[ASC-media] Media release: national parks under threat

JCA Media jcamedia at starclass.com.au
Thu Feb 17 08:31:52 EST 2005

CRC for Australian Weed Management - Media Release 05/08

February 17, 2005


The task of protecting Australia's priceless natural heritage from destruction by invasive plants is being left by governments largely on the shoulders of a handful of volunteers.

Leading environmental scientist Dr Rachel McFadyen today called on State and Federal Governments to develop a professional response to the national threat of invasive plants - as they had in other emergency and defence services.

"Across Australia hundreds of volunteers do a magnificent job trying to stem the invasion of our national parks by introduced plants," says the Chief Executive of the CRC for Australian Weed Management (Weeds CRC).

"They are fighting a losing battle because this issue does not get sufficient focus or support from governments." 

Total Australia-wide expenditure on weed control in National Parks in 2001-2 was just under $20m, or $1 per person per year, Dr McFadyen says. It has not increased significantly since then. 

"This, frankly, is a disgrace considering the magnitude of the threat to Australia's heritage, and the results achieved are in line with the expenditure.'

"The situation is compounded by the fact that our largest States are especially poor performers in this regard, which means that Commonwealth matching funds are also low."

Quoting a recent study by the CRC and the University of New England, Dr McFadyen said that in 2001-02 Queensland spent only $1.4m, plus $0.7m in Commonwealth assistance from the National Heritage Trust (NHT). WA spent only $0.8m, plus $0.15m from NHT.

"Starving the park system in this way means that volunteers, who go into parks often to hand-remove alien plants that strangle and smother native species, are being used as cover for inaction by governments on a crisis which affects the entire Australian natural heritage," she says.

"In 1997 a report by Environment Australia stated: 'The growth of environmental weed threats in Australia is alarming. Volunteer groups are currently the main resource available for implementing activities to reduce, control and manage the spread of environmental weeds.' *

"Well, eight years on this is still the case. The crisis is worse.  The volunteers are still a willing but thin and under-resourced front-line.  And governments are quietly shirking their obligation to protect Australia's natural heritage from the assault by invasive plants."

Dr McFadyen says many Australians, including governments, assume that  declaring a National Park assures the survival of the native species in it.

"Far from it.  Once weeds get a foothold in a park, they progressively destroy most of the natural values for which it was originally set up.

"If something like bridal creeper gets in, you lose native trees, shrubs, the ground-cover and the wildflowers.  Then, because the native vegetation is gone, you also lose the marsupials, the birds, the reptiles and insects.

"In northern Australia native woodlands are being wiped out because invasive plants like gamba grass take fire right into the tree tops. Even our normally fire-tolerant trees can't survive the intensity of these fires. Once the trees are gone, more weeds move in.

"If our river eucalypts and casuarinas are replaced by willows in the south and camphor laurel in the north, we will lose the Australian birdlife that depends on them."

Volunteers, who try to control weeds in the landscape and parks, include groups like: Greening Australia; Save the Bush; Conservation Volunteers Australia (CVA); Friends of National Parks; the National Trust; Landcare, Rivercare, Coastcare and Bushcare groups; people with community service orders.

"Our volunteers do amazing things.  Quite often they succeed in controlling major infestations by invasive plants.  But the EA report made it clear eight years ago they did not receive enough support, funding, training, co-ordination, or policy backing.

"Since that report the situation has only got worse. The area of national parks has expanded without a proportionate increase in resources. The assault by invasive plants has intensified. New weeds of national significance have emerged. 

"The level of effort, nationally and statewide, does not reflect this."

Dr McFadyen says it is high time that Australia mobilized nationally to fight the foreign plant invasion and save its unique landscapes.

"We need volunteers - and thousands, not hundreds.  But we also need equipment, training, planning, resources and professional organisation on both a State and a national scale.

"We devote these things to the bushfires and natural disasters which threaten our homes, properties and landscape. 

"Well, invasive plants are a natural disaster too, only a far more widespread and insidious one.  They are wiping out our heritage. 

"We need to build an equally professional structure to combat them." 

More information:

Dr Rachel McFadyen, Weeds CRC, 08 8303 6590 or 0409 263 817
Peter Martin, Weeds CRC, 08 8303 6693 or 0429 830 366


For images and footage of weeds invading National Parks: 08 8303 6693

*Community Involvement in Off-reserve and On-reserve Management of Environmental Weeds. Environment Australia, 1997.

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