Tracks Scarring the Soul: Arthur-Pieman Poor Track Record Condemns Itself.

Submission responding to the Department of Primary Industries Parks Water and Environment’s Natural Resources Management/Arthur-Pieman Conservation Area/Tasmania/DPIPWE - Arthur-Pieman Conservation Area - off-road vehicle mitigation actions, Referral reference No. 2017/8038.

 

By Peg Putt, CEO

Markets For Change

 

September, 2017.

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY & RECOMMENDATIONS

  • The Arthur-Pieman Conservation Area is the predominantly coastal strip of the internationally acclaimed takayna/Tarkine in the State’s north-west.  It is home to incredibly significant and vulnerable Tasmanian Aboriginal cultural heritage, a fragile coastal ecosystem, and threatened and endangered wildlife.
  • Relatively recently, in 2013, the Western Tasmania Aboriginal Cultural Landscape received national heritage listing.
  • Unfortunately there is a decades-long photographic and scientific record of ongoing malicious and intentional, and unintentional damage occurring to Aboriginal cultural heritage sites, and also ecological degradation, due to the invasive off-road vehicle (ORV) activity in the region.
  • It is Markets For Change’s position that the Tasmanian Government’s mitigation proposal for tracks 501, 503, and 601, equating approximately 37.3 km, as outlined in Referral reference No. 2017/8038, is severely inadequate and ‘non-compliant’, and will only serve to continue to exacerbate the serious ongoing destruction and degradation of Aboriginal cultural heritage, and the fragile coastal ecosystem of the region.
  • The tracks in question, numbers 501, 503 and 601, were already closed for rehabilitation.  However, the ongoing and illegal use of these tracks is now somehow the justification for the Tasmanian Liberal government’s current referral.  This is a deeply disturbing and blatant rewarding of those behaving badly, if not criminally 
  • The facilitation of this unconscionable and unacceptable damage to nationally listed and internationally acclaimed region, also damages both Tasmania’s and Australia’s international reputation and Brand.

 

Recommendations:

  • That Referral reference No. 2017/8038 be rejected by the responsible Federal Minister for Environment and Energy.
  • That the tracks in question, 501, 503, and 601, be permanently closed to recreational ORVs, and be rehabilitated.
  • That any budget developed to implement the re-opening of tracks 501, 503, and 601should be reprioritized as a matter of urgency into the rehabilitation of these, and other closed tracks; and
  • Further, immediately employing the two new Parks rangers, including at least one Aboriginal Cultural Heritage ranger, to the region as ‘promised’ as part of the Tasmanian government’s referral proposal.  These new Parks rangers are urgently required now to deal with ongoing infringements, monitoring and maintenance imperatives, and should not be solely associated with the referral proposal, dangled out as some kind of sweetener.

 

Introduction

Markets For Change welcomes this opportunity to comment upon the Department of Primary Industries Parks Water and Environment/Natural Resources Management/Arthur-Pieman Conservation Area/Tasmania/DPIPWE - Arthur-Pieman Conservation Area - off-road vehicle mitigation actions, Referral reference No. 2017/8038.

takayna/Tarkine in the State’s north-west has national and international recognition for its unique and irreparable natural and cultural values, with the Western Tasmania Aboriginal Cultural Landscape formally receiving national heritage protection in 2013.

The many unique and of world value attributes of the region, including threatened species, ecosystems, and Tasmanian Aboriginal significant cultural landscape sites and middens have been severely damaged and compromised over decades by the inappropriate use of recreational off-road vehicles (ORVs).

The ongoing and destructive activity of ORVs in the vicinity (noting that there are some recreational users who do not intend to cause damage, but unfortunately the fragile environment means the activity in inherently incompatible with not causing damage, intended or not) has resulted in decades of community division, political game-playing, and absorbed valuable resources just to maintain the status quo which could be better used elsewhere 

It is Markets For Change’s contention that the Tasmanian Liberal government’s referral to the Federal Minister to re-open approximately 37.3 kilometers of badly scarred and damaged tracks, numbers 501, 503 and 601, is the latest in that callous, divisive and political game-playing, deliberately pitting sectors of the community against each other.

The ongoing sanctioned destruction of internationally acclaimed ecosystems and Tasmanian Aboriginal cultural heritage landscapes by the ongoing ORV activity within the region also destroys Tasmania’s, and Australia’s international reputation and Brand.

Markets For Change advocates that the Tasmanian Government referral for recreational off-road vehicle mitigation works in the internationally acclaimed takayna/Tarkine be rejected, and any identified funding and resources earmarked for this project instead be re-prioritised into the immediate employment of new park rangers for the region and rehabilitation of the track scars wrecking such damage upon our Aboriginal Tasmanians, and our unique environment. 

 

National Heritage Values Under Threat

The Western Tasmania Aboriginal Cultural Landscape received national heritage protection in 2013. It is on the national heritage list because it exhibits spectacular and enduring evidence of Aboriginal occupation and connection to country.

The area has suffered a range of impacts attributable to off-road vehicle (ORV) activity including damage to the Aboriginal cultural heritage landscape significant sites and middens, marsupial lawns, wetlands and habitat for threatened and endangered species. 

Off-road vehicle access for recreation and associated works proposed in the Tasmanian Government's referral pose significant ongoing threats to the integrity of this fragile and remote coastal strip of takayna / Tarkine.

Markets for Change strongly advocates that the proposal to allow the off-road vehicle mitigation actions, as per the referral, should be rejected because it is ‘clearly unacceptable’ 

A 2011 Tasmanian Parks and Wildlife draft report raised serious concerns about the need to determine whether recreational vehicle use is sustainable, and even possible, with protection of the Arthur-Pieman Conservation Area’s numerous sites of Aboriginal cultural heritage value, and regional historical significance.[1] These issues remain outstanding, and are definitely not addressed by the Tasmanian government’s referral.

