Sunshine Coast Birds

Birding and other wildlife experiences from the Sunshine Coast and elsewhere in Australia - and from overseas - with scribblings about travel, environmental issues, kayaking, hiking and camping.

Saturday, 15 August 2015

Last Gasp for Yandina Creek Wetlands

Yandina Creek Wetlands: Last Gasp
Last night I gave a talk on the Yandina Creek Wetlands to the Maroochy Wetlands Support Group at Bli Bli. I have decided it will be my last talk on the subject, and this will be last public comment about the wetlands unless the unexpected happens and governments get serious about protecting this place.

This morning I hiked to the summit of Mt Ninderry, which is near where I live. I looked eastwards from the summit towards the coast, where the wasteland that was until recently a biodiversity hotspot - with few if any equals in the region - was clearly visible. I recalled how the Queensland and Commonwealth governments stood by and did nothing to prevent the wetland from being drained  (see here) for sugar cane plantations, notwithstanding the presence of wildlife listed as endangered and threatened under state and federal laws.

With the council's Bill Haddrill at the Bli Bli meeting
In similar fashion, the Sunshine Coast Council decided that the properties containing the wetlands were not worthy of acquisition under its Environmental Levy program. The primary reason for inaction on the part of all three levels of government was essentially that the wetland was created artificially through broken floodgates on fallow caneland, although the result was the recreation of a habitat that was there naturally, as I have commented on at length elsewhere.

After confirming through my optical gear this morning that none of the hundreds of waterbirds that were thriving on the wetland until a few weeks ago were still there, I hiked around the summit of Mt Ninderry to look westward. Below me was a property acquired recently by the council under the levy program for $2.6 million - roughly the estimated cost of acquiring the wetland properties, and of similar size to them. I knew a thing or two about the Mt Ninderry property. Most of it was regrowth, including extensive stands of introduced Pinus and camphor laurel. It had been significantly modified by human hands; the acquisition had aesthetic appeal, to be sure, but there was little value in terms of biodiversity and wildlife.

Unlike the Yandina Creek site, Mt Ninderry was not regarded as nationally and internationally significant under Commonwealth guidelines and the provisions of international conventions to which Australia is a signatory. Yet in the view of council, Yandina Creek was not worthy of a cursory scientific assessment, while according to Mayor Mark Jamieson, Mt Ninderry was a "piece of paradise".

The Bli Bli meeting last night was attended by Bill Haddrill, the council's senior environmental officer who has charge of the property acquisition program. I  knew that either Bill or Councillor Stephen Robinson were likely to in attendance. I had hoped that either of them might be a tad impressed by the images presented during my talk that illustrated the richness, beauty and variety of the wetland and the birds that lived there.

I was wrong. At the end of my talk, Bill restated the council's position: the council would not be spending any money on acquiring the wetland properties, although it was open to offers from the Commonwealth and/or state governments. Bill repeated that the wetland was not a high priority for the council, althought no studies were undertaken to assess its value. It is true that the council's hands were tied to an extent as the property owners had refused permission for a team of experts to conduct a study at no expense to the council. However, there is no evidence indicating that the council urged the landholders to co-operate with a study.

I knew it was the case that the council commissioned studies AFTER acquiring properties, not before. When I suggested that this might not be regarded by the public as a reasonable approach - that it should be the other way around - Bill responded that sometimes there was no choice because landholders refused permission for studies prior to acquisition, and the council considered it was important for acquisition to proceed anyway. Inconsistency in approach is evident here; as they say, what's good for the goose is not good for the gander.

Bill told those at the talk that the council is swamped by proposals for acquisition, with each applicant insisting that their particular proposition is more worthy than any other. The implication is that the hundreds of people who have unsuccessfully urged the council to protect the Yandina Creek wetland are essentially selfish. The argument ignores the point that the worthiness of any proposal should be determined by expert scientific assessment; those of us who have urged the protection of the Yandina Creek site have never asserted that our views should be taken forgranted.

The wetlands can still be saved. The newly installed floodgates can be reopened. However, I am now convinced that the only way this will happen is if the Queensland Government provides the necessary funding (an estimated $3-4 million) to the council to acquire the area.

The council has made it clear it will be not be contributing any of its (read ratepayers) money. The federal Minister for the Environment, Greg Hunt, has indicated he will not only fail to enforce Commonwealth laws protecting federally listed endangered species, but his government will not be contributing acquisition funds. Bush Heritage Australia and the Queensland Trust for Nature have expressed interest in helping, but the price tag is outside the resources of these worthy organisations.  

Environment Minister Steve Miles and MP Peter Wellington at the wetlands site recently
That leaves just one option in my view: state government involvement. The local MP and parliamentary Speaker, Peter Wellington, is onside. His support facilitated a recent visit to the site by the state Minister for Environment and Heritage Protection, Steve Miles. The minister and Peter Wellington both said during that visit that no state funds were available to help with acquisition, but unless they are persuaded to change that view, the fate of the wetlands is sealed.

To that end, I have established yet another petition, this one asking Peter to use his good offices to push for state funding at this link. It would of course help the funding cause if the council desisted from publicly denigrating the site.

Fingers crossed, but I'm not holding my breath.


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