NPA and NPWS, an amazing history – an even better future

Alix Goodwin, Chief Executive Officer, National Parks Association of NSW

In November 2017, Alix gave the following presentation at the National Parks 50:50 Forum hosted by Labor MP Penny Sharpe, at Parliament House

I’d like to start by acknowledging the traditional owners of the land on which we are meeting, the Gadigal people of the Eora nation, and pay my respects to elders past and present.

The combined history of the National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) and the National Parks Association of NSW (NPA) is an amazing one. It is a history which demonstrates how much we have achieved through the separate and combined efforts of two organisations committed to the conservation of Australia’s flora and fauna. Like NPWS, the National Parks Association is also celebrating an anniversary this year: its 60th. The establishment of an independent national parks service was both the first major, and first successful campaign launched by NPA, a campaign which commenced in March 1957. It was the vision of those behind the formation of NPA including Paddy Pallin, Allen Strom, Rod Earp, Milo Dunphy and Tom Moppett. Together they foresaw the need to establish a single independent, professional authority for national park management.

The establishment of NSW’s significant national park and protected area system owes much to the combined efforts of conservation activists, sympathetic politicians, and the behind the scenes work of NPWS. This applies to a number of national parks including the rainforests in northern NSW. To the public it might look as though these areas were won solely due to the hard campaigning of conservation groups like NPA, and the politicians with the foresight and political will to protect these areas. While these areas would not have been won without hard, assiduous campaigning, NPWS also played a significant role. We wouldn’t have achieved the World Heritage listing of the northern rainforests without the scientific mapping of these areas by NPWS. This work enabled conservation groups like the Nature Conservation Council, Total Environment Centre, National Trust and NPA to campaign for their transfer from state forest to national park status, and then world heritage listing. Beneficiaries of this scientific work include Washpool, Werrikimbe, Barrington and the Border Ranges. NPWS also worked behind the scenes to establish new parks during the negotiation of the Regional Forest Agreements nearly 20 years ago.

There are also important achievements for which NPWS should be given credit in its own right. It has been a world leader in strategic reserve planning. People like Bob Pressey, once of NPWS, now a world-renowned scientist, have contributed to this and the 2008 National Parks Establishment Plan, as published but in existence for at least a decade prior, are testament to this. It has undertaken some very good work to develop protected areas in Capertee Valley, a magnificent shallow canyon between Lithgow and Mudgee, and the Liverpool Ranges including Coolah Tops. The mapping work of NPWS was crucial in ensuring that the boundary of the Pilliga National Park was appropriate.

The east coast of NSW is peppered with a series of outstanding headlands and beaches. Many of these were being destroyed by overuse, particularly by four wheel drives, and a view that these were empty spaces rather than vital and sensitive ecosystems worthy of respect and protection. The work of NPWS has seen many of these incorporated into national parks or natures reserves. While this has required hard, diligent work over a long period, many have now recovered and look spectacularly better than they did in the past. Nice examples include Kattang at Dunbogan, the headlands within Coffs Harbour Regional Park, and Crowdy Bay.

NPWS has also worked effectively with Aboriginal people to co-manage protected areas. Worimi on Stockton Bight north of Newcastle is a good example. Arakwal National Park, near Byron, is on the IUCN Green List largely due to the co-management arrangement. And the Guluga-Biamanga Cultural Area in southern NSW is another excellent example.

And without the foresight and good planning of NPWS we would have lost pockets of important bushland like Wingham Brush Nature Reserve. We also can’t underestimate the role that NPWS has played in pest management, educating the community on the value and importance of conserving natural areas, and as an important contributor to regional economies and employment.

So on to the future for NPA and NPWS.

The Australian environment is at a cross road in its history, and the extinction crisis is continuing.

In the middle of the 1880s, just after the establishment of Australia’s first national park, a public campaign was commenced in Victoria to stop logging and preserve native forests given the threats to the environment. In 1864 George Perkins Marsh’s prescient, Man and Nature foresaw that deforestation would result in desertification and the loss of plants and animals (Ajani J, The Forest Wars, Melbourne University Publishing, 2007, p.24).

Today, there over 1,000 threatened species and over 100 threatened ecological communities in NSW as a result of the complex interaction between climate change, introduced pests, land clearing, agriculture, unbridled development and urban expansion. Australia has drawn the ignominious prize of being one of the top 10 countries for land clearing, and the only developed nation on this list. It is holds the record as the capital of global mammal extinction.

7.1 million hectares (or 9%) of NSW land area is protected. While this is a massive increase on the 861,000 hectares of protected area that was transferred to NPWS when established in 1967, it is a far cry from the Aichi target of 17% to which Australian governments have agreed.

So, what would an even better future for NPA and NPWS look like given this context?

First and foremost, we foresee a future where NPA works with NPWS as the body which is not only legislatively responsible for the conservation of nature under the National Parks and Wildlife Act, but lives this responsibility both strategically and on the ground. At present, NPWS appears to be being driven to function as a land manager only. We want to see the conservation of our extraordinary flora and fauna put fairly and squarely back onto the NPWS agenda.

Secondly, we want to work with NPWS to not only achieve the Aichi targets at the bioregional level but to move beyond this target to achieve a world class reserve system that is resilient to climate change, supports ecological processes, and has the best possible chance of enabling the persistence of flora and fauna. There is no doubt that growing NSW protected areas by nearly 7 million hectares by 2020 is a challenge but this shouldn’t stop us from trying. There are some easy wins which could be included in the reserve system immediately which would be welcomed by the public. The list is too long to present here.

