be integrated to deliver a suite of environmental outcomes across an agricultural and conservation matrix with the objective of enhanced ecological function at the landscape scale.
  • There are opportunities for different case studies which could focus on transaction costs of alternative approaches.

3.2 Main ecosystem services under evaluation 

  • Biodiversity (primary, independent of role in ecosystem services)
  • Landscape function (salinity prevention, water storage and release)
  • Aesthetic.
  • There will likely be others to be described.

3.3 Main actors/stakeholders 

  • Private landholders
  • State and federal government (specifically the relevant environmental departments)
  • Catchment management authorities
  • Researchers
  • Not for profit organizations (Greening Australia, Bush Heritage Australia).

3.4 Main economic instruments in use in forest/biodiversity conservation and related regulatory instruments 

  • Regulatory restrictions intended to prevent clearing of woodlands (and to a lesser extent native grasslands). These include the state level native vegetation laws and the EPBC Act at the national level.
  • Information and extension campaigns
  • Cost sharing and grant based schemes (primarily competitive)
  • Conservation auctions to targeted sub-regions under the Environmental Stewardship program.

3.5 New instruments under consideration or to be assessed 

  • Change of conservation auctions focus to landscape ecological function (probability of persistence of suite of species within specified ecological community).
  • Strategic assessment of an instrument suite targeting multiple market failures across a heterogeneous agricultural and biodiverse landscape.
  • Other options may present in the near future due to reviews of government programs.

Based on the types of instruments and ecosystem services of interest in the case study, the following areas have been identified as particularly relevant for local level policy impact assessments in the second local level phase of the case studies.



 1 The Australian Government’s draft national recovery plan can be found at: