Convener of the NPA Reserves Committee
A transition for reserve establishment has been under way, at least since the completion of the Comprehensive Regional Assessments (the forest epic of 1995-2000) and probably even prior to this. As a peak conservation organisation seeking adequate protection of natural landscapes across the entire State and its range of ecosystems, NPA has been planning how to adapt, while retaining an effective community role. This article gives a summary of strategies discussed during a reserves strategy and planning day, held on the weekend of the March 2000 State Council meeting. It involved councillors from six NPA Branches along with members of the Executive, Reserves Committee and staff.
|In assessing these trends, a three-way
approach was suggested as a template for our future work:
1) working towards the consolidation and improvement of existing reserves (extension/completion)
2) working towards the establishment of new core public reserve areas, which may or may not be of independently viable size for ecological needs (new reserves)
3) the development of new concepts as complementary to the first two measures (new concepts).
To clarify these categories, examples of how they would apply to particular priority themes are discussed below.
If Australia is a continent of low soil fertility by world standards, most of our present reserve system represents a subset – the lowest of the low in soil fertility. Difficult as it is to redress this imbalance in NSW, some avenues appear available for adding areas of relatively higher soil fertility to the reserve system.
Extension/completion examples – Some areas of shale ridgetops adjoining or close to the Sydney sandstone national parks would add considerably to diversity if protected and, if necessary, recovered. Inholdings within current parks such as partly modified river flats or patches of volcanic soil are a similar target on the grounds of soil fertility and associated rare vegetation. Adjoining some of our inland reserves, such as Conimbla and Warrumbungle national parks, are partly cleared valley floors with alluvial soils of higher fertility than the surrounding broken topography. Given a period of recovery, such additions offer considerable ecological enhancement to those reserves.
New reserves – Given the realities of agriculture and clearing, new reserves on higher soil fertility are likely to be in the size range of tens of hectares, perhaps up to a few hundred in ephemeral lakes or the like. We are therefore contemplating modest nature-reserve size remnants being protected.
Examples include Pine Creek State Forest south of Coffs Harbour, a patch of moist open forest that is rare for its locality on the coastal plain. Travelling stock reserves and road reserves in the central west are both potential samples of fertile land systems. River red gum communities represent a rich environment of the west which is poorly protected.
New concepts – Links to biodiversity and threatened species recovery programs are likely to guide renewed protection initiatives across the range of land tenures. One mechanism would be land swaps where a development application may be current on a high-fertility habitat site.
Large-scale rehabilitation is likely to be the only way of obtaining even a minimal representative sample in the conservation estate. For some floodplain and tableland areas, community sponsored projects could begin trends in this direction.
Woodlands and grasslands
Of all the State’s ecosystems, these have been the most reduced in extent. Our starting point for new reservations has been the remnant woodlands within some State forests of the Southern Brigalow and Nandewar bioregions and, of course, the high profile Cumberland Plain remnants such as the proposed Wianamatta Regional Park on the former ADI site.
Extension/completion examples – The Pilliga Scrub is a rare opportunity for major woodland reserve expansion. Linkages from Pilliga NR to Warrumbungle and Mount Kaputar national parks remains part of the expanded Pilliga vision. In the Central Tablelands, important reserve extensions include Whitebox communities adjoining Coolah Tops.
New reserves – Goonoo State Forest is presently the largest of a number of areas covering 20–30 western State forests. Our Goonoo proposal includes the surrounding forests of Lincoln and Breelong, with the vision of extending this park to include fertile soils along the Castlereagh River. Many of the smaller areas will need to be assessed in relation to ongoing expansion through acquiring adjoining properties.
New concepts – Inland dams such as Keepit and Burrendong include gazetted catchment zones, many of which have remnant woodland species if not intact communities. This represents a genetic bank of local flora from which depleted woodlands such as grassy whitebox or yellow box could be regenerated. In the long term, this reafforestation provides multiple advantages for the catchments in the form of soil retention and restoring natural hydrological patterns.
Aside from catchment rehabilitation, salinity mitigation programs and even carbon credit planting schemes need to be explored as measures with potential for meeting woodland conservation targets.
We are obviously at an earlier stage with marine conservation than on the land. At present, the need for proposals based foremost on the values of marine environments has emerged as a partial change of emphasis. This means that the priority marine areas may or may not adjoin terrestrial parks.
Extension/completion examples – The inter-tidal zone lands adjoining most coastal reserves have been sought for addition to NPWS estate for many years. Similarly, lake beds and estuary environments are obvious candidates for incorporation into coastal zone reserves.
New reserves – This is a twofold challenge: achievement of new marine parks and seeking new management regimes that place more than the currently very small areas into fully protected sanctuary zones.
New concepts – A reserve design particular to marine conservation is an east–west ‘zebra stripe’ reserve concept at points along the coast and extending from the land to the edge of State waters. This is additional to specific sanctuary areas, but would complement these and contribute to the fishery restocking process demonstrated by marine reserves in other parts of the world.
One major concept is the development of broad corridors and networks to reinforce the existing parks system. In one dimension this is best expressed as the "Great Dividing Range" National Park – a continuous system of national parks and reserves linking the South-East Forest NP to Border Ranges NP, with a westward extension from Barrington Tops to Coolah Tops.
Implications for NPA
Focused energy and activity as always will be the mark of effective conservation work. Although complexity looms in many of the above examples, and resource-based obstructions can be assumed to be as prominent as ever, what does show up as fully consistent with all of our past conservation work is the role of packaging our concepts and finding audiences and alliances. In examples like woodland recovery or corridor projects, these will have some different packaging, audiences and alliances than in the past, and a regional approach is currently being discussed as a matter of priority.
With a good start evident in our funded Western, Marine and Woodlands projects, much work will be needed to take NPA’s future conservation packages into the various regions. That is a full topic in itself and will no doubt be canvassed in a future issue.
NPA would welcome members' feedback about our future reserve system.
Convener of the NPA Reserves Committee