Protected’s first article exploring the state of national parks in Queensland noted it was “critical” that a new State Government prioritised “the protection of wildlife and their habitat as a legacy to future generations” (Feb-Mar 2015).
Last year, cautious optimism was expressed after noting improvements in protected area management after a period where “national parks in Queensland came under siege” (Protected, Feb-Mar 2016).
In early 2017, it can be observed that the State Government appears to be making very good strategic and operational advances in its approach to national park acquisition, planning and management.
This is reflected in the release for public comment of the Draft Queensland Protected Area Strategy, which is the first substantial terrestrial conservation document in Queensland for some time.
There have also been several other noteworthy developments worth reflecting on as we consider where the final strategy make take us.
Release of the Draft Queensland Protected Area Strategy
NPAQ regards the draft strategy as a genuine effort to counter the challenges involved in growing and managing the protected area estate in Queensland and welcomes the inclusion of private protected areas. However, there are several components in the draft strategy that are of significant concern to NPAQ.
The initial tone of the draft strategy was disappointing. There was a strong implication that conservation was subordinate to economic growth and employment, and a failure to fully acknowledge the significant role conservation played in tourism, ecosystem services and growth in land management enterprises.
Perhaps the final strategy can draw more on tangible socio-economic benefits of conservation and national parks that are already well understood; then the true value of national parks to regional Queensland can be reflected, as opposed to foregone economic opportunities.
The draft strategy focussed substantially on obtaining alternative funding options for Queensland’s protected area estate. However, Queensland’s national parks are an economic powerhouse, contributing significantly to Queensland’s multi-billion dollar tourism industry.
NPAQ is not of the opinion that developing a legislative mechanism to allow sole management of national parks by third parties is appropriate.
While wary of purely percentage targets for Queensland, NPAQ could be persuaded to support a target of 17 per cent if the right justification and methodology is proposed.
Some additional observations on the draft strategy include:
- Moving from 8 per cent coverage of the state in terrestrial protected areas to 17 per cent by 2035 will require a sustained acquisition program. This will need to be driven by the proposed medium-term target, and underpinned by adequate budgetary, organisational and partnership arrangements. Critically, the draft strategy notes that early acquisition efforts of what DEHP call “key strategic properties” will be most cost effective.
- An enhanced protected area estate is recognised as being central to the conservation of biodiversity in the face of climate change.
- Partnerships with the private and non-government sector, with other levels of government (especially local governments) and with individual landholders, continue to be a critical part of the institutional arrangements required to deliver a comprehensive, adequate and representative (CAR) protected area estate. Of interest is the proposal to designate “Special Wildlife Reserves” as a type of voluntary private protected area that would be managed to the same standard as a national park.
- Establishment of joint management arrangements with Traditional Owners, such as those put in place in the North Stradbroke Island area including for Naree Budjong Djara National Park, will continue through a number of mechanisms – for example, IPAs, the CYPAL areas, the Indigenous Land and Sea Ranger program.
- Acknowledgement that as both acquisition and management of protected areas becomes more complex and interconnected with a broader range of stakeholders, new regulatory tools are required to secure “public good” conservation outcomes from private efforts.
- That protected area acquisition and management occurs in a chronically resource-constrained environment, making additional or complementary revenue streams for both state and private managers an essential consideration going forward. This may include adopting successful strategies in place in other parts of Australia.
Key legislative developments
Last May, the State Government passed the Nature Conservation and Other Legislation Amendment Bill 2015. This was a far-reaching Bill welcomed by NPAQ that reflected a campaign by NPAQ and others to reintroduce the cardinal principle to nature conservation legislation.
The legislation also enshrined community consultation on management planning, which NPAQ considers essential to contemporary protected area management given the deeply interconnected arrangements in place in Queensland.
Also of note was the tenure resolution and consultation requirements provided for Traditional Owners regarding Cape York Peninsula Aboriginal Land (CYPAL), and upgraded protected area classifications for some of the state’s most iconic areas of scientific interest.
Protected area estate acquisitions
The DEHP Annual Report released last September noted that in 2015-16 “the protected area estate increased by 421,449ha”, with 11 new nature refuges covering 10,430ha also declared. This included the dedication of 379,759ha of national park (including Biniirr National Park in April 2016, part of CYPAL), 11,303ha of forest reserve upgraded to national park and 31,260ha dedicated as regional park. These acquisitions were spread throughout the state, adding to national parks as diverse as Currawinya, Lamington, Moresby Range, Springbrook, Mt Barney, Tewantin and Undara Volcanic.
Other acquisitions later in 2016, also significant in terms of area and conservation value, relied on co-operation between the State and Federal Governments. This included new national parks (Expedition, Littleton and Rungulla) and expanded parks (Girringun, Wondul Range).
The 2016-17 State Budget contained a range of commitments related to the protected area estate, including:
- 31 new park ranger jobs over the next four years across Queensland;
- $35.9 million in funding over four years to establish and manage the protected areas estate.
- A report released in December noted the State Government’s progress in delivering on its promises, many of which were directly relevant to the protected area estate. Some of these commitments were identified as “complete”, with the following noted as “in progress”:
- Consider North Stradbroke Island in any national park estate expansion;
- Secure and conserve representative and resilient samples of all bio-geographical regions of the state in the national park estate and move towards the target set through the Convention on Biological Diversity.
- The DEHP has indicated the target for the percentage of Queensland’s land area to be protected (8.1 per cent) has not achieved due to “a number of impediments not being resolved and delays with NatureAssist negotiations”. While applauding the growth in the estate, the NPAQ hopes these impediments and delays can be addressed as a matter of priority.
Climate change linkages
Both the draft strategy and the Queensland Climate Adaptation Directions Statement released for public comment last October acknowledge the need to consider the impacts and effects of climate change in designing a CAR protected area estate in Queensland.
This will play out in myriad ways, including prioritising areas for acquisition by identifying species and habitats that are vulnerable to the effects of climate change.
There is reason to be optimistic about the direction that Queensland’s protected area estate is headed.
Positive developments include: the release of the draft strategy; further plans to strengthen and expand the regulatory framework; an acquisition program that is funded and targeted; government commitments that target weaknesses highlighted by NPAQ and others in recent years; and a demonstrable effort to link protected area and climate change policy.
NPAQ will be closely watching the draft strategy’s finalisation and implementation.
This article was first published in Issue 14 of the National Parks Association of Queensland (NPAQ) bi-monthly magazine, Protected (April-May 2017)