Our living outback

Author Hannah Schuch

The Talaroo Nature Refuge is managed by Ewamian Traditional Owners. They are excited by the opportunities presented by the Nature Refuges program however are experiencing the under-investment first hand (supplied by author).

The Talaroo Nature Refuge is managed by Ewamian Traditional Owners. They are excited by the opportunities presented by the Nature Refuges program however are experiencing the under-investment first hand (supplied by author).

A place of beauty and diversity, the Australian outback is one of the last great regions of nature left on Earth. Outback Queensland boasts landscapes, rich in natural and cultural heritage, covering nearly two thirds of our state.

Stretching from the tropical rainforests of Cape York to the Gulf Country’s savanna plains and the vast floodplains of the Channel Country, our outback is as diverse as the people and wildlife who call it home.

Outback Queensland is home to an extraordinary range of native plants and animals; from cassowaries and cuscus in the rainforests of Cape York, to bilbies and budgerigars in the desert lands of western Queensland.

Our Living Outback is a new and exciting campaign working to secure much needed investment in programs that support people and nature in outback Queensland.

72% of Australia’s native bird species live in Queensland, along with 85% of its mammals, and just over half its native reptiles and frogs.

88,000 Queenslanders live in the outback, working across a range of industries and living in diverse communities. Both Indigenous and non-Indigenous residents share a strong bond with the land.

For thousands of years, the health of nature in outback Queensland depended on people carefully managing the land - but that delicate balance has become increasingly threatened as people move away from our outback.

Once-thriving outback towns experienced significant declines over the second half of the 20th century. With both colonisation and the continuous rapid urbanisation of modern Australia, we have seen the removal of people from the land, resulting in a lack of people on the ground to manage and protect outback landscapes.

Wildfires have increased in scale and intensity in parts of Queensland’s desert regions and the tropical savannahs of the north.

Feral animals and noxious weeds spread further, taking over from native plants and animals and damaging precious ecosystems.

Having people to actively manage the land is essential in the battle to address these threats and sustain the health of outback landscapes.

Despite its extraordinary ecological significance, Queensland has long suffered from an under-investment in conservation and land management with only 8.2% of its land area protected — the lowest proportion of Australia’s states and territories.

Fortunately, there are three successful programs that provide a strong foundation for protection of our outback. However, they are suffering from under investment, putting nature in the outback at risk.

Nature refuges: supporting landholders to care for their land

Nature refuges are a form of private protected area. They are a voluntary agreement between the state government and the landholder, aimed at protecting high conservation values on private land.

Nature refuge landholders can access modest funding for their conservation commitments, such as fencing off sensitive areas from stock, management of feral animals and weeds, or to install water infrastructure.

This program has huge potential with more than 500 landholders dedicating part or all of their land for conservation, covering a total of more than 4 million hectares.

However, with the rapid growth of the program the funding hasn’t kept pace, and now there is not enough funding to provide support for landholders to manage their lands or to encourage new landholders to enter the program.

The limited investment in recent years presents a threat to the program’s future growth and ability to deliver conservation outcomes at scale. The Queensland Government must urgently increase investment in this program to support landholders to care for their land, and to ensure it is delivering what is needed for nature.

Indigenous land and sea management

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples’ connection to country has stretched for many thousands of years and has forged much of the spirituality and cultural heritage, that underpins not only Indigenous modern culture heritage but that of Australian society. Since the 1980s, there has been a revival of Indigenous land management practices and increasing recognition of native title, but there are still fewer people actively caring for the outback than at any time in thousands of years.

The Queensland Indigenous Land and Sea Ranger program provides funding and technical support to rangers in 17 communities across Queensland. Rangers employed through the program care for land and sea country using both Indigenous knowledge and modern science. They conduct species surveys, control introduced predators such as feral cats, and set small, controlled burns to reduce the risk of large, destructive wildfires. They also maintain tourism facilities and cultural sites.

The Queensland Land and Sea Ranger program is a true success story. It’s delivering real environmental, social and economic benefits for Indigenous communities, including meaningful employment, positive health outcomes and improved management of feral animals, weeds and wildfire. 

Indigenous rangers are essential for caring for many of Queensland’s most ecologically and culturally significant places. Ranger programs provide a platform for Indigenous organisations to expand business opportunities, including engaging in the carbon economy through reduced emissions because of fire management which limits destructive wildfires.

There is strong support for the growth of the Indigenous ranger program amongst Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander organisations and the community.

National parks

Queensland has more plant and animal species than any other Australian state. National parks are incredibly important to protect our wildlife.

Queensland boasts some of Australia’s most iconic outback national parks. This includes the lagoons of Rinyirru National Park (Lakefield) on Cape York and the deep gorges of Boodjamulla National Park (Lawn Hill) in the state’s far north-west.

National parks provide a vital haven for native wildlife and are highly valued by Queenslanders as a place to spend time in the outdoors with family and friends.

The state’s national parks are a powerful drawcard for tourists from across Australia and around the world. Domestic and international visitors to Queensland’s national parks are estimated to contribute more than AU $952 million to the state economy each year.

In 2017, Galaxy Research found that support for Queensland’s national parks remains very strong with 84% of respondents indicating that more land should be protected in national parks and reserves, with three quarters stating that 20% or more of Queensland should be protected.

If Queensland is to sustain nature in the outback, the Government must expand and better manage our national parks. This will create new tourism and employment opportunities for regional communities and to help safeguard the state’s native wildlife.

Our outback is one of the very few great natural places left on the planet. To keep it healthy and to maintain its nature, its wildlife, its people, its economies we need to support programs like these - programs that support the people who live there, looking after and managing its lands.

The Our Living Outback campaign is an alliance of The Pew Charitable Trusts, Queensland Trust for Nature and Bush Heritage Australia.

For more information on the campaign, or to sign a petition visit:

www.outbackqueensland.org.au

NPAQ CommunicationsComment