Instead the works will have an unacceptable impact on an area of deep cultural significance to the Tasmanian Aboriginal community, as recognized by both its 2013 national heritage listing, by the Federal Court as being of importance not only to local Aboriginal heritage, but to Australia as a whole.  

Impacts on Threatened and Endangered Species

This remote and fragile coastline is habitat for the critically endangered Orange-bellied Parrot and any impact on a critically endangered species is significant and unacceptable.  

It is also habitat for shorebirds where impacts from ORVs are especially severe because breeding periods coincide with the time most favored by recreational vehicle convoys. 

The north-west region is also identified as a strong-hold for the listed as endangered Tasmanian Devil, including the coastal dunes.

Extensive and irreversible impacts from ORVs on this region will occur.   The proposed ORV mitigation actions will have significant direct and indirect impacts on matters of national environmental significance under the Environmental Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999, (EPBC Act), including: 

  • One of the richest and most significant Aboriginal cultural heritage landscapes in Australia
  • A National Heritage listed place
  • Critically endangered species habitat for the Orange-bellied Parrot 
  • Habitat of threatened species including the endangered Tasmanian Devil and threatened Eastern-barred Bandicoot, Spotted-tail Quoll and Hooded Plover. 
  • Habitat for migratory species
  • Globally rare ecological communities 

 

Adequacy of Referral Documents 

The proposal for off-road vehicle mitigation actions should be deemed ‘non-compliant’. 

The proponent, the Tasmanian Government, has failed to meet the Department of Environment and Energy’s standard to provide sufficient information to offer an adequate basis for a decision on the likely immediate and long-term impacts of the proposed action. 

In the proponent’s referral, there is an absence of any reports into impacts of the proposed track works, which are, in law, the referred action. The environmental and heritage evidence tendered is years old and was used by the previous State government on the question of whether to close the tracks and clearly show why the tracks should remain closed.

Further, the supporting evidence has not been updated to consider the referred works program, and makes no assessment of the impact of proposed works on the natural and cultural values identified.

 

Policing and Compliance 

The Minister is required to consider the environmental track record of the proponent.  

Markets For Change contends that sadly the track record of the current and ongoing damage caused by ORV use and track-creation in the area speaks for itself, or rather, condemns itself. 

When assessing the likely impacts of the proposal, it is also necessary to consider the environmental record and attitudes of those using the area. Illegal use of these tracks since 2012, closure of 503 and 501 and, since 2002, closure of 601, has shown that the attitude of some ORV users will make it impossible to prevent ongoing impacts, vandalism and desecration of the Aboriginal cultural heritage landscape and nationally significant environmental values 

Lets be clear, tracks in question, numbers 501, 503 and 601, were already closed for rehabilitation.  However, the ongoing and illegal use of these tracks is now somehow the justification for the Tasmanian Liberal government’s current referral.  This is a deeply disturbing and blatant rewarding of those behaving badly, if not criminally.

Additional to this rewarding of bad behavior, another fundamental flaw of the Tasmanian government’s referral is its failure to seriously address the challenge of managing and monitoring the ongoing consequences of reopening these tracks on a long-term and permanent basis.  The immediate and short-term ‘action’ as described in the referral, will have ongoing and compounding consequences both culturally and ecologically.  The referral fails to address these long-term consequences.

The proponent proposes to police ORVs on this remote coastline by increasing the number of rangers by two people. Markets For Change argues that these rangers should be employed immediately, no matter whether this referral is approved or not.  The urgent current need for more rangers on the ground has been well identified for some considerable time, and the eventual implementation should not rely on the outcome of this referral.  If the State Budget has provided for these two positions then they must be filled as a matter of priority.

There are hundreds of people per day in peak season accessing many fragile places along the coast. The Parks and Wildlife 2011 draft report states an estimated 50 thousand people visited the Arthur-Pieman Conservation Area in the period of June 2008 – June 2009.[2] The remote and dangerous nature of tracks 501, 503 and 601 totaling over 37 kilometers raise significant safety issues for PWS staff, making active policing impossible.

The state government has not demonstrated a record of preventing access to completely closed tracks, or shown how it will improve policing where legal requirements are more nuanced (e.g. depend on demonstrating that a driver has a permit and is complying with it, rather than being clearly in breach of the law simply by being on the site).

The proponent also makes this referral based on a restricted number of vehicles permitted, however notes that this number is subject to change. 

Increases in usage would increase damage, but no further referral would be made unless additional works were required. The current proposal carries an entrenched risk that numbers will be increased without further assessment of additional impacts on matters of national environmental significance.  

 

Conclusion

Markets For Change firmly believes that just as the damage which will eventuate from the ORV activity proposed in Referral reference No. 2017/8038 to our unique Tasmanian Aboriginal cultural heritage landscape, and fragile coastal ecosystem will be deep and irreparable, and will be similarly damaging to our Brand.

This will be inflicting unnecessary damage.  We know how ORV access has already damaged and scarred this vulnerable region – that is why the total of 37.3 kilometers of tracks in question were already closed. 

To deliberately and knowingly re-open and re-expose them would be negligent in the extreme.  The current track record of the ORV tracks in takyana/Tarkine condemns itself.



[1] Tasmanian Parks and Wildlife Service, Arthur-Pieman Conservation Area – Sustainable Recreational Vehicle Access Draft Report April 2011; pg 5.

[2] Tasmanian Parks and Wildlife Service, Arthur-Pieman Conservation Area – Sustainable Recreational Vehicle Access Draft Report April 2011; pg 5.


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