The main findings of the 2019 ACT State of the Environment report provide a summary of the current condition and trends for a range of natural and sustainability issues in the ACT. This page contains collected findings from all seven environmental themes.

Brindabellas with snow. Source: Ryan Colley

Climate change

Climate trends

There is clear evidence of a warming climate trend in the ACT.

Annual mean maximum temperatures have risen by over 1.5 °C since records began in 1926.

Minimum temperatures have warmed the most, having risen by around 2 °C since records began in 1926, with 2016 the warmest year on record for mean minimum temperatures.

Since 2013, every year has been among the eleven warmest years on record for daytime temperatures and 2018 was the warmest year on record for daytime temperatures in the ACT.

The number of hot days has doubled since 1950, with 5 days above 40°C in January 2019, and an increase of 4 days per year for temperatures above 35 °C.

Rain is variable in the ACT region, with no long-term trend, although recent years have been drier than average with the exception of 2016.

Projected climate trends

Regional climate modelling suggests the following projections: reduced rainfall, particularly for spring and winter rainfall; more frequent and prolonged drought; average temperatures will continue to increase in all seasons; more frequent and severe storms with flash flooding, violent winds, and thunderstorms; and harsher fire-weather climate.

Impacts of climate change

There are significant climate risks to ACT’s community, economy and the natural environment.

Reduced inflows to water storages, with all but 2 years between 2001–02 and 2018–19 below the long-term average.

Increase in tree dieback and mortality of urban trees.

Increase in the average and maximum Fire Danger Index and an increase in the number of days with a very high Fire Danger Rating.

Occurrence of dust storms due to higher temperatures and reduced rainfall.

Increase in cyanobacterial blooms in Canberra’s lakes.

Greenhouse gas emissions

In 2017–18, ACT’s total greenhouse gas emissions were 3,368 thousand tonnes of CO2-e (carbon dioxide equivalent).

Total emissions decreased by 17% between 2012–13 and 2017–18 due to the growth in renewable electricity generation.

By 2020, emissions from electricity generation will fall to zero.

With the elimination of electricity emissions,
total emissions are projected to decrease to around 1,918 thousand tonnes of CO2-e, meeting the legislated 2020 target.

Per capita annual greenhouse gas emissions were just over 8 tonnes in 2017–18, a decrease of around 24% from 2012–13 and of 29% compared to 1989–90 levels.

Between 2012–13 and 2017–18, the electricity generation and transport sectors were the dominant source of greenhouse gas emissions in the ACT.

Between 2012–13 and 2017–18 transport emissions increased by 13%; this growth, combined with the decrease in electricity emissions, saw transport contributions rise from 25% to 34% of total emissions.

The stationary gas sector contributed 11% of total emissions in 2017–18 and industrial processes 8%.

As the electricity sector moves towards zero emissions by 2020, transport will contribute 62% of total emissions, nearly double its 2017–18 proportional contribution. Stationary gas and waste will also double in contribution.

Between 2012–13 and 2017–18, greenhouse gas emissions from diesel fuel nearly doubled; as a result, the diesel contribution to total transport emissions rose from 23% to 34% over the same period.

Transport and the phasing out of natural gas will become the main focus for future reductions of greenhouse emissions in the ACT.

Human settlements


In 2018, the ACT’s population was approximately 423,000.

In the 10-year period between 2008 and 2018 the population grew by approximately 72,000 people, an average annual increase 1.7% per year.

Districts with the highest population include Belconnen (24%), Tuggeranong (21%), Central Canberra (20%) and Gungahlin (18%).

Gungahlin experienced the highest population growth, accounting for over 50% of total growth over the decade to 2016. Belconnen and North Canberra both grew by around 11,000 people over the same period.

The ACT’s population is projected to increase to around 589,000 people by 2041.


In 2017–18, the total ecological footprint for the ACT was around 2.12 million hectares. This is over nine times the size of the ACT and shows that current resource use is unsustainable.

The ACT’s ecological footprint has consequences for areas of Australia and overseas that provide the resources, goods and services consumed by the ACT community.

Since 2009–10, the total ACT ecological footprint has decreased by nearly 11%.

In 2017–18, the per capita footprint was 5.24 hectares, a decrease of nearly a quarter since 2003–04. The ACT’s per capita ecological footprint is now equivalent to that for the average Australian.

Since 2009–10, the total carbon footprint decreased by over 20% and the per capita carbon footprint by 34%. The per capita ACT carbon footprint is now 11% lower than that of Australia.

Household final consumption of goods and services is responsible for 70% of the ACT’s ecological footprint.

ACT’s ecological footprint is dominated by land disturbance from the pasture required for animal products. However, in per capita terms, the area of land disturbance from pasture requirements decreased by 23% between 2003–04 and 2017–18.

Land disturbance from emissions declined by one-third between 2003–04 and 2017–18 reflecting the ACT’s growing renewable electricity supply.

Impacts from food expenditure accounted for 50% of the ACT’s total ecological footprint in 2017–18.

