Sunday 21 December 2014


On December 10, Kate Smolski, CEO of the NSW Nature Conservation Council (NCC), along with Healthy Ecosystems Program Manager, Waminda Parker, visited the Clarence Valley to look over two projects in which the NCC has been involved.
As partners with the Clarence Environment Centre (CEC) in the Federally funded Upper Coldstream Biodiversity Project, they were keen to observe the progress made during the first year, including weed eradication works undertaken by contractors across some of the 44 properties signed up for the project, and results of vertebrate pest monitoring for control programs.

At their first stop, a 250ha property north of Tucabia, the visitors saw the results of weed eradication, and learned about the remarkable Eucalypt diversity on the property which included Yellow Stringybark, the northernmost known occurrence of the species. In all, 23 tree species from the Myrtaceae family (including Eucalypts and Apple Gums) have been identified there.

An internationally recognised biodiversity hotspot, the Clarence Valley LGA is known to support more than 3,210 plant species, and so far more than a quarter of those have been identified growing in the Pillar Valley area. In fact the project surveys, undertaken by CEC volunteers, have added several species to that list, including two species found on that very property. To date, those flora surveys have identified several endangered communities, 16 threatened species, and 89 species protected under the National Parks and Wildlife Act.

The visitors' second stop was the “Emu Gully” project in Pillar Valley, a CEC bush regeneration initiative under the Land for Wildlife program. Ms Smolski planted three trees to launch the “save the endangered Coastal Emu campaign”, which is hoped to get under way in the new year.
Wholly undertaken by the landowner and CEC volunteers, that project was partially funded by the NCC, specifically to assist the survival of the endangered Coastal Emu population, the aim being to re-vegetate the cleared gully using trees and shrubs known to be preferred Emu feed species, and create a corridor for those birds, and other fauna, to move safely through the landscape.

- John Edwards

Wednesday 17 December 2014


Fifty years ago, President Johnson signed the US Wilderness Act into law. It created a new category of lands, similar to national parks but with a higher emphasis on nature conservation. Not only were these areas off limits to logging and mining, they would also be off limits to developments like roads, walking tracks and picnic areas that make life easier for park visitors. Visitors, although welcome, would be there on nature’s terms.

On the ground, there wasn’t much change in the management of the original 54 wilderness areas created in 1964. The Act only protected those areas already designated as ‘roadless wilderness’ in zoning plans, some since 1924.

In Australia, these zones — generally called ‘primitive areas’ — had also been mapped since the 1920s in some of our oldest national parks. New England National Park, created in the 1930s, was a large park primarily to protect the wilderness vistas from Point Lookout. 
Looking east towards the coast from near Point Lookout, New England NP
 Formal legal protection of wilderness in New South Wales had to wait until 1982, when the first wilderness areas under the National Parks and Wildlife Act were declared. These were in Gibraltar Range National Park, west of Grafton.

Since this time the meaning of the word 'wilderness' has come under attack on philosophical, cultural, political and ‘justice’ grounds. Some object to the term, claiming it is equivalent to a modern-day ‘terra nullius’. In fact, our wilderness areas protect many significant Aboriginal sites within the context of an undeveloped landscape, with a higher level of protection than is found in any other land tenure.

There are many wilderness definitions but they all have one thing in common — wilderness is land free from development. Other defining elements are: large size, naturalness, and management to retain the area in a wild condition, including the exclusion of high impact uses.

These are the areas, according to President Johnson, that would provide a glimpse of ‘the world as it was in the beginning, not just after we got through with it’. They are also the places where ecological and evolutionary processes can play out, giving nature a chance for the future. 

            - Janet Cavanaugh

Thursday 11 December 2014


The National Parks Association of NSW (NPA) is concerned about the future of koalas in NSW. Between 1990 and 2010 koala numbers have fallen by a third as a result of habitat loss, inbreeding, disease, predation and climate change.

The NPA's Samantha Newton points out that despite the fact that the koala is one of Australia's most commodified and iconic native animals "no national conservation reserve has been set aside to ensure the long-term protection of the species.  This is even despite the koala being a globally recognised symbol of Australia and the second most recognised animal in the world after the Chinese Giant Panda."

She pointed out that the Chinese have created a national park covering 1 million hectares of bamboo forest habitat  to protect their Giant Pandas.  As well as protecting Pandas this is an important tourist attraction with direct financial benefit to nearby communities.

The economic value of wildlife to international tourism in Australia has been estimated at $3.5 billion per year. A 1997 estimate of the economic contribution of Koalas to our international tourism was $1.1 billion.  So providing effective protection for this iconic species makes economic as well as ecological sense.

In NSW habitat loss caused by land clearing and urban development has led to the disappearance of Koalas from 75% of their former range.

