Condition assessment is a key step in the adaptive management cycle. Condition assessments have been instrumental in driving policy reform, but as is often the case, policy implementation can change the demands placed on condition assessments. The Australian Government is working closely with state agencies in the development of an Integrated Ecosystem Condition Assessment (IECA) framework, to progress nationally agreed policy objectives for aquatic ecosystems to be managed as connected, functioning units.
The intent is to build on current approaches to condition assessments to provide an aquatic asset-based condition assessment methodology, that incorporates different connected aquatic ecosystem types and key ecosystem functions. The IECA Framework aims to allow condition to be evaluated and reported in relation to identified ecological values or objectives, risks/stressors, thresholds and management actions, to aid adaptive management.
The Victorian pilot application of the IECA framework was undertaken at two Murray River icon sites using existing data. The assessment used 19 condition and five stress indicators across four identified values (biodiversity, ecosystem function, resilience and amenity). The assessment was based on data collected after the Millennium drought broke, and both Barmah Forest and Hattah Lakes were rated as being in moderate condition. The project has undertaken a number of innovations that should improve the value of condition assessments within adaptive management frameworks, but a number of areas, such as the assessment of stressors, remain to be fully developed.