Expenditure on mobility accounted for 25% of the total carbon footprint in 2017–18 compared to 19% in 2003–04. Transport will likely become the highest contributor to the ACT’s carbon footprint in the future.


Data on the ACT’s energy use is not sufficient to enable a comprehensive assessment of the ACT’s energy generation and consumption. This includes a lack of data on energy consumption for fuel types other than electricity, and the consumption of energy by sector.

Electricity demand in the ACT is stable, despite population growth.

Electricity consumption per capita decreased by 12% between 2010–11 and 2017–18.

The ACT’s total renewable electricity generation increased significantly between 2015–16 and 2017–18, rising from 20% to nearly 50% of electricity generated.

Predicted renewable electricity generation for the period 2018–19 to 2020–21 shows that the ACT is forecast to reach 100% in 2020.

The ACT will be the first jurisdiction in Australia and the eighth jurisdiction globally, to procure renewable generation equivalent to 100% of its consumption.

Wind farms supply the majority of the ACT’s renewable electricity.

Wind farm generation significantly increased from 7% in 2016–17 to over 50% in 2018–19, and will supply over 70% of total renewable electricity in 2019–20 and 2020–21.

Rooftop solar photovoltaic generation continues to be installed in the ACT and has increased its share of renewable electricity generation in recent years.

The only renewable electricity generated in the ACT comes from solar farm and rooftop solar generation.


Waste data currently excludes waste exported outside the ACT. This means that the data reported understates the actual volume of waste sent to landfill.

Total waste generation, waste to landfill and resources recovered are highly variable in the ACT with changes mostly occurring in response to specific activity from the construction and demolition sector (including the Mr Fluffy program) as well as increases in garden waste.

The annual total waste generated in the ACT between 2009–10 and 2018–19 ranged from 816,000 to 1.2 million tonnes, with no consistent trend over time.

Between 2009–10 and 2018–19, annual landfill per capita ranged from 0.5 to 1.1 tonnes per person, resources recovered from 1.2 to 2 tonnes per person, and total waste between 2 and 2.6 tonnes per person with no consistent trend over time.

Resource recovery is generally much higher than waste sent to landfill, with most years recording a resource recovery rate of 70% or higher.

Annual resource recovery in the ACT has plateaued to around 70% to 75% of the total waste generated or 0.55 tonnes per person (excluding the Mr Fluffy program).

Waste from the Mr Fluffy program accounted for 40% (202,000 tonnes) of the total waste sent to landfill in 2016–17. This declined to 5% (12,000 tonnes) in 2018–19 with the majority of the program completed.

Excluding the Mr Fluffy program, between 2016–17 and 2018–19, municipal solid waste accounted for the highest proportion of the annual total waste sent to landfill (between 39% and 49%), closely followed by commercial and industrial waste (between 35% and 47%). Construction and demolition waste varied widely over the period, from 25% of the total waste sent to landfill in 2016–17, to only 6% and 9% in the following years.

Total municipal solid waste generation appears to be stable despite the annual population increase in the ACT. This may indicate improved recycling behaviours and/or changes in the consumption of goods and services leading to a decline in waste per person.

During the reporting period, ACT was found to comply with the National Environment Protection Measures related to waste management (includes the Movement of Controlled Waste between States and Territories, and Used Packaging Materials).

Transport – Private vehicle use

The ACT community is highly dependent on cars which are used for 78% of all trips undertaken. Public transport is only used for 4% of trips and cycling only 2%.

Although the most common purpose for car travel was work related, cars are the main transport choice for a range of daily activities.

Cars were used for over 80% of travel to work with most commuting undertaken with the driver as the sole vehicle occupant. Public transport was used for only 8% of travel to work, cycling 5% and walking 3%. There was little change in travel-to-work transport modes between 2011 and 2016.

The number of registered vehicles in the ACT has grown from around 253,000 vehicles in 2010 to 304,000 in 2018, an increase of 20%. Passenger vehicles were responsible for 84% of total vehicle registrations and light commercial vehicles 10%.

Vehicle usage is increasing in the ACT. In 2018, ACT’s registered vehicles travelled nearly 3,900 million kilometres, with passenger vehicles responsible for 82% of the total kilometres travelled. The next most common category was light commercial vehicles accounting for 13% of kilometres travelled.

Between 2002 and 2017, daily commute times increased by 65% in the ACT, the highest of any Australian city. The ACT’s mean daily commute time in 2017 was 52 minutes, which means that the ACT’s commute times are approaching those recorded in other Australian cities.

In 2019, 86% of registered passenger vehicles were fuelled by petrol making it the dominant fuel type in the ACT.

Diesel fuelled 12% of vehicles in 2019, a threefold increase since 2010. The large increase in diesel vehicles is of concern given their increased impact on air pollution, especially particulate matter emissions.

Hybrid and electric cars only make up 1% of the total passenger vehicles in the ACT but, in terms of vehicle numbers, have increased from around 150 in 2010 to nearly 2,900 in 2019. The ACT, along with South Australia, have the highest number of electric car purchases in Australia, with 21 electric cars per 10,000 vehicles sold.

