Canberra’s Little Eagles – in the eye of a coming storm

Hi folks, Bill the moderator here.

I’ve received this message from Geoffrey Dabb (, who has
been having trouble posting.

Replies to him directly please.

A large housing development on Canberra’s outskirts has caused a dispute
about buffers and corridors for a small number of Little Eagles. The ACT
government has launched a major research project on the eagle (involving
video cameras at 2 nests, which were subsequently abandoned.) Government
officials have been tramping over Canberra’s hills to find as many Little
Eagles as possible. A recent article in Canberra Bird Notes has attacked
the evidence on which the Little Eagle was found to be a vulnerable
species. It seems very likely that the threatened status of the Little
Eagle in the ACT will be reviewed.

Because the Little Eagle is widespread across Australia, this raises a
basic question of conservation philosophy – the concept of ‘small-area
extinction’. The Little Eagle is not listed as threatened nationally but it
is vulnerable in the ACT and NSW. Recent changes to conservation laws
across Australia are aimed at a uniform approach. The Commonwealth has
responsibility for assessing cross-border species, and, given its present
view, the Little Eagle is not going to be listed nationally (assessed ‘at
the national scale’’). That leaves the possibility under the new scheme of
‘regional listing’ within a particular jurisdiction. The new legislation
in the ACT (an d I believe elsewhere) has adopted new ‘regional criteria’
that must have regard to IUCN regional criteria.

The IUCN regional criteria (page 4) strongly discourage their application
within very restricted geographical areas, particularly with respect to a
wide-ranging taxon where ‘the regional population will interchange
individuals with neighbouring populations’. The Little Eagle is a good
example of such a species. So are many other bird species now listed, and
regionally protected, under State/Territory legislation. All threatened
bird species in the ACT are probably at risk of delisting under the new
regime. The same test must be applied within larger jurisdictions. Can
NSW sustain the regional listing of the Little Eagle (or a number of other
listed wide-ranging bird species) under the IUCN criteria?

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