Russell Thomas – MEM Course Day 5

The challenges of running a city in the middle of a World Heritage area are never clearer than when looking at various aspects of waste management.  Traditionally waste has been dealt with by digging a hole and filling it up with landfill – as is the case in most local council areas.  However, the practicalities of doing this surrounded by a World Heritage Area mean that alternatives need to be found, with it being unlikely that council will be able to secure another site once the current site is full.

To make the most of what they’ve got the Blue Mountains City Council desperately needs to public to engage in waste reduction.  There is an economic mechanism through rates to do this for private dwellings, but business seems a little hamstrung.  Through “absent landlords” a number of businesses find themselves unable to truly pursue low carbon tourism (for example) due to their inability to make modifications to their property.  This is a problem not yet resolved by council – clearly the solution is public engagement, but the question is how to engage a landlord who is not resident in the area, and doesn’t have much interest in the area apart from collection of rent.

On a happier note, there is some great work being done by council is terms of sediment management.  With sediment traps working effectively to catch sediment near the top of the ridges before it get into the world heritage area – with recent rains starting to send clean water through the ecosystem and clearing sediment out.

2014-11-26 to 28 (Ecosystem Mgt Blue Mt Field Trip)-263

Figure 1 – Engineered sediment trap at the top of Katoomba Falls

2014-11-26 to 28 (Ecosystem Mgt Blue Mt Field Trip)-260

Figure 2 – Katoomba Falls

2014-11-26 to 28 (Ecosystem Mgt Blue Mt Field Trip)-264

Figure 3 – Sediment trap and water collection at Echo Point

An even better example, which manages sediment near the source, and has been run by the community is the work done at Pope’s Glen (near Blackheath).  One of the local bushcare groups has done some fantastic work rehabilitating an area that had filled up with silt and become overrun with weeds – mainly massive willow trees.  They have been quite sensible and rehabilitated the area in small sections – to simply clear all the weeds would release all the sediment, and ultimately be counterproductive by sending all that sediment into the park.  The programme demonstrates the value (both economically and emotionally) in engaging the community and using them as a resource.  The issue they are facing though is a deficit of volunteers in the Gen Y and Gen X age brackets.  This is partly being addressed through various programmes to engage primary school children with nature, but the next step is to make sure that as the current group of volunteers age, a new group are ready to take over and maintain the programme.

2014-11-26 to 28 (Ecosystem Mgt Blue Mt Field Trip)-276

Figure 4 – Willows removed from Pope’s Glen

2014-11-26 to 28 (Ecosystem Mgt Blue Mt Field Trip)-273

Figure 5 – Works at Pope’s Glen

An interesting philosophical discuss has risen – the park is free, and the practicality of charging for it appears uneconomic (as well as any philosophical arguments around charging a fee).  However, the park is not free to maintain.  A number of businesses in the area are successful because the park is there, however, they do not operate in the park, so do not pay any licence fees etc.  The question is how close to the park do you need to be before you contribute?  There are a number of arguments on either side – ranging from everyone in the Blue Mountains paying park upkeep, to nobody paying it, and all combinations between.  Philosophically, should an operator be made to pay a fee just because of who his neighbour is (ie the park), or alternatively should there be a recognition of the role of the park in the local economy and financial support generated for the park from neighbouring businesses?  The question is complex, but like most aspects of the park management, the key (in my opinion) lies in true engagement of the public – the weight of public opinion can be hard to hold back.  So an informed public (through nature engagement programmes) that are engaged will hold the answer to this question.

On a similar note, the public engagement piece around fire control is critical.  In the not so distant past, all residents has an expectation of government agencies managing the fire risk.  Recent examples, locally and interstate prove that this is simply not feasible, and all residents need to take an active role in managing the fire risk at their home.  Residents also need to understand that their house may not be able to be saved, so they need to protect themselves (ie leave under certain circumstances) both through leaving their home, and having adequate insurance to rebuild if necessary.

Further, the role of prescribed burns is highly contentious in the Blue Mountains – opinions range from burn frequently to never burn.  This is where the scientific community needs to take the lead.  While there are many opinions about burning frequency, in my opinion, there is agreement that all land has a unique cycle time that it should be burnt for a number of reasons (ecological, hazard reduction, cultural etc), the key is to understand the particular country being examined and understand the intricacies of the eco‑system cycles on that land, and burn accordingly.  However, the resources to both determine what this is and to practically carry it out are not always available.  But an engaged public will understand this, and manage their risk at home accordingly (refer to my comments from day 4 regarding consultation during management plan development).

Russell Thomas

28-Nov-14

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s