Transport – Public transport and active travel

Public transport use has been increasing in recent years, growing from 17.6 million boardings annually (45 boardings per capita) in 2014–15 to 20.1 million (48 per capita) in 2018–19.

The 2018–19 figures include nearly 878,000 light rail boardings in just over two months between its commencement on 20 April 2019 and 30 June 2019.

Cycling is highly variable across the ACT with the Civic area having a significantly higher uptake of cycling, likely due to a flatter terrain and shorter distances to work and study centres.

Between 2011 and 2019, cycling participation in the ACT was higher than the national average. Despite this, there are wide variations in year-to-year cycling participation and a statistically significant decline in ACT’s weekly cycling participation between 2017 and 2019.

In 2019, the ACT had some 3,100 km of shared paths and some 600 km of on-road cycling facilities. Given the high level of cycling infrastructure in the ACT, there is much scope for improving cycling participation, including across gender and age groups.

Water resources

During 2018–19, total inflow to the ACT’s four reservoirs was 32 gigalitres, the lowest since records began in 1912, and 86% below the long-term average.

ACT’s water resources are being affected by a long-term period of mostly dry conditions.

Water availability has declined significantly in the ACT with mean storage volumes around 40% below the long-term average for the past 20 years.

Between 2001–02 and 2018–19, total inflows to the ACT’s four reservoirs were below the long-term average for all but two years.

At the end of June 2019, the ACT’s four reservoirs were holding just 57% (157 gigalitres) of the total ACT storage capacity. This is despite the enlargement of the Cotter Dam in 2013 which increased the ACT’s water storage by 72 gigalitres.

Without the increase to the Cotter Dam, the combined ACT storages would have dropped to around 30% of their total capacity – similar to levels during the Millennium Drought.

Between 2009–10 and 2018–19, there was little variation in the ACT’s wastewater recycling with volumes remaining around 4,000 megalitres to 4,500 megalitres, representing around 12% to 17% of the ACT’s total wastewater produced.

The majority of the ACT’s treated wastewater is discharged into the Molonglo River providing environmental flows, protecting riverine ecosystems and providing for downstream use.

Potable water consumption

The ACT and Queanbeyan’s total water consumption has remained fairly consistent since 2012–13 at around 50,000 megalitres annually, despite increases in the population serviced.

Water usage in 2017–18 was 54,000 megalitres, the highest volume over the past 10 years. This increase has been driven by hotter and drier weather conditions and is not necessarily indicative of an increasing trend in water usage.

Between 2001–02 and 2017–18, residential per capita water use dropped from 124 kilolitres per year to 78 kilolitres per year, a decrease of around 37%.

The ACT uses over 90% of the water supplied, with Queanbeyan using around 8%.

Residential supply accounts for around 60% of the total water supplied annually, this has remained consistent since 2008–09.

Most gains in water use efficiency can be made at the household level.


Air quality over the reporting period (2015 to 2018)

PM2.5 is the most serious air quality issue for the ACT with levels that are likely to have health implications for sensitive individuals.

Over the reporting period, there were 31 exceedances of the daily National Environment Protection (Ambient Air Quality) Measure (AAQ NEPM) standard for PM2.5. The Monash station accounted for 28 of the exceedances.

Exceedance results show that PM2.5 pollution is far more likely in the Tuggeranong Valley.

Smoke from wood heaters accounted for 23 (82%) of Monash station exceedances. For the Florey station, there was one exceedance due to wood heaters. All other exceedances were caused by controlled burns and dust storms.
High PM2.5 levels and annual variations are likely due to the occurrence of calm autumn and winter days which increase the accumulation of urban pollution from wood heaters.
The replacement of wood heaters with energy-efficient electric heating is critical to improve air quality in the ACT, particularly in the Tuggeranong Valley.

Over the reporting period, there were no exceedances of AAQ NEPM standards for Carbon Monoxide (CO), Nitrogen Dioxide (NO2), ozone (O3) and particulate matter less than 10 micrometres in size (PM10).

Dust storms, controlled burns and bushfires will continue to cause deterioration in air quality in the ACT. These will vary from year to year depending on weather conditions.

Climate change is likely to increase the frequency and severity of smoke and dust impacts on air quality, and increased ozone formation.

Health impacts of air pollution
There is currently no data available on the impacts of air pollution on human health in the ACT, nor the associated costs to the health system and the economy.
Current expert and research consensus suggests that air pollution, even at concentrations below the current air quality standards, is associated with adverse health effects.
In recognition of health impact evidence, national standards are moving towards the position that there is no safe concentration for sensitive people, especially for particles (PM10, PM2.5).

Any reduction in air pollution will result in health benefits, even where pollutant concentrations are within the air quality standards.

Emissions of air pollutants
Data on the sources and emissions of diffuse source air pollution has not been updated since 1999. In the absence of current data it is not possible to assess changes in air pollution emissions over the reporting period.

