In the cross-hairs of Queensland Government Acquisition?
“The Queensland Government will channel more than $10 million a year into a new ‘Eco Fund’ to expand the state’s National Parks.”
So said the Hon. Premier, Anna Bligh and Minister for Sustainability, Climate Change and Innovation, the Hon. Andrew McNamara, in a joint statement last Friday.
“… we’re going to expand our National Parks by 50% … reaching a target of 12 million hectares by 2020 …”
Developers and other entities will pay for this doubling of protected area, by offsetting their environmental impacts and greenhouse emissions. The Eco Fund will provide a facility for these offset payments to be retained within Queensland and re-invested into conservation land acquisition, giving the illusion of ecological neutrality or better.
However, there are some glaring problems with the concept. First of all, protected area management is very inefficient and a major contributor to emissions in its own right, particularly when burning.
In 1999, it was revealed that in the six years preceding the ‘LGAQ Public inquiry into the Management of National Parks’ Queensland’s protected area estate had doubled whilst its budgetary allocation had increased by only 9% . The inquiry found that QPWS was neither staffed nor resourced to manage its reserves, which were being increasingly overrun with feral weeds and animals. Doubling the estate, yet again, would surely double these identified inefficiencies.
The LGAQ Inquiry also revealed the convention that lands acquired for addition to protected area estate, invariably had existing conservation values. In effect, the only real change was the name on the land title. Whilst there was usually an acquisition cost, it could hardly be described as a carbon offset, when nothing had been done to change the ecological nature of the environment.
By contrast, if productive land were to be acquired and re-vegetated for inclusion into the protected area, then the public would be able to see the ecological gain and know that it had paid for the change of land-use, including compensation and loss of income-earning capacity.
Then there are the recreational and tourism entitlements of the public-at-large, with all known and associated impacts and emissions. The Queensland government currently opposes cost-recovery through user-fees on National Parks, so all costs associated with management and impact mitigation are met by the taxpayer. This further disadvantages conservation management on private lands, through the exclusionary provisions of subsidisation on a tenure-exclusive basis.