The environment and heritage projects for the South-East Queensland Comprehensive Regional Assessment provide more and better information than ever before about the biodiversity, old-growth and wilderness values of the region's forests, as well as their significance to our natural, social and cultural heritage.
The assessment of the region's biodiversity (variety of life forms and ecosystems) included projects to map ecosystems, survey flora and fauna, assess threats to priority species and study the genetic diversity within representative species from three broad forest types.
Complex mapping projects identified 142 'regional ecosystems' in the region - or groupings of species that grow in similar environmental conditions. Fifty two are classified as eucalyptus forest, 31 are eucalyptus woodland, 20 are non-eucalyptus and woodland, 26 are rainforest and vine thicket and 13 are non-forest regional ecosystems. The pre-clearing extent for each regional ecosystem was also estimated and mapped.
The assessment concluded that 10 regional ecosystems are 'endangered' (90 per cent of their distribution before European arrival