Diffuse sources of air pollutants, especially from transport and wood heaters, are known to be the main contributors to air pollution in the ACT.

The monitoring and reporting of point source emissions is required under the National Environment Protection National Pollutant Inventory Measure (NPI NEPM). The ACT’s monitoring and reporting activities complied with the NPI NEPM over the reporting period (2015 to 2018).

Over the 2017–18 and 2018–19 period, the ACT Environment Protection Authority (EPA) received 5,562 environmental complaints.

Noise issues were responsible for 80% of all complaints and is clearly a significant problem for the ACT community.


Land use change 2015–16 to 2018–19

It was not possible to determine changes in the area of urban and rural lands. However, any changes are estimated to be small.

For land under the tenure of the ACT Government, the main land uses are conservation and protected 63% (141,000 hectares), urban and intensive 17% (37,000 hectares), rural 15% (33,000 hectares), and plantation forests 4% (8,700 hectares).
Under the Territory Plan, zoning categories for lands managed by the ACT Government are mountains and bushlands (62%), rural (15%), urban and intensive (9%), hills, ridges and buffers (7%), river corridor (5%), and urban open space 2%.

Nearly 75% of ACT Government land is zoned for natural ecosystems and greenspace.

In 2019, there were 8,700 hectares of pine plantations in the ACT, although 1,560 hectares were fallow (inactive and unplanted). In 2017–18, 307 hectares were harvested with a value of nearly $5.5 million.
ACT’s pine forests are extensively used and managed for recreational activities, including walking, jogging, horse riding and cycling.
The ACT has a relatively small agricultural sector with beef cattle farms the most common, accounting for 40% of all farms. The gross value of the ACT’s agriculture in 2017–18 was over $10.6 million.
Urban expansion

Land development continues to be an environmental challenge for the ACT.

Population growth is a key driver of urban land use change.

Between 1991 and 2016, the ACT’s urban land area grew by 57%, compared to a population increase of 43% over the same period. If this ratio of urban growth to population continues, the ACT’s current urban footprint would need to increase by a further 46% by 2041 to accommodate projected population growth.

It is estimated that the ACT will need 100,000 new dwellings by 2041 to accommodate the projected population growth. Current estimates suggest there is potential for approximately 29,000 new homes in existing greenfield areas zoned as future urban areas.
To minimise the growth of the ACT’s future urban footprint there needs be an increase in population density, the number of medium and high-density dwellings, and the amount of urban infill compared to greenfield development.
In 2016, Canberra had a population density of 1,062 people per square kilometre, the second lowest of the major Australian capital cities (excluding Hobart and Darwin), and the second lowest residential dwelling density with 437 private dwellings per square kilometre.
In 2016, single dwellings were the dominant form of housing accounting for 65% of total residences, 18% were medium density, and 17% high density.
The proportionate share of single dwellings has decreased from 80% of total residential dwellings in 1991.


Threatened species and ecological communities

As at 2019, a total of 52 species of fauna and flora across all habitats (terrestrial and aquatic) were listed as threatened under the Nature Conservation Act 2014.

These species include 7 critically endangered, 18 endangered, 26 vulnerable and 1 regionally conservation dependent.
During the reporting period (2015–16 to 2018–19), 17 additional species were listed as threatened and 7 species were transferred to critically endangered to align with their Commonwealth status.

Critically endangered species include the Regent Honeyeater (Anthochaera phrygia), Swift Parrot (Lathamus discolor), Northern Corroboree Frog (Pseudophryne pengilleyi), the locally extinct Yellow-spotted Bell Frog (Litoria castanea), Canberra Spider Orchid (Caladenia actensis), Brindabella Midge Orchid (Corunastylis ectopa), and the Kiandra Greenhood (Pterostylis oreophila).

Action plans and/or conservation advice have been developed for all species listed as threatened in the ACT.
Three ecological communities are listed as endangered. These are Natural Temperate Grassland, Yellow Box/ Red Gum Grassy Woodland, and High Country Bogs and Associated Fens which was added to the endangered category in 2019.

In 2018, ‘the loss of mature native trees (including hollow-bearing trees) and a lack of recruitment’ was listed as a key threatening process in the ACT, adversely affecting 4 vulnerable bird species including the Superb Parrot (Polytelis swainsonii), Brown Treecreeper (Climacteris picumnus), Glossy Black Cockatoo (Calyptorhynchus lathami) and Little Eagle (Hieraaetus morphnoides).

Conservation: extent of conservation areas

In 2019, 141,000 hectares have conservation status in the ACT, protecting 60% of the total ACT area. This not only represents a significant proportion of the ACT’s natural environment, but is also a much higher proportion than any other jurisdiction in Australia.