There are also areas of the state which are poorly represented in our protected area system, most notably the western bioregions. It is time that we protected these under the National Parks and Wildlife Act. It is also urgent now that the spectre of broad scale land clearing threatens to rapidly erode the extent of natural habitats. Given the paucity of protected areas in the western bioregions, there is a very real opportunity to consider how its ecosystems are protected at a local and landscape scale. This will require solid scientific research to increase the depth of our knowledge to ensure that we do the right things in the right areas and not the wrong things in the wrong areas, a principle that needs to apply across the state.

Marine parks cannot be forgotten in this equation. They sit within the Aichi targets and population pressures mean we must be proactive in ensuring that their natural values and biodiversity is not eroded. It would be good to see this responsibility returned to NPWS. NPA remains committed to working with government to establish a Sydney Marine Park to protect the Hawkesbury bioregion. We are also committed to establishing complementary, interconnected terrestrial and marine parks which incorporate the inter-tidal zones. This is the best way to protect sensitive marine ecosystems as it minimises land-based threats like pollution. While this will not always be easy to achieve given development along the eastern seaboard, there are examples that are working well and which provide a model for the future. Jervis Bay is one, although more work is needed to protect the catchment of Lake Wollumboola and the integrity of the aquatic component of the national park.

We also need to work together to establish whether the Aichi biodiversity targets are adequate to ensure conservation of terrestrial, inland water, coastal and marine areas at the bioregional level in NSW. The Nature Needs Half movement has suggested that 50% protection is needed for good conservation outcomes.

NSW has been working toward the establishment of a protected area system that is comprehensive, adequate and representative and has come a long way since 1967.

While we have performed reasonably well in establishing a protected area system that is comprehensive and representative in coastal and alpine bioregions more needs to be done. One would also be forgiven for thinking that the ‘A’ in the CAR framework has been forgotten. There is a real opportunity for NPWS to work collaboratively with the NPA by drawing on the knowledge of the NSW landscape and ecological communities of its membership to ensure that growth in the reserve system is comprehensive, representative and adequate to protect the ecological viability and integrity of populations, species and communities. At the same time, we have a once in a life time opportunity to work together, and with other parts of government, to remedy the ‘A’ by taking advantage of the end of the Regional Forest Agreements over the next 3 years.

With implementation of a strategy like NPA’s Forests For All Plan, the gains won at the time of the establishment of the RFAs could be enhanced with the inclusion of another 2 million hectares of state forests in the reserve system, or as Indigenous Protected Areas. Forests For All envisages a managed transition from uneconomic, low employment native forest logging and timber, to new industries and sources of employment. It proposes an expanded reserve system using a range of categories of protected areas that support conservation as well as nature-based tourism, plantation forests for timber, alternative fibres, and the use of new technologies for engineering sustainably grown softwoods.

Research tells us that koalas like big trees and mature forests. The Great Koala National Park to which Labor has committed, is a key step in protecting rapidly declining koala populations on the north coast. NPA would welcome the opportunity to work with NPWS on detailed mapping and recreation planning in the Great Koala National Park and for other NPA proposals to protect public land between Newcastle and the Queensland border which is important for koalas and to ensure the survival of the species.

Thirdly, NPA would like to work with NPWS on the evolution of the CAR framework as it applies to NSW. These adjustments would ensure that resilience to climate change, reduced connectivity due to land-clearing and development, the distribution of threatened species, and the restoration and maintenance of ecological processes are overlayed on the framework to ensure our reserves are maximising their impact on conservation. The World Scientists’ Warning to Humanity: A Second Notice published in Bioscience this month, and which has over 15,000 signatories, helps us bring a wider lens to this task as we consider these adjustments.

Fourthly, we would like to work with NPWS to achieve the highest level of ambition for our best reserves of outstanding universal value – world heritage status. There are significant unfinished World Heritage proposals from the beginning of the now almost 20-year old Regional Forest Agreements. Just this week we have seen a motion moved by the Bellinger River Branch of the ALP to progress a long-standing community proposal to confer World Heritage status on the Bellinger River National Park. This is great to see but we shouldn’t stop there. Let’s enable the NPWS to progress the entire tentative list so that the stunning beauty of this ancient land is protected for the citizens of the world. There are also calls for new world heritage areas. The NSW and Commonwealth governments have previously committed to pursuing World Heritage status for the Royal. There is also a strong commitment within the NPA community in southern NSW to the establishment of an Alps to Coast World Heritage area. Before we can do this, we need to work with NPWS to document the scientific value of this area so that it can be brought into the reserve system.

Finally, we would like to work with NPWS and respected scientists to develop a well-funded research program which allows us to fill knowledge gaps in reserve management, and the conservation of ecological systems and threatened species in an era of climate change. This program would be complemented by a data-rich monitoring system designed to demonstrate the effectiveness of our joint endeavours to the community. This is an ambitious and urgent agenda. It is an agenda that must be delivered well ahead of the NPWS centenary to help insure against the sixth extinction and ensure future generations can experience the glory of nature as we have. It requires a public service with the strength, courage and political support to argue for the resources necessary to invest in good evidence-based planning, a well-resourced and professional NPWS, a well-funded research agenda, and a well-funded land acquisition and management program. Above all it requires a government with a commitment to an ecologically sustainable future and the willingness and strength to stand up to those who prioritise development over the environment, whatever the cost.

You can rest assured that we will be there to support you.

Help secure the future of national parks in NSW.

Over the past 60 years the NPA community has successfully influenced the establishment of many of the national parks and protected areas in NSW.

Today national parks are under threat from the continued cost cutting of NPWS, and demands to access national parks for development and logging.

If nothing is done these threats could result in irreversible damage to national parks, and the wildlife that depends on them to survive.

Support our appeal so NPA can make protecting national parks a government priority through ongoing advocacy, media and strong community support.

Together we will win the continued protection our national parks and native wildlife need to thrive.

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