The role that private conservation reserves play in the protection of nature has been recognised through a recent introduction of a Bill to the Queensland Parliament seeking to create a new category of protected area: Special Wildlife Reserves.
This is a positive action that serves to address the many challenges facing the sustainable future of a robust and thriving protected area estate in Queensland. While national parks are the mainstay of nature conservation, private protected areas are playing an increasingly important role. If passed into law, this initiative will provide some private protected areas the equivalent level of protection as a national park.
Queensland has historically lagged behind other states in the proportion of national parks, and has faced logistical and other hurdles in ensuing effective management; in particular, operating within an environment of constrained resources and limited budgets. However, Queensland has a history of innovation, having drafted the first legislation in Australia, and possibly the world, that provided for the declaration and management of a secure state-wide system of national parks. Queensland has also been at the forefront of developing new national park models based around indigenous ownership and management, and utilising mechanisms to grow the protected area estate outside the national park system.
This recent proposal appears to be a genuine initiative in countering the challenges involved in growing and managing the protected area estate in Queensland. The inclusion of private protected areas is a welcome initiative, as they play an important role in the spectrum of protected areas.
However, there is concern that a two-tier dichotomy may occur, with private protected areas becoming areas for conservation exclusive to the public, and public protected areas becoming more focused on nature-based recreation and tourism.
It is also uncertain as to why the term ‘Special Wildlife Reserve’ has been chosen. This term is exclusive of many values that may be attributed to the land, and implies a narrow focus on wildlife.
The current vulnerability of existing nature refuges to logging, mining and unsustainable grazing remains a concern.