The Namadgi National Park and Bimberi Wilderness Area account for nearly 80% of the conservation area and around 46% of the total area of the ACT. Nature reserves (including Canberra Nature Park) account for 14% of the conservation estate, with water supply and special purpose reserves accounting for 5% and 3% respectively.
Over the reporting period (2015–16 to 2018–19), just over 1,000 hectares were added to the reserve system, primarily through environmental offsets added to the Canberra Nature Park network.
The area of environmental offsets has grown from 18 hectares in 2009 to 1,865 hectares in 23 offset areas in 2019.
This increase reflects the need to compensate for adverse environmental impacts from the significant increase in the ACT’s urban footprint that has taken place since 2000, and continues today.
In 2019, 47% (871 hectares) of offsets were protected by nature reserve. Environmental offsets now contribute to around 16% of the ACT’s urban and peri-urban reserve areas.
Outside of protected areas, progress in conservation of biodiversity, including both habitats and species, remains a challenge.
Although conservation areas provide protection by excluding damaging land uses and activities, they are still at risk from a range of pressures. Invasive species, inappropriate fire regimes, pathogens and diseases can all threaten ecosystem health and require ongoing intervention to minimise impacts.
Conservation: condition of conservation areas
At the time of reporting, it was not possible to determine the condition of conservation areas in the ACT.
It is also not currently possible to assess whether offsets have ensured no net loss of biodiversity following land development. However, assessments for offsets will likely take many years, particularly given that management interventions need to be undertaken over long periods of time to effect the desired ecosystem and biodiversity outcomes.
The ACT Government is implementing a Conservation Effectiveness Monitoring Program to evaluate the effectiveness of management actions in achieving conservation outcomes. This will greatly improve knowledge of conditions in the future.
Climate change will threaten conservation areas, especially where changes to temperature and rainfall, and the occurrence of fire, exceed the tolerances of ecosystems.
Representation of threatened fauna in conservation areas

The Broad-toothed Rat, Greater Glider, Northern Corroboree Frog, and Smoky Mouse threatened species have all, or close to all, of their known and potential habitat in ACT conservation areas.

Other threatened fauna with significant proportions of their known and potential habitat in ACT conservation areas include the Pink-tailed Worm-lizard (80%) and Spotted-tailed Quoll (70%).

Threatened fauna with less than 50% of their known and potential habitat in ACT conservation areas include the Perunga Grasshopper (47%), Golden Sun Moth (44%), Striped Legless Lizard (33%), and Grassland Earless Dragon (25%). However, these species have a substantial proportion of their habitat on national land (between 20% and 50%) and are subject to management as required under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (EPBC Act).

The Grey-headed Flying Fox does not have habitat in ACT conservation areas but there are colonies occurring in Commonwealth Park (national land) and at Lake Ginninderra (urban open space).
Threatened species with substantial proportions of their known and potential habitat on non-reserved land (outside both ACT reserved and national lands) include the Pink-tailed Worm-lizard (20%), Spotted-tailed Quoll (27%), Golden Sun Moth (28%), Perunga Grasshopper (32%), and the Grassland Earless Dragon (33%). Of particular concern is the lack of reserved habitat for the Striped Legless Lizard with 46% of habitat not reserved.
For species with large proportions of non-reserved habitat, this is due to their dependence on grassland and woodland habitats which are not as well protected in conservation areas as other ecosystems such as forests.
All of the ACT-listed aquatic species have around 90% to 100% of their potential distribution in conservation areas.
Representation of threatened flora in conservation areas

Over half of the known threatened plant sites in the ACT are located in reserves or on other land managed by the ACT Parks and Conservation Service (PCS). An additional 20% occur on national land, which is managed by the National Capital Authority.

Threatened flora species with a substantial proportion of known locations outside ACT conservation areas include Black Gum (Eucalyptus aggregata), Button Wrinklewort (Rutidosis leptorrhynchoides), Tarengo Leek Orchid (Prasophyllum petilum), Canberra Spider Orchid (Caladenia actensis), Small Purple Pea (Swainsona recta), and Murrumbidgee Bossiaea (Bossaiea grayi).

Representation of threatened ecological communities in conservation areas
Of the three ecological communities listed as endangered in the ACT, only High Country Bogs and Associated Fens are fully protected in ACT conservation areas.
Natural Temperate Grassland has just over half of its known distribution in ACT conservation areas, and Yellow Box/Red Gum Grassy Woodland has only 30% reserved. However, both Natural Temperate Grasslands and Yellow Box/Red Gum Grassy Woodland have substantial proportions of their extent on national land at nearly 30% and 20% respectively, and are subject to management as required under the EPBC Act.
Despite this, nearly half of the ACT’s Yellow Box/Red Gum Grassy Woodland is not reserved, and some 20% of Natural Temperate Grasslands are also unreserved. The low levels of reservation add to the pressures on these communities and the species they support.
For the 11 vegetation classes assessed, 8 had more than 80% of their extent protected, and another 2 had over 60% of their extent protected. The most under-represented vegetation class was Southern Tableland Grassy Woodlands which only has 30% of its extent in conservation areas.

The least protected vegetation communities in the ACT are woodland, grassland and open forest communities, with under 30% of their extent protected in conservation areas.

