Environmental News and Action
Abolition of Hawkesbury
On 4 April, without warning, the Minister for Conservation and Land Management, Richard Amery, abolished the Hawkesbury Nepean Catchment Management Trust. It was claimed the Trust was not doing enough ‘on-ground’ works nor getting value for its $3.5M yearly allocation.
Yet the Trust had been a strong and independent advocate for protecting the Hawkesbury-Nepean river system. It tapped into thousands of hours and millions of dollars of additional volunteer and professional efforts supporting the work of the Trust.
The Department of Land and Water Conservation will replace the Trust. However, a Government agency will not be able to achieve the results still needed to maintain and improve the health of the catchment. The Trust was well positioned to facilitate action by many organisations and government agencies, all working towards on-ground improvements to the catchment.
NPA has written to the NSW Government asking it to reverse its decision to abolish the Hawkesbury Nepean Catchment Management Trust, to give it stronger powers and to expand its scope to cover the entire catchment.
WCD to be DDU
The World Commission on Dams (WCD) has now been decommissioned. It is to be reincarnated as an independent Dams and Development Unit (DDU) from 1 August 2001, hosted provisionally by the United Nations Environment Program. The DDU will be charged with facilitating information exchange about initiatives and outcomes relating to dams and development. It will have a mandate to operate for two years.
In recognition of the WCD's efforts in reviewing environmental and social impacts and its approach to incorporating impact assessment into decision making, the International Association of Impact Assessment has given it their 2001 Institutional Award.
A three-day conference is being held in Canberra on "Biodiversity Conservation in Freshwaters" from 5–8 July. It is a Fenner Conference on the Environment, organised by the Australian Academy of Science. To find out more, ph 02 6201 5786 or see the website www.aerg.canberra.edu.au/fenner
Flying in the face of wilderness values
Treading lightly and making little sound, the experienced bushwalker moves through the rugged terrain of the southern Blue Mountains leaving little evidence of his presence. Enter the StrikeMaster fighter bomber on a mock combat mission through the gorges of the southern Blue Mountains. For miles around the sounds of the birds, the rustle of the leaves and the whisper of distant waterfalls are drowned out by the deafening shriek of jet engines as this military aircraft swoops in and out of the valleys.
This is a new and disruptive form of recreation being pursued in the World Heritage Wilderness of the Southern Blue Mountains. Promoted by the Australian Fighter Flight Centre and operated from Bankstown Airport, clients paying upwards of $1,500 are flown at low altitudes through the Burragorang and Kowmung valleys. Their experience is promoted as being that of a jet-fighter pilot on a military combat mission. Unlike their military mentors, however, the civilian passenger’s purpose is not the sobering reality of military combat, but that of having a good time.
This is a repugnant distortion of the true purpose of military flight missions. Such flights have no place outside the defence forces and no place in the wilderness of the Blue Mountains.
What you can do:
Write to the Federal Minister for Transport, John Anderson, and the Minister for the Environment, Robert Hill, at Parliament House, Canberra 2600. Ask them to ban low-level commercial flights over the Blue Mountains, and call for minimum heights to be set over national parks of several kilometres above the highest surface features.
THREATENED SPECIES AT RISK
The NSW Government is withdrawing critical funding for the NPWS to implement the Threatened Species Conservation Act, just at a time when more funds are needed to implement newly adopted recovery plans. Since the commencement of the TSC Act in 1996, the yearly $4M allocation to NPWS has been supplemented by about $2.5M, mainly to prepare and implement recovery plans.
NPWS’s responsibilities under the TSC Act include dealing with development applications affecting threatened species, supporting the Act’s Scientific Advisory Committee that decides on the status of species, preparing species recovery plans, conducting research and implementing the recovery plans.
The total $6.5M/year is still insufficient to complete the work required by the Act, let alone the massive effort required to recover species from the path towards extinction. This year the NPWS has sought at total of about $10M for its TSC Act responsiblities. As more recovery plans are completed, there is a need to spend more funds on implementing recovery actions, not less.
It appears Treasury is due to cut the $2.5M supplementary funding. Either the NPWS will have to find funds from its other critical conservation programs, or recovery planning will cease.
If the Government proceeds with these changes, it signals that it no longer considers threatened species important. Recovery plans will be consigned to collect dust on a shelf and the threatened species will be found only in specimen jars in museums.
The World Wide Fund for Nature has just published "Managing Farm Bushland: A Manual for the New England Tablelands of NSW". The aim of the manual is to assist landholders and land managers to actively manage remnant patches of bushland. It incorporates the principle of adaptive management, and several sections contain worksheets for assessments and monitoring. For more details, contact Richard Morsley or Ruth Tremont on 02 6772 7480.
Reserves at Stockton Bight
Following years of lobbying by conservationists and an election promise by the ALP to create a Stockton Bight NP, the NSW Government has announced that it proposes to establish NPWS-managed reserves at Stockton Bight. The proposal entails an 818 ha State recreation area, a 1,475 ha regional park and a 1,905 ha national park. It has also proposed a grant of 804 ha to the Worimi Land Council.
This network of reserves differs considerably from the 4,000 ha national park recommended by NPA. The categories and boundaries of reserves proposed appear to have been chosen to accommodate existing activities that are not compatible with nature conservation, such as sand mining and off-road driving. Furthermore, the boundaries would create serious management difficulties for NPWS, with a 15 km long strip of regional park catering for off-road beach driving adjacent to sand dunes in a national park.
Hunter Branch has complimented the Government on the announcement, but seeks improved nature conservation outcomes by banning mining and protecting all the public lands as national park.
The NPWS have acquired two large leasehold blocks through the Dunphy Wilderness Fund. These blocks form part of the high habitat quality, old-growth areas currently gazetted as Chaelundi State Forest. People may remember that this patch of forest was at the hub of logging, legal and parliamentary showdowns in the early 1990s.
Acquisition means that 2,081 hectares of the State Forest will be revoked for addition to Guy Fawkes River National Park, and subsequently declared as wilderness. This is additional to the 3,097 ha of Chaelundi further to the east in the Chandlers Creek catchment, for which the lease was acquired in September 2000.
Further purchases will hopefully be sought to secure the remaining lease-affected State Forest for conservation, which for Chaelundi alone is over 2,000 ha.
Morton & the Budawangs
The Plan of Management for Morton and Budawang NPs was recently adopted, bringing into force a number of measures proposed during public consultation. The parks, covering 194,000 ha, stretch from Bundanoon in the north, through the Ettrema and Budawang wilderness areas, to the Kings Highway in the south.
The plan represents a long overdue management regime to preserve the parks' special values. Most of the area will be managed as wilderness, with day use and vehicle access confined to the national park edges.
Minimal impact education will be promoted as a high priority. Increased controls, such as a permit system, will be introduced if education and other strategies fail to control the environmental impacts of bushwalkers.