Eungella rainforest group | Landholders Driving Change

Eungella cluster plans to protect rainforest and farming land

Peter Alden, Pioneer Catchment Landcare, explaining the role of climbing plants in canopies.

Rainforests are the undisputed champions of biodiversity among the world’s ecosystems.

The Eungella Rainforest Cluster Group recognises this and has adopted an holistic approach to rehabilitate remnant rainforest, and to put in place management plans to ensure the rainforest and surrounding farms is protected from future threats.

Disasters bring out the best in people. 

When 110,000ha of national park and surrounds was destroyed by bushfire at Eungella in 2018, a group of local landholders got together to work on a recovery plan.

The Eungella Rainforest Cluster Group was born. Initially the aim of the group was two-fold —  to rehabilitate remnant rainforest, and to develop management plans to ensure their properties would be protected from future fire threats.

LDC enlisted the expertise of Pioneer Catchment & Landcare (PCL) to work with the nine-member cluster group to complete a fire restoration and revegetation project.

During the past 12 months the goals have broadened. The cluster group has shown an interest in being able to identify plant species, to understand the biodiversity of the rainforest, and to be able to propagate to safeguard species.

Weed management has become a focus, as well as exploring vegetative barriers as an alternative to conventional soil and water conservation structures. 

A Vetiver grass erosion control trial is underway to determine if Vetiver grass barriers could provide an effective, low-cost system of soil and water conservation, and provide steep-slope stabilisation and rehabilitation.

Vetiver is tolerant to highly adverse conditions, and its thick root system binds the soil and at the same time makes it difficult to dislodge. This root system makes Vetiver tolerant to drought.

A revegetation trial of a recently-cleaned farm dam using lowland riparian species is also underway.

Many native plant species can recover post-fire, but conditions often favour non-native species. 

The cluster group hopes to learn more about how fire impacts lowland riparian ecosystems to help inform management, restoration, and post-fire rehabilitation.

Natural and assisted regeneration and weed control in fire-affected rainforest areas is well underway.

Pictured (from left) are: LDC Land Management Support Coordinator Rodger Walker, Mackay Natural Environment Centre’s Carolyn Wilkes, Reef Catchments’ Julia Kasiske, Ecologist from Pioneer Catchment Landcare Peter Alden, Pioneer Catchment Landcare Project Officer Tom Crow and Pioneer Catchment Landcare Coordinator Nichole Zara.

The group is developing a roadmap so they can take an integrated approach to weed management.

It is also exploring the processes and practicalities of using compost teas to improve soil health and plant growth in the Eungella region, a high rainfall area.

The Eungella Rainforest Cluster Group met in August to inspect trial sites to see what was working well. There were 13 attendees, including representatives from NQ Dry Tropics, PCL, and Reef Catchments.

Guest speaker Carolyn Wilkes, from Mackay Natural Environment Centre (MNEC), spoke about native plants and biodiversity, and the resources available.

The MNEC nursery specialises in supplying tube stock for revegetation projects in Central Queensland.

Peter Alden, Pioneer Catchment Landcare, explained the lifecycle and role of common plants that occupy a ridgeline along Dalrymple Road, near Eungella.

Broad scope

The Eungella Rainforest Cluster Group is addressing a range of issues:

  • how to correctly identify the difference between native regrowth and unwanted weeds within burnt forest;
  • how to implement best management practices to tackle weeds;
  • the dos and don’ts of clearing burnt vegetation;
  • how to tackle erosion issues in areas impacted by fire;
  • the possibility of using seed bombs to rehabilitate sections of burnt forest;
  • using Vetiver grass to help reduce erosion risk on steep banks and scars; and
  • the use of compost tea on pasture.
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KEQ #1

Figure 1. Total fine sediment reduction by project type and erosion source. Inset shows the proportion of the total project area for each project type.

These estimates have been calculated using two methods: 

1) The pollutant reduction component of the Alluvium/Great Barrier Reef Foundation (GBRF) investment tool for hillslope and streambank erosion management projects; 

2) The Reef Trust Gully Toolbox method for gully erosion management projects. The LDC Water Quality Report 2020 (Waterhouse et al., 2020) highlights that a number of assumptions underlay these calculations, therefore these figures should be treated as the best available estimate of sediment reductions to date.

Preventing sediment from reaching the Great Barrier Reef

Each wet season sediment is washed into local waterways and out to the Great Barrier Reef (GBR). 

Most sediment is very fine, and can stay suspended for a long time and can travel great distances. Valuable topsoil is lost from production, and increased concentrations on the reef can be harmful to seagrasses and corals. 

Landholders in the BBB have completed 69 on-ground water quality practice changes, and it is estimated that these have contributed a fine sediment reduction of 6,154 tonnes per year from reaching the GBR. 

Of this, approximately half of the sediment savings are attributable to grazing land management changes on hillslopes and streambanks, and the other half as a result of gully remediation treatments across a broad range of scales, as shown in the graphs above. 

The table below also highlights the relatively small area of intervention in the gully management projects compared to the large sediment savings that these can achieve - 60 per cent of the sediment savings over only 4 per cent of the project area.

Table 1. Estimated sediment reductions (tonnes) from projects completed in the LDC Project to date.

KEQ #2

*GLMWW = Grazing Land Management Wire and Water

KEQ #3

*The Exploring New Incentives activity area has provided an opportunity for graziers to adopt improved land management practices through a range of activities. For some of these properties, it was the first time they signed contracts for on-ground works.

KEQ #4

The LDC project monitors four gully sites (represented in this table) with gold standard equipment and analysis, carried out by CSIRO.

Results have been compiled in a preliminary report from Bartley et al (2020), with the final report expected to be released by the end of 2020. The preliminary report shows all four sites have indicators of improvements, notably the Strathbogie and Mt Wickham sites.

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Reef regulations - grazing, standard conditions

  1. For land in good or fair condition (more than 50 per cent ground cover at 30 September), continue using measures to maintain land condition.
  2. For land in poor condition (less than 50 per cent ground cover at 30 September), steps must be taken to improve land condition.
  3. For land in degraded condition (less than 20 per cent ground cover at 30 September), steps must be taken to improve land condition OR prevent areas from further degrading or expanding.
  4. Keep records of measures taken and also of agricultural chemicals, fertiliser and mill mud or mill ash applied to land.
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