Use the Australian Conservation Foundation’s data to learn more about habitat destruction approved for the places and animals that matter to you.
In March 2022 ACF concluded a data-driven investigation into how the Australian Government is greenlighting the destruction of the habitat our threatened species need to survive. You can read the full report here.
To do this, we painstakingly compiled ten years worth of publicly available but difficult to obtain information on all EPBC approval decisions to destroy threatened species habitat. We then compared these findings against a national-scale dataset compiled by Ward et.al. of threats faced by Australia’s imperiled fauna and flora. We focused on wildlife for whom habitat destruction is recognised by experts as a high-impact or medium-impact threat.
Now that our investigation is complete, we want to make this data publicly accessible, so that anyone can use this resource to find out more details and do new analyses. We believe there are many stories to tell still hidden in this data.
[button link="http://www.acf.org.au/habitat-destruction-data" text="view data"]
This dataset includes information about habitat approved to be destroyed through Australia’s nature law, the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (the EPBC Act) between 1 January 2012 and 31 December 2021.
The federal government has approved the destruction of more than 200,000 hectares of threatened species habitat – a total area larger than Fraser Island (K’gari) in Queensland, 100,000 MCGs, or Adelaide’s entire metropolitan zone – in the last ten years. But the 200,000 hectares covered in this data is just the tip of the iceberg, as clearing for agriculture is rarely assessed under this law and native forest logging is exempt altogether.
This dataset covers all animals, plants and ecological communities (rare and unique woodlands, swamps, grasslands and other places) which were listed as threatened under Australia's national nature laws when the habitat destruction was assessed and approved.
You can search, sort and filter the data (for example filter by just one species, one town, one state, or just Critically Endangered species and ecosystems), as well as view key findings, species summaries, data analysis for charts, and use an interactive case study generator.
Using the interactive case study generator, you can type in the name of any threatened species or ecological community to create your own case study, just like the ones you can see in ACF’s investigative report.
For each approved habitat impact, you can find out:
If you’d like help accessing or using the dataset, please email kim.garratt[at]acf.org.au
Note that total habitat approved to be cleared for any one referred action, state or industry does not equal actual total land approved to be cleared. This is because habitats of different taxa overlap — a patch of bush might be home to both koalas and greater gliders, for example. On the other hand, the total habitat approved to be cleared for each threatened species does equal an actual total land approved to be cleared.
The way we sourced the data means that we’re talking about habitat approved to be cleared under the EPBC Act. In practice, a proponent may clear less than the maximum they are allowed to clear, or more. We also have data on habitat approved to be cleared in ways that can’t be quantified into hectares, for example: rare flowers approved to be destroyed or translocated with no guarantee of success; habitat trees approved to be destroyed. Nor can we quantify the impact of the many approvals that approve more nebulous habitat degradation, especially for aquatic and amphibious taxa.
This study has scraped together data from approval decisions over a ten year period, but this information was hard to obtain, imprecise and incomplete. As a result the findings in this report are likely to be underestimates, and the actual figures much higher.
As we discuss in the introduction, much (probably most) threatened habitat destruction in Australia is unregulated. To ACF’s knowledge there is no federal data on the annual total loss of threatened species habitat.
We did not check variations to approvals. A variation is a change in the rules that the project operator must follow. Occasionally these variations vary the impacts on threatened species. For example, one variation in 2016 removed the requirement for the Port Macquarie-Hastings Council to plant koala food trees along fauna underpasses built to mitigate the impacts of the “Upgrade Sections of Reid Street, The Boulevard and Gravel Tip Road to Improve Flood and Evacuation Access” project in Dunbogan, NSW (See EPBC Act referral 2013/6757). It is likely that some variations altered the number of hectares of threatened habitat permitted to be cleared, and our dataset does not include those changes. Ward et al’s data does not include several EPBC-protected taxa and places, including threatened ecological communities, migratory birds, marine mammals, and wetlands. The EPBC destruction dataset contains these, but for these entries the threat and threat impacts as defined by Ward’s research are not applicable.
ACF’s dataset contains all EPBC referrals from 1 January 2012 to 31 December 2021 for which:
ACF obtained recommendation report data from 2012-2016. Recommendation reports do not always match the finalised approval conditions exactly. For example, EPBC referral number 2013/6916 is approved to clear 74.7 or 81.1 hectares of black cockatoo habitat according to the recommendation report data obtained from the government, but the final approval is to clear “no more than 75 hectares”. Since recommendation reports are not usually public, we cannot confirm the data obtained from the government. Recommendation reports are meant to be publicly available and used to be, but are now only available on request. This speaks to a problem with transparency, access to environmental data and accessibility for the community.
All data from 1 January 2017 onwards was extracted manually by ACF from data accessed directly from the public EPBC referrals portal.
Data on broad-level threat and threat impact level was obtained from Michelle Ward et al’s “National-scale dataset for threats impacting Australia’s imperiled flora and fauna”. Ward et al “engaged taxonomic experts in generating taxon-specific threat and threat impact information to consistently apply the IUCN Threat Classification Scheme and Threat Impact Scoring System to produce the most up-to-date data on currently recognized threatening processes affecting all nationally listed threatened taxa in Australia.” High-impact threats threaten the whole or majority of the species, and are rapid or very rapid in severity. Medium-impact threats are either rapid but apply to a limited scope of the species, or apply widely but are not as rapid.