Native vegetation: extent
It was not possible to determine changes in the extent of native vegetation over the reporting period (2015–16 to 2018–19).
Native vegetation losses are estimated to be small and mainly due to changes in land use due to urban development.
It is important that there is consideration of the cumulative impacts of small modifications to habitat, because these can lead to thresholds being crossed unknowingly and unintentionally for at least some aspects of vegetation and ecosystem health.
Most of the ACT’s vegetation loss has been from historic clearing on lowlands and modification of ecosystems for agriculture and urban development. It is estimated that there has been little change in the distribution of upland vegetation types.
Prior to European settlement, Natural Temperate Grasslands were thought to cover over 25,000 hectares or 11% of the ACT area, but today they only cover around 1,100 hectares, less than 1% of the ACT.
For Lowland Box Gum Woodlands, the pre-European settlement distribution was thought to be over 47,000 hectares or 20% of the ACT area, but these woodlands now only cover some 11,500 hectares, around 5% of the ACT.

While the loss of native vegetation due to urban development remains of concern, it is unlikely to be the largest source of native vegetation change in the ACT. Chronic degradation of habitat condition, mainly in fragmented landscapes, is a significant problem in the ACT.

There has been substantial revegetation in the Murrumbidgee River Corridor nature reserves, Lower Cotter Catchment and other areas of public lands to restore habitat and connectivity. This has included planting some 100,000 tube stocks and 200 kilograms of native seed.
In addition, there were revegetation activities on some 1,500 hectares of private land between 2015 and 2018, mainly through works undertaken by Greening Australia.
Native vegetation: condition
It was not possible to determine changes in the condition of native vegetation over the reporting period (2015–16 to 2018–19). Nor was it possible to provide an overall assessment of vegetation condition.
Climate change has led to an increased occurrence of dieback in the ACT.

There has been a significant increase in the incidence of dieback in Blakely’s Red Gum (E. blakelyi).

Significant areas of riparian vegetation on the Murrumbidgee and Molonglo Rivers have poor connectivity particularly in areas outside of reserves.
Since 2009, woodlands, Natural Temperate Grasslands and secondary grasslands have shown an increase in native plant species richness suggesting an improvement in condition.
However, woodland native species richness has seen a slight overall decline since 2014, possibly due to drought conditions experienced in 2018.
Native grass cover across all vegetation formations has been declining since 2012. This decline does not appear to be linked to drought. More analysis is required to determine if it is linked to management practices. The decline in this indicator is a concern because it has implications for fauna habitat and for weed invasion.
In 2018, only 34% of the total area of native vegetation assessed was found to be within the optimal tolerable fire interval to maintain vegetation communities, 53% was below minimum TFI (fire interval too short to maintain vegetation in its optimal state), 7% above the maximum TFI (fire interval too long to maintain vegetation in its optimal state), and 6% classed as long unburnt.
Native vegetation growth stages across the ACT reflect a similar pattern to tolerable fire interval status, with extensive areas of the uplands being dominated by early and young growth stages due to the 2003 bushfires. This has significant implications for biodiversity, especially for fauna that require older growth stages.
In the longer term, conservation needs to focus on diversifying growth stages. In the lowlands, this can be achieved through the ecological burning of late
and mature growth stages for vegetation resilient to fire. However, in the uplands achieving growth stage diversity will require time and deliberate protection of the relatively rare older growth stages from prescribed fire and bushfire until more of the landscape reaches post-fire maturity.
Invasive terrestrial plants and animals
Invasive plant and animal species continue to pose a major threat to biodiversity, ecosystem health, primary production, social amenity and human health.
Data on management outcomes clearly demonstrates the value of invasive species management to control established populations and to eradicate new outbreaks where possible.
Management results also show the risk of invasive plant and animal populations re-establishing themselves in the absence of ongoing control.
Invasive terrestrial plants and animals: invasive plants
There have been 592 invasive plant species recorded in the ACT.
Data on management activities clearly demonstrates the value of invasive plant management to control established populations and to eradicate new outbreaks where possible.
Management results also show the risk of invasive plant populations re-establishing themselves in the absence of ongoing control.
Over the reporting period (2015–16 to 2018–19), 54,000 hectares of invasive plant control was undertaken in the ACT for over 100 invasive plant species.
Serrated tussock accounted for the largest area treated at nearly 14,000 hectares, followed by St. John’s wort (over 10,000 hectares), blackberry (7,700 hectares) and African lovegrass (6,900 hectares).
Invasive terrestrial plants and animals: invasive animals
It was not possible to comprehensively determine the distribution and abundance of invasive animals in the ACT for this report.
Records show the presence of 64 introduced animal species in the ACT, including 17 mammals, 33 birds, 2 lizards, 1 frog and 11 fish.
The invasive animal species of most concern in the ACT are feral pigs, deer, foxes, rabbits, horses and wild dogs, with control programs undertaken for all these pests.
Rabbits are the most widespread and damaging invasive animal in the ACT, impacting on natural and rural lands. Rabbit control is the most common invasive animal management undertaken.
Deer and horses have the potential to cause significant environmental damage to sensitive alpine bogs and fens, woodlands and agriculture.
As with invasive plants, to be effective the management of mobile and rapid breeding animals such as rabbits requires ongoing control.
Despite the significant impacts on native wildlife, the ACT has no formal programs to manage stray or feral cats. The exception is cat containment legislation for new suburban developments.
Foxes have been shown to have a devastating impact on native wildlife in the ACT with the potential to cause local extinctions of vulnerable native species. Foxes were responsible for the loss of Bettongs released in the Lower Cotter Catchment between 2015 and 2017.
The restoration of native populations is dependent on the effective control of invasive species.
Annual kangaroo culls are undertaken to protect the ACT’s grassy ecosystems from overgrazing. Between 2009 and 2019, over 22,000 kangaroos were culled. The largest annual cull was 4,035 kangaroos conducted in 2019. The annual cull numbers have increased annually since 2013, mainly due to the increased number of management sites.


