By Hazel Muthomi, University of Queensland work placement student at the National Parks Association of Queensland (NPAQ)
Growing up in Kenya, my understanding of a national park has been a sunrise or sunset game drive to watch the big five animals in their natural setting. On this daytrip my goal was to understand how people in Queensland use their National Parks. Early Monday morning Marika, Laura and I set off with Andrew and Andy; Rangers from Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service (QPWS). We were certainly not in the usual big green Landcruiser (which is typical of safaris in Africa), so what exactly were we going to do on our visit with the rangers? The drive out of Brisbane consisted of Senior Ranger Andy Dutton, and Andrew Hoffman, the Principal Ranger Greater Brisbane, giving us a glimpse into their more than 20 years of experience working in National Parks.
PALM GROve GULLY
SMOKE OVER THE LANDSCAPE
The first estate we visited was Wickham Timber Reserve. This Reserve was part of a pine plantation and was sold as a koala offset habitat. As part of compliance in handing over the lease, the former owner has been required to remove all the pine in the area as well as restructure and rehabilitate the access paths in the Timber Reserve. The perimeter of the property was lined with signs prohibiting motorbikes, four-wheel drives and other vehicles. As we drove through, Andy pointed out evidence of people breaching these prohibitions: motorbike tracks lining the paths; eroded rock and cliff faces from people driving their four-wheel drive buggies on them; trees brought down and vegetation flattened. Catching and sanctioning these illegal users of the parks is another part of their role that takes up a fair amount. A Cultural Heritage assessment has been done on the property and a site containing Aboriginal artefacts was found. Their duty to preserve this site has been seen as a challenge as it is quite exposed and adjacent to the housing development.
Contiguous to Wickham is Plunkett Conservation Park. The park is managed by QPWS and some of its mandates include maintaining biodiversity and scenic values as well as activities such as horse riding and rock climbing. The challenges that the park encounters include illegal dumping, and as earlier mentioned, the prevalence of people on their buggies and motorbikes. Encouraging legal users coming to the park from the residential development may discourage illegal use. Several surveillance cameras have been set up to help identify the illegal users of the park, who will then be sanctioned for environmental damage and infringing park rules.
Over lunch, Andrew briefly talked about the recent bush fires and the responsibility that comes with managing them. Planned burns help get rid of the floor cover and fuel that could exacerbate fires during the fire season. In his role as a principal ranger, Andrew is expected to asses where, when and how to carry out these planned burns. This carries a significant amount of responsibility as the ramifications of getting it wrong are monumental both for the general public and biodiversity.
Andy explained how much his role as a ranger has changed over the years. The advent of social media has instigated more rapid complaints from/by the public, which consume much of his time as he has to respond to them. Prior to the use of social media, they would get one red folder a month with all the complaints whereas now these are made in real time and require an instant response.
As we drove to Mount French (which was our next stop), Andy and Andrew noticed a plume of smoke coming from the west. Being fire season, they were on high alert and quickly stopped to check where the fire was. Once confirming where it was and that it was being appropriately dealt with we could continue our journey.
At the viewpoint on Mt French, what would have been a beautiful green landscape was now covered by smoke. We then decided to go for a short hike up Mt Greville which is part of Moogerah Peaks National Park. As we stopped to see the vegetation change, it dawned on me that I am not made for hiking and I subsequently decided to rest under the cool every green forest. Marika and Laura were accompanied by Andrew further up while Andy stayed to keep me company.
The perfect end to our trip was on Mount Maroon where we were entertained by a pair of wedge-tailed eagles gliding and dipping in the valley. As every other sector in the environment, Andy pointed out that over the years risk management and complying with standards has increased but has not been matched with an increase in resources, making their job more difficult. Their region is made up of various small parks around the outskirts of Brisbane which are easily accessible to the public. Places like Daisy Hill Conservation Park which is relatively small receives about half a million visitors every year. This means that a lot of their resources are put into visitor and weed management in these small areas of land. Increasing population has also come with increased traffic making for longer travel times for them in and around greater Brisbane.
In conclusion, I would recommend that NPAQ foster public interest in national parks by working with rangers to highlight what an actual day on the job consists of. From our trip I have a better understanding and appreciation of what national parks in Queensland are; they preserve homes for wildlife, maintain biodiversity and meet the expanding recreational needs of the public. All this is in the hands of rangers like Andy and Andrew who with limited resourcing have to prioritise what is best for Queensland’s biodiversity.