The Wet Tropics Management Authority held a community forum in Malanda on 20 April and another at Port Douglas on 11 May.
Both forums resulted in the Wet Tropics Management Authority gaining valuable feedback about issues that really matter to communities. The forums also clarified the Wet Tropics Management Authority’s role in working with its partners in managing the World Heritage Area, provided an insight into Rainforest Aboriginal people’s interests in the Area and reflected on the 25th anniversary of the listing of the World Heritage Area.
Participants identified many positive attributes about living close to the World Heritage Area, hence protection of its natural values was considered of critical importance. Participants at both forums demonstrated a deep appreciation of the intrinsic values and innate beauty of the World Heritage Area and the role of its natural landscape on lifestyles in North Queensland. There was also a great appreciation for the role of water in the World Heritage Area. Maintaining clean waterways and biodiversity was strongly linked to human health.
Pests and weeds were considered the most serious threats to the natural values of the World Heritage Area. Participants strongly voiced their concerns about tropical weeds and animals such as pigs, wild dogs, tramp ants, and introduced fish species threatening the World Heritage Area’s biodiversity, aesthetics, access and surrounding land use and production. Pigs in particular were of great concern to habitats and water quality. These concerns were strongly reinforced by landholders living on the edge of forested areas and who are in the front line observing the impact of pests on a daily basis. It was apparent from the forums that participants wanted collaboration and cooperation between neighbouring landholders and government agencies to monitor pests and to implement and promote best practice in pest control.
Participants identified the most important strategies for protecting the World Heritage Area’s unique diversity of fauna and flora. These included: gaining an understanding of what is in the World Heritage Area and its potential for research; maintaining connectivity via corridors within and outside of the World Heritage Area; revegetating areas critical for maintaining habitat; identifying and managing refugia; and promoting conservation activities in the tourism industry. Participants recognised the importance of seed dispersers such as cassowaries and bats and that fauna and flora health can be used to indicate the impact of climate change.
Other strategies included educating the community, particularly youth, about the value of fauna and flora and the risks to the environment of dumping pets. It was recognised that authorities also need to be responsible in controlling pests such as dogs and reinforcing speed limits.
Participants believed there needs to be political will to protect habitats in and around the World Heritage Area. There is also a need to ensure state and local government policies are streamlined and do not conflict, and that government departments are coordinated in their approach to addressing issues and threats. Inadequate funding and resources for landholders to undertake effective management of land bordering the World Heritage Area, and feral animals and weeds continuing to overwhelm the community, were recognised as high risks.
Participants acknowledged the large number of volunteers including landholders contributing to maintaining the integrity of the World Heritage Area. It was felt there was a need to promote the benefits to farmers of fencing off creeks, planting corridors and other good practice and conservation activities.
The Rainforest Aboriginal participants noted the importance of protecting and passing down stories about the World Heritage Area. They also noted that lost knowledge, weeds and feral animals and cyclones are the main risks to the cultural values of the World Heritage Area. Forum participants recognised the importance of Traditional Owners doing on-ground management and that Rainforest Aboriginal people work in partnership with land managers with the same vision. Rainforest Aboriginal people also recognise the economic value of research and development of medicine from rainforest resources in addition to their knowledge and involvement in tourism and employment opportunities.
Other issues raised by forum participants included: sustainable recreational use such as accessibility to walking tracks; the ongoing threat of climate change and land clearing; and sustainable agriculture. Suggestions addressing management issues included protecting endangered species by propagating species outside of protected areas, setting up wash-down facilities between neighbours and cleaning up failed agricultural trials.
The Wet Tropics Management Authority Board of Directors is currently reflecting upon the outcomes of the Community Forums and is expected to progress the issues and concerns raised above with relevant partners and land managers.