Aquatic ecosystem health 2015 to 2018

The main pressures on aquatic ecosystem condition in the ACT are land use impacts, modified river flows, and climate change.

This is the first ACT State of the Environment report to use data from the Catchment Health Indicator Program (CHIP). The program assessed 67 reaches in the Ginninderra, Molonglo and Southern ACT catchments.
38 (57%) reaches were in fair condition across the 3 catchments, 26 (39%) were in good condition. Only 2 reaches were found to be in excellent condition and 1 was assessed as poor.
Aquatic condition is strongly influenced by land use with reaches in urban and rural areas in poorer health than those in conservation and protected lands.
The Southern ACT catchment had the highest proportion of reaches in good to excellent condition with 15 out of the 26 reaches assessed.
The presence of some good condition reaches in urban areas shows that healthy aquatic ecosystems can be supported with effective management and water-sensitive urban design.
Macroinvertebrate condition 2015 to 2018

Only 25% of reaches assessed were found to have good to excellent macroinvertebrate condition, 26% were found to be in poor to degraded condition, with 49% classed as fair.

The Southern ACT and Molonglo catchments had the most reaches with healthy macroinvertebrate communities.
Macroinvertebrate condition was strongly linked to land use but also likely influenced by the mostly dry conditions over the assessment period.
Riparian condition

Only 14% of reaches were assessed as having good to excellent riparian condition, 37% were found to be in fair condition and 48% were assessed as poor to degraded.

Urban and rural areas generally had fair to degraded riparian condition due to vegetation clearing. However, there were also some fair and poor reaches in conservation and protected areas.
The replanting of native species in cleared riparian zones and the removal of weed species would greatly improve aquatic health and the amenity of aquatic ecosystems for the ACT community.
Native fish

There are positive trends for some populations of native fish including the Two Spined Blackfish and Macquarie Perch in the Cotter River, and Murray Cod in some sections of the Murrumbidgee River.

Negative native fish population trends include a decline of Trout Cod following the cessation of conservation stocking by the NSW Government in the Upper Murrumbidgee Catchment, and low populations of Golden Perch in the upper reaches of the Murrumbidgee River.

Alien fish species are common in the ACT, with native fish typically accounting for less than 30% of total fish abundance and less than 20% of total fish biomass in the Murrumbidgee River. The dominance of alien species in the Murrumbidgee River is mainly due to high numbers
of carp.

The proportion of native fish abundance is higher in the Cotter River, accounting for over 70% of the total abundance and between 45% and 70% of the total biomass between 2014 and 2019.
Alien fish species are having an impact on native fish in the ACT, competing for food and habitat resources, spreading disease and modifying habitat.
Between 2015 and 2019, over 162,000 Golden Perch and 107,000 Murray Cod were stocked in Canberra’s lakes and larger ponds.
The presence of Murray Cod and Golden Perch in Canberra’s urban lakes and ponds is dependent on stocking.
River flows 2015 to 2018
For the Murrumbidgee and Molonglo rivers, annual discharges were well below the long-term average in 2017 and 2018. These years followed two consecutive years of annual discharges higher than long-term average flows (2015 and 2016).
Discharges for the Cotter River and Paddys River also had annual discharges that were well below the long-term average in 2017 and 2018 with only 2016 above the long-term average.
Annual discharges were lowest in 2018 due to the lack of rainfall: the annual discharge in Paddys River was just 7% of the long-term average; the Molonglo River 15%; Murrumbidgee at Lobbs Hole 17%; Murrumbidgee at Halls Crossing 19%; and Cotter River 24%.
These reduced discharges have consequences for ecosystem health as well as the amenity of the ACT’s waterways.
Annual discharges for the Murrumbidgee River leaving the ACT were much higher than those upstream of the region. The ACT’s additions to Murrumbidgee River flows are vital for downstream ecosystem health and water supply, particularly during low flow periods.
All discharges downstream of storage reservoirs met the environmental flow requirement; this took place despite the significantly reduced rainfall and river flows in 2017 and 2018.
Water Quality 2015 to 2018
Water quality guidelines were met for nearly all monitoring samples taken in the Murrumbidgee River for pH, electrical conductivity and dissolved oxygen.
Turbidity guideline exceedances were for high for the Murrumbidgee River for the years 2015 to 2017. Exceedances in 2018 were lower than other years and are likely related to reduced rainfall and catchment run-off.
Except for nitrogen, water quality in the Murrumbidgee River is comparable upstream and downstream of the ACT, with turbidity slightly improving as the river moves though the region.
For assessments undertaken as part of the CHIP, water quality was found to be excellent for 35% of reaches and good for 62%, with only 2 reaches assessed as fair condition.
All catchments had the majority of their reaches in good to excellent condition for water quality. The Southern ACT catchment had 62% of reaches in excellent condition.
Although the ACT’s water quality was generally good, nitrogen concentrations are much higher in the Murrumbidgee River downstream of the Lower Molonglo Water Quality Control Centre.
Water quality condition is linked to land use with the majority of reaches in excellent condition on conservation and protected land.
Despite the added pressures imposed by urban and rural land uses, water quality was still good in these areas, with some reaches attaining excellent condition ratings. This assessment demonstrates the effectiveness of water quality management in some urban areas, particularly as a result of constructed wetlands and other water-sensitive design approaches.
Water quality results may also reflect the decreased rainfall for most of the reporting period. Dry conditions decreased the amount of pollutants entering waterways from rainfall run-off.
Recreational water quality 2016–17 to 2018–19

Nearly every monitored recreation site experienced closures due to the exceedance of enterococci (faecal coliform bacteria) guidelines.

When compared to the other urban lakes, Lake Ginninderra is the only lake where enterococci is the main cause of recreation closures and had the highest number of closures due to enterococci each year.
Murrumbidgee River had a high number of site closures for enterococci.
Enterococci results for Paddys River are a concern with substantial periods of closure for the single site monitored.
Blue-green algae is the main cause of recreation closures for Lake Tuggeranong and Lake Burley Griffin.
Lake Tuggeranong had the highest number of blue-green algae closures in 2016–17 and 2018–19 and was closed for most of the 2018–19 recreational swim season.
The Molonglo River was the only river to have recreation closures due to blue-green algae.
To reduce the number and duration of recreational closures, there needs to be improved management and interception of run-off in urban areas, and the re-establishment of riparian vegetation in both urban and rural areas.


Area burnt long-term findings

Since the 2003 bushfires, which burnt an area of 164,000 hectares, there have been no large bushfires in the ACT.

The annual area of vegetation burnt in bushfires since 2003 has mostly been under 100 hectares except for 591 hectares in 2004, 1,474 hectares in 2006, and 443 hectares in 2018.
The area subject to prescribed burning in the ACT has far exceeded that of bushfires accounting for 94% of the 45,000 hectares burnt between 2004 and April 2019.
Area burnt over the reported period (2015 to 2019)

Over 13,000 hectares were burnt with prescribed burns responsible for 96% (12,540 hectares) of the total area burnt.

There were only two notable bushfires – the 204-hectare Pierces Creek fire in November 2018 caused by an abandoned vehicle being set alight in an act of arson; and the 200-hectare Potters Hill fire in Namadgi National Park in March 2018 caused by a prescribed burn re-ignition.
Fire ignition causes

Most fires in the ACT are deliberately lit. Between 2004 and April 2019, arson accounted for 45% of all non-prescribed burn ignitions in the ACT, compared to 16% for lightning and 10% associated with accidents.

Prescribed burns

Since 2009, fuel reduction burns accounted for 99% (around 31,500 hectares) of all prescribed burns in the ACT.

There is a growing recognition of the importance of fire for vegetation, biodiversity and cultural management in the ACT.

The period 2015 to April 2019 saw a large increase in ecological burning with 270 hectares treated. In addition, 10 hectares were burnt for both cultural and ecological reasons (multiple purpose) and one hectare for cultural purposes only. However, ecological and cultural burns only accounted for 2% of all prescribed burns over the period.

Decisions on fuel reduction burns need to consider ecosystem and biodiversity requirements to ensure ecologically appropriate burning is undertaken.
It is important to develop and maintain a mosaic of burnt and unburnt fuels in strategic locations across the landscape to address both fuel management and biodiversity requirements.
Fire risk 2014–15 to 2018–19

The reporting period saw an increase in the average and maximum Fire Danger Index (FDI), showing a growing trend in potentially more severe fires if they were
to occur. Increased FDI also indicates an increasing potential difficulty in fire suppression in the ACT.

The 2018–19 fire season produced the greatest number of very high and high Fire Danger Ratings (FDR) days, and the highest maximum FDI.
The number of days with a very high FDR increased from 11 days in 2014–15 to 44 in 2018–19.
The highest FDR over the period was severe, occurring on 11 days, including 4 days in 2016–17 and 3 days in 2018–19. The highest forecast FDI in the period was 73 in February 2019.

Climate change is expected to increase both average and severe FDI in the future.