Conserving reptiles and frogs in the forests of New South Wales
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The forests of New South Wales (NSW) contain a diverse fauna of frogs and reptiles (herpetofauna) with approximately 139 species occurring in forests and around 59 species that are forest-dependent. Prior to 1991, this fauna group received scant attention in research or forest management. However, legislative and policy changes in the early 1990s have largely reversed this situation. This review documents the changes in forest management that now require closer attention be given to the requirements of forest herpetofauna. We also provide an overview of research that contributes to a greater understanding of the management requirements of forest-dependent species. The introduction of theEndangered Fauna (Interim Protection) Act 1991 in NSW led to the need for comprehensive surveys of all forest vertebrate wildlife and detailed consideration of potential impacts on forest species listed as endangered by this Act. This process was replaced in 1995 by Comprehensive Regional Assessments (CRAs) in States with timber industries under the National Forest Policy Statement. Herpetofauna featured prominently in this process overall, though poorly in the southeast (Eden) region of NSW. The CRA process culminated in the identification of areas to comprise a Comprehensive, Adequate and Representative system of reserves. Workshops with fauna experts were conducted to select habitat areas for reservation that aimed to conserve viable populations of priority species. Herpetofauna in two of four regional areas fared poorly compared to birds and mammals. In order to achieve Ecologically Sustainable Forest Management, as required under the National Forest Policy, forest management within areas remaining as production forest must establish conservation protocols that aim to minimise potential impacts on threatened species. Although such management is a substantial improvement on the situation pre-1991, its effectiveness rests with how appropriate individual protocols may be. This cannot be determined currently so we strongly urge research and monitoring to resolve this issue.
Research on forest-dependent herpetofauna has been slow to respond to the challenge of providing insights to management but has gathered pace in the last six years. Only a small number of species have been targeted to any degree. It is inappropriate to assume that if species are now largely confined to protected areas that they are adequately conserved. Many forest reserves are now more likely to be subject to wildfire because of the change in forest management practices and the resources available to manage fire. An increase in the recreational use of the new reserves may also have an impact on the quality of some key habitats if not managed appropriately. Because the ecology of herpetofauna is intimately associated with temperature profiles, many species may be vulnerable to predicted climate change. We believe there is a need for a substantial increase in research so that forest-dependent herpetofauna can be adequately conserved in NSW.