James Cook University researchers have produced a study into the ecological consequences and social inequities of conservation agreements offered by state governments.
Dr Vanessa Adams said more than 4,000 Australian landholders had entered into conservation agreements to protect biodiversity on their properties.
These agreements bind future landholders to protect the land’s biodiversity, ensuring the long-term survival of plant and animal communities.
Dr Adams said natural resource and mining policies in the respective states, however, did not exempt these private protected areas from mining activities.
“In all states of Australia, the government can still issue exploration and extraction permits for mining activities in these private protected areas,” she said.
“This situation creates an imbalance in the commitment to conservation, whereby landholders incur the costs, but the government derives the benefits.”
Dr Adams and Dr Katie Moon examined the ecological consequences and social inequities of conservation agreements offered by state governments.
“Landholders must comply with the conditions of the conservation agreement, which can include limiting grazing activities, excluding domestic animals such as dogs, or replanting trees that have been removed,” Dr Moon said.
“Such commitments come at a cost to landholders, both in terms of time and money.”
They cite Bimblebox Nature Refuge as an example of where a private landholder's investment in conservation is being threatened by mining activities.
“Bimblebox is an 8,000 ha private protected area gazetted in 2003. Waratah Coal’s proposed Galilee Coal Project would place a ‘mega’ mine on the nature refuge, severely impacting the natural values the refuge was set up to protect.
“The proposed Galilee Coal Project is one of several proposed mega coal mines in the Galilee basin including the Alpha Coal project which recently received state level approval.”
In their journal article they argued that the conflict between economic and conservation policies must be dealt with in a more transparent manner.
“Mining within private protected areas, such as Queensland’s Nature Refuges, creates social consequences that could erode the public’s willingness to participate in such programs in the future,” Dr Adams said.
The researchers offered a solution to overcome these inequities.
“We believe there are ways forward for dealing with competing values before agreements are put in place,” Dr Adams said.
“Before an agreement is signed, any existing interests in the property should be resolved, including mineral exploration or extraction permits,” she said.
Such an approach is used in the establishment of national parks and can increase the security of the conservation area.
“To ensure that landholders’ investment in their private protected areas is not lost, it is imperative that the process be reformed to address these potential conflicts at the outset.”
Issued: 6 July 2012
Media enquiries: Caroline Kaurila (07) 4781 4586