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Conservation and grazing in Australia’s north-east: the bridled nailtail wallaby

Abstract

Australia’s vast continent is dominated by semi-arid and arid landscapes that have been modified to support the development of an extensive livestock grazing industry. Historically, this development has come at great environmental cost, with wide-scale landscape degradation and loss of biodiversity, including small macropods. With the growing appreciation of environmental values and ecological services provided by grazing landscapes, the engagement of pastoral landholders is now central to contemporary conservation efforts. In this paper we explore the spluttering recovery of Australia’s critically endangered bridled nailtail wallaby Onychogalea fraenata, once presumed extinct but now subject to a limited rehabilitation program in Queensland. We explore the ‘fit’ between management units and the scale of conservation challenges for the bridled nailtail wallaby, and then use this to frame the role of the private grazing industry in the governance of conservation actions. A centralised state conservation program has largely failed to stop the decline of the species, which remains critically endangered. We argue that non-state (privately) managed grazing properties working within a multi-level governance system that includes the state have a greater chance of conservation success because their actions can more appropriately match the scale of the problem at the implementation level. If the species recovers, the balance of management focus will need to shift towards broader scale actions such that localised disconnected sub-populations can successfully interbreed. By analysing the institutional failures that surround the bridled nailtail wallaby, we provide recommendations on how public institutions or policies can successfully catalyse private sector action at regional scales. These include avoiding economic incentives that may crowd out local stewardship, avoiding overly-authoritative state control (i.e. mono-centricity), and developing a multilevel governance structure that can strategically adapt its focus to the scale of various and shifting targets.