The Kuranda Region's Vanishing Biodiversity

Friends of the Earth Kuranda has deep concerns about the latest draft plan for this region. 

Noting the Mareeba Shire Council seems intent in having its new Shire plan finalised in the near future, we urge anyone who shares our concerns to take action NOW.

There are a few things you can do..

  • Write now to the State Government asking that this unsatisfactory plan is not approved. It's best to write to the deputy premier who is responsible for considering approval -deputy.premier@ministerial.qld.gov.au and cc to Craig Crawford our MP-barron.river@parliament.qld.gov.au
  • Protest to Mareeba Shire Council
  • Come to the public consultation meeting run by Council in Kuranda on Monday November 2nd
  • Come to the public meeting organised by Friends of the Earth Kuranda on Tuesday 10th November.
  • Talk about the issues with family and friends and encourage more people to get active

Here's some details about our concerns -and also to show the difference between the old, amalgamated Tablelands Regional Council Draft Plan 2012 and the latest Mareeba Shire Draft Plan 2015:

Friends of the Earth Kuranda has deep concerns about the latest draft plan for this region. 

Noting the Mareeba Shire Council seems intent in having its new Shire plan finalised in the near future, we urge anyone who shares our concerns to take action NOW.

There are a few things you can do..

  • Write now to the State Government asking that this unsatisfactory plan is not approved. It's best to write to the deputy premier who is responsible for considering approval -deputy.premier@ministerial.qld.gov.au and cc to Craig Crawford our MP-barron.river@parliament.qld.gov.au
  • Protest to Mareeba Shire Council
  • Come to the public consultation meeting run by Council in Kuranda on Monday November 2nd
  • Come to the public meeting organised by Friends of the Earth Kuranda on Tuesday 10th November.
  • Talk about the issues with family and friends and encourage more people to get active

Here's some details about our concerns -and also to show the difference between the old, amalgamated Tablelands Regional Council Draft Plan 2012 and the latest Mareeba Shire Draft Plan 2015:

The 2012 Tablelands Regional Council Draft Plan included a series of biodiversity "overlays" covering the entire Tablelands.

FoE Kuranda joined four of these overlays (maps) together to produce a composite covering the entire greater Kuranda region..

Kuranda-Area-Biodiversity-TRC-Mapping-2012_1200W-1024x768.jpg

There's no exact equivalent set of maps in  the Mareeba Shire Council 2015 Draft Plan. The closest are its 'Matters of State Environmental Significance' map series.

Here's a composite view in the MSC Draft Plan for the equivalent area:

Kuranda-Area-Env-Sig-Mapping-Overlay-2015-1024x768.jpg

The contrast is dramatic.

In the TRC Map, it seems remnant vegetation was mainly used as a surrogate for biodiversity - probably based on satellite mapping.

That's reasonable, because the biodiversity of the region's forests - whether rainforest or the drier forest which borders the Wet Tropics - is exceptionally high. Forests around Kuranda are contiguous with the backbone of the Wet Tropics, internationally recognized for World Heritage wildlife values.

By contrast, the Mareeba Shire Council map disguises the extent of environmentally-significant native forest in our region. Instead of using science-based environmental data-layers, the MSC has mapped a built-in political compromise.

MSES Mapping

It is true that the MSC - like the TRC before it - used mapping derived from State Government. It's also true the mapping provided by the State Government changed between 2012 and 2014.

However, the "Matters of State Environmental Significance" (MSES) mapping used by MSC in its latest draft plan is clearly intended to provide a basis for further work, primarily at a local level. The State's MSES mapping does not purport to be definitive. The Fact Sheet published in December 2014 that accompanied the MSES map work stated:

"The SPP State Interest policies do not affect a local government’s ability to ground truth State mapping when undertaking planning or development assessments: for example, in preparation of overlay mapping for a planning scheme.

EHP readily appreciates that councils may be able to use their data to produce more ‘fit for purpose’ trigger mapping within local planning instruments (LPIs) than the default State mapping. The State mapping will not, or will no longer, be required once the local planning instrument commences, using council’s mapping.

Better quality, more accurate, or up-to-date local data can be used, in a reasonable manner, to support such fine tuning: for example, to better indicate natural boundaries or features (e.g. waterways), or man- made boundaries (e.g. infrastructure or development)."

Regional Corridors: a Disappearing Act

The 2012 map showed extensive cross-hatching for 'Regional Corridors'. The extent of this cross-hatching was to be expected. Most of the native forest around Kuranda is broadly connected wildlife habitat. Adjacent to Kuranda, the protected Wet Tropics (essentially a north-south band of forest following the range) contract to a narrow neck. Consequently, remaining forests around Kuranda are important buffers and supplements to this World Heritage forest ecosystem.

The 2012 plan included guidance on protecting and reconnecting 'Regional Corridors' (see below).

Regional-Corridors-in-the-2012-TRC-Plan.png

This guidance is significantly watered down in the new Mareeba Shire Council Draft Plan (see below):

Regional-Corridors-in-MSC-2015-Plan.png

MSC-Map-that-includes-regional-Corridors-300x216.jpgMapping of 'Regional Corridor', in the Kuranda region at least, vanished from the MSES map.

Yet oddly, it reappeared in greatly reduced form in a map, which is part of the 'Strategic Framework' embedded in the Draft Plan (see right - click for enlarged version), Small, ribbon-like areas marked as 'Regional Corridor' and 'Habitat Linkage' appear to have been added to the MSES information also contained in the map. In this case as in others,, there's little to no information provided which might explain the significant, detailed changes in biodiversity mapping between 2012 and 2015.

Overall, the latest version has a greatly-reduced area of cross-hatching for 'Wildlife Habitat'. It's unclear how this shrinkage was carried out and on what basis.

Many areas shown as plain white in the new Draft Plan in the latest Draft Plan must surely have significant biodiversity values - and provide important connectivity for wildlife?

By mapping them as lacking significant environmental values, there's an obvious risk of developing a self-fulfilling prophesy over time.

The Big Picture

Clearly the MSC map implies a much larger area in the Kuranda region will be open for development compared with the 2012 Draft.

Large forested areas surrounding Kuranda and Speewah - and the Koah region - seem to be designated for creeping development.

Combined with weakened 'codes' for the various land categories that are still mapped as having environmental values, this dramatic re-mapping is a recipe for suburban sprawl.

If this happens, large areas of wildlife habitat and the corridors between blocks of forest will be further degraded - and Kuranda's unique "village in the rainforest" character irreparably harmed.

The new MSC's "consultation process" has been farcical. The community is apparently expected to accept that the main stage of consultation happened three years ago - and there's no need for consultation now because the latest version of the plan is essentially the same as before.

MSC-blurb-re-consultation-2015

The Council website's claim that only "minor changes" have been made to the 2012 Draft Plan is obviously false.

For the Kuranda Region at least, the new 2015 MSC Draft Plan is clearly a quite different plan from the earlier TRC Draft, with very different long-term implications for our future.

Updated 11th November 2015 to make some significant corrections to detail, especially in relation to MSES mapping.