2012 review of the threat status assessment process
Before starting the current assessment cycle, the Department reviewed the process it uses. The outcomes of this review are presented below.
The New Zealand Threat Classification System (NZTCS) is used to assess the threat status of NZ taxa (species, subspecies, varieties and forma), with the status of each taxon group being assessed over a 3-year cycle. The system methodology was revised in 2008 to improve its utility (Townsend et al. 2008).
Key outcomes of the assessment cycle that commenced in 2008 were summarised in the Department of Conservation’s (DOC’s) annual Report for the year ended 30 June 2011. In addition, peer-reviewed science papers have provided more detailed reports on the threat status of groups assessed as part of this cycle (references to these papers are provided on the DOC website).
Prior to the commencement of a new assessment cycle, and because of feed-back received and changes to DOC’s organisational structure, the threat listing process was reviewed, but not the methodology (categories, criteria and qualifiers). Trends in both the number of species extinctions, and the number of threatened and at risk species are used as national natural heritage (or biodiversity) indicators and so, for comparative purposes, it is recognised that as few changes as possible should be made to the assessment methodology.
Outcome: No changes will be made to NZTCS categories, criteria or qualifiers at this time.
Although presented as a New Zealand system that is implemented and maintained by DOC, some commentators see it as a DOC system.
Extensive, external (to DOC) comment was sought when the system methodology was revised in 2008, and the majority of Expert Panel members (those that make the assessments) are not DOC staff. While DOC makes use of the assessments, so do numerous other organisations/agencies such as local and regional councils, other government departments, Crown Research Institutes (CRIs), developers, etc. For these reasons no change will be made to the system’s status.
Outcome: The NZTCS will be retained as a New Zealand system implemented by DOC.
Release of Threat Lists
The NZTCS Manual (Townsend et al. 2008) proposed that where practicable, taxa (species) threat lists should be published in the relevant peer-reviewed literature, as well as being made available on the DOC website. It was contended that formal publication would enhance the scientific credibility of the lists. Publication in science journals was the approach used throughout the past listing cycle, but once published the papers reporting the listings became the copyright of the journals that published them. The journals, and their publishers, were happy for the listings to be posted on the DOC intranet site, but not on its internet site, which they interpreted as dual publication and breaking of copyright.
There is wide interest in the threat status assigned to species, not just to scientists, iwi and conservationists in general, but also to planners (considering the development of threatened species habitats) and those commercially managing the take of species such as eels, certain marine fish and shellfish. Given that species threat listings could potentially influence decision making in a variety of matters, it is important that they are maintained in a manner that is able to withstand any legal challenge. Currently NZTCS species listings have no legal status because publication in copyrighted science journals is seen as not being adequately available to affected industry partners, or to the public. Consequently, commencing with the new assessment cycle, species threat lists once finalised (agreed by all Expert Panel members) will be first released on the DOC website. Release in this way might not conflict with the subsequent publication of any scientific analyses in external journals of how the lists were compiled.
Outcome: Once finalised (agreed by all Expert Panel members), species threat lists will be first released on the DOC website.
The NZTCS was developed so that any described or undescribed taxon that exists in the wild in New Zealand (includes all terrestrial, freshwater and marine areas within the NZ Exclusive Economic Zone, not including the Ross Dependency in Antarctica) has the potential to be listed. The system applies equally to terrestrial, freshwater and marine biota in recognition of the broad functions DOC has under section 6 of the Conservation Act 1987. However, certain marine species are currently managed under the Fisheries Act 1996 and so inclusion of these species will be scoped with MFish.
Outcome: NZTCS scope will be all taxa that exist in the wild in New Zealand, subject to agreement with MFish to include marine species currently managed under the Fisheries Act 1996.
Listing process roles
Changes to matters covered in Appendix 2, NZTCS Manual (Townsend et al. 2008) are noted below in bold italics.
Expert Panel Leader
During the last listing cycle some Expert Panel assessments were subject to legal challenge. It was recognised that where this occurs it will be an advantage if the Expert Panel Leader is a DOC staff member. If not, the task of dealing with such challenges may fall exclusively to the List Facilitator (supported by the Manager, Ecosystems). Consequently, the following changes are made to the role of Expert Panel Leaders:
“Panel Leaders will be selected by the List Facilitator in consultation with acknowledged experts and relevant societies, and ratified by the Department of Conservation’s Manager, Ecosystems, or delegate, prior to initiating of the listing process. Wherever possible an appropriately qualified DOC staff member will be selected as an Expert Panel Leader.
Their role is to:
- Act as a liaison point between the List Facilitator and the Expert Panel Members
- Assist the List Facilitator to coordinate the process of notifying intent to list a taxonomic group as threatened
- Assist the List Facilitator coordinate the submission process and compile the submissions
- Chair expert panel meetings
- Attend expert panel leader briefings as necessary
- Lead the reporting of the threat status of a taxon group by posting the threat listing on the DOC website followed, if appropriate, by the preparation of a science report/publication recording the analyses of how the list was compiled”
“The Facilitator will understand the workings of the system, and will be an effective channel between the Expert Panel Members and the list. His or her role is to:
- Maintain the electronic lists and background information relating to them through regular contact with the Expert Panel Members and Leaders
- Answer questions about the system and the lists in consultation with the Expert Panel Leaders (and Members)
- Select a Leader for each Expert Panel and, in consultation with the Leader, select a panel (to be signed off by the Department of Conservation’s Manager, Ecosystems, or delegate)
- Brief Expert Panel Members and Leaders on their roles
- Ensure that standards are maintained in the quality of the data gathered for listings
- Oversee and coordinate the submission process and compile the submissions, in consultation with the Expert Panel Leader
- Schedule and arrange threat listing meetings, in consultation with the Expert Panel Leader
- Ensure that electronic copies of the listings are available via the DOC website
- Prepare national cross-taxa summaries of threat listings and other high-level analyses as appropriate
During threat-listing meetings, the List Facilitator’s role is to:
- Ensure that an accurate record is kept of decisions reached by each Expert Panel
- Ensure that the threat system is applied consistently and without bias by each Expert Panel, and act as an independent and impartial recorder of decisions made by each panel”
Guidance on timetables
“Each taxonomic group list is to be updated every 3 years. Once a decision to list a particular taxonomic group has been made, the following guidelines for each part of the project should be followed:
Action - Timeframe
- Notification of intent to list - 3 months prior to listing
- Call for submissions for taxa to be assessed or changed using a standardised template available from the current consultations section of this website - 3 months prior to listing
- Threat list meeting (discussion → consensus → list generation & documentation held by DOC) - 2-5 days
- DOC website listing - 3 months post listing meeting