Rehabilitation standards specify the minimum levels a rehabilitation project must meet before it is considered a success. They distill the broad goals of the project into specific objectives that can be reliably measured using ecosystem attributes such as species richness, community structure and ecosystem function. The ecosystem attributes of the rehabilitation project are compared with those of a reference ecosystem used as the target for the project. For mine sites, rehabilitation standards specify the set of objectives that a mining company must meet before it is released from its rehabilitation obligations.
These issues should be considered whenever rehabilitation standards for fauna are being developed:
Rehabilitation projects rarely specify standards for fauna. Measures of rehabilitation success typically focus on vegetation and soil development with the assumption that fauna will naturally return to the site if appropriate habitat is created. Yet scientists have found that simply re-establishing plant structure and composition may not be enough to ensure the recolonisation of fauna. If one of the goals of rehabilitation is the recovery of fauna, then specific targets for fauna need to be set as part of the rehabilitation standards.
A major challenge in setting rehabilitation standards for fauna is that many animal species are naturally rare or are otherwise difficult to detect, making them poor candidates for assessment. Identifying species that are relatively easy to detect using robust, standard field methods is essential to the development of measurable rehabilitation standards for fauna.
The major rehabilitation program underway at Ranger uranium mine in the Northern Territory provided an opportunity to develop a structured approach to setting recommendations for faunal rehabilitation standards at the site. The 79 km2 Ranger Project Area, which lies within World-Heritage-listed Kakadu National Park, is due to be rehabilitated by 2026.
While the overall goal for the rehabilitation of the project area is to establish an environment similar to the surrounding national park, standards for faunal rehabilitation are yet to be specified. Scientists have recommended five principles for setting the fauna rehabilitation standards for Ranger.
|Figure 1. Birds, reptiles, mammals and ants are recommended for inclusion in the faunal rehabilitation standards for Ranger uranium mine, including the threatened Partridge Pigeon (top left) and Black-footed Tree-rat (top right). Photos Alan Andersen and Kym Brennan.|
|Figure 2. Monitoring methods include camera trapping for vertebrates (top) and pitfall traps for invertebrates (bottom), photos NESP Northern Hub and Alan Andersen.|
The following recommended faunal specifications for the rehabilitation of Ranger uranium mine were provided to the Australian Government’s Supervising Scientist Branch who is overseeing the Ranger rehabilitation.
Fieldwork is taking place at Ranger uranium mine and the surrounding parts of Kakadu National Park, 230km west of Darwin, Northern Territory.
The Northern Australia Environmental Resources Hub addressed key research questions to come up with practical, on-ground solutions to some of the north’s most complex environmental challenges. A transdisciplinary research approach has been at the heart of the hub. Integrating key research users – policy-makers and land managers including Traditional Owners and ranger groups – into the co-design of research projects has led to rapid uptake of research outcomes into land management practices and decision-making. The hub has produced this wrap-up video outlining these impacts from the perspectives of research users.
NESP researchers are tackling this restoration challenge at the Ranger uranium mine, developing guidelines and targets for the return of local native fauna and flora to the site.
Oberprieler, S.K. and Andersen, A.N. (2020). The importance of sampling intensity when assessing ecosystem restoration: ants as bioindicators in northern Australia. Restoration Ecology. Accepted Author Manuscript. doi:10.1111/rec.13172
This project was led by Professor Alan Andersen from Charles Darwin University (CDU). Professor Andersen was assisted by researchers from CDU, the Supervising Scientist Branch of the Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment, the Northern Territory Government’s Department of Environment, Parks and Water Security and Energy Resources of Australia Ltd.
This project was completed in 2019.
Alan Andersen, Charles Darwin University