"Even seemingly secure populations like those in the Port Stephens colony are at risk of extinction within decades unless their mortality rate is greatly reduced and their habitat connectivity is restored," Ms Newton said.

At the recent World Parks Congress in Sydney attended by conservation leaders from over 160 countries it was emphasised that the single most effective way to conserve biodiversity was the establishment of large and appropriately managed protected areas.

"We heard evidence from around the world that shows species occurring outside protected areas are sliding towards extinction twice as fast as those in reserves. We do not want that to happen to the Koala but currently over 80% of Koalas live outside protected areas.'"

The NPA is commencing a campaign to secure the future of the koala in a number of koala hotspots.

Newton said that the NPA's vision was to secure the future of the Koala by establishing "an internationally significant Koala reserve encompassing over 400,000 hectares of public land in the Coffs Harbour region and along with a series of reserves along the coast.  We can achieve this by adding 200,000 hectares of  state forest to existing reserves in the region.  The new Koala reserve will protect two nationally recognised populations of Koalas which are estimated to contain almost 20% of NSW's remaining wild Koalas."

The NPA is calling for donations for the campaign to establish these reserves. (NPA Koala Reserve Appeal)

Tuesday 2 December 2014


The NSW Minister for the Environment, Rob Stokes, announced the creation of a new national park in the Clarence Valley early in November .  The Government purchased 1700 hectares of the Everlasting Swamp which will be added to the area already protected as the Everlasting Swamp State Conservation Area.

In his media release, Mr Stokes said: "The Everlasting Swamp and the adjacent Imersons Swamp form one of the largest coastal floodplain wetlands remaining in NSW and an intact ecosystem of this size is extremely rare and globally significant."

 “With the support of the local community, the National Parks and Wildlife Service plans to restore the wetland to a more natural hydrological cycle and functioning wetland which will alleviate the acid flush risk and support a more sustainable fishing industry for the Clarence River."

Clarence Valley ecologist Dr Greg Clancy who has been visiting these wetlands since the late 1970s is delighted that the Everlasting Swamp has become a national Park.  He said this wetland is very important for brolgas. "We've had up to 100 brolgas in that area and that's very rare in NSW.  And there's a whole range of other waterbirds like whiskered terns, which come in their hundreds, and glossy ibis. The abundance and diversity is just incredible."

Because many wetlands in the Clarence have been drained, the Everlasting Swamp has become increasingly important as a habitat for birds. But Dr Clancy notes it is not pristine. Parts of the swamp have been invaded by feral pigs, weirs have been built to prevent salt water flowing in and cattle have turned some areas into temporary dustbowls. "It's going to be an interesting management challenge," said Dr Clancy.

"Now that it's a national park, I would certainly be keen to take tourists or birdwatchers into the area."

Saturday 22 November 2014


The joint announcement by China and the United States on November 12 that they plan to cut carbon emissions substantially has been welcomed as a "game changer".  Many see this as giving real hope that an effective international scheme can be developed at the Paris Climate Summit in December 2015.

The agreement is significant as both China and the US are the world's two largest economies as well as the world's major carbon polluters.  Together they account for around 40% of emissions.

The US has promised to cut its emissions by 26%-28% from 2005 levels by 2025. China expects that its emissions will peak by then - but this may happen earlier than 2030. By 2030 20% of China's energy production will be from renewables. 

Where does this leave the Australian Government?  While various Government Ministers have welcomed the announcement, it is likely that there is considerable embarrassment because Australia is clearly being left even further behind. 

Since it came to office, the current Government has been intent on dismantling all it could of the previous government's measures on climate change – this action extending way beyond abolishing the carbon tax.  The fact that some of the climate initiatives remain in place is primarily because the Senate has blocked their abolition.

Australia's Post-2020 Emission Challenge, a report from the independent Climate Commission  claims Australia needs to commit to much stronger emissions reduction.  The report states:  "Australia's decarbonisation goal should be to achieve a net zero-emissions economy between 2040 and 2050."

This would mean commiting to a marked ramping up of our national goal from 2020.  Will the current government be prepared to make such a commitment at the Paris Summit in 2015?  Their current actions would suggest that is extremely unlikely.

The Australian Government sought to avoid having climate change discussed during the Brisbane G20 talks  because it claimed climate change was not an economic issue. Australia was certainly in a minority with this view.  Some discussion of climate change was inevitable because of the concerns of many of the major countries.

It will be interesting to see how long it takes the dinosaurs leading Australia's government to acknowledge that climate change is a major economic issue. 

It will also be interesting to see how long Prime Minister Abbott will delay taking stronger climate action given that the major polluters are now showing their commitment to strong and effective action. The slowness of many major polluters to act has been used as an excuse by the Abbott Government for its piecemeal and ineffective climate policies. Now Mr Abbott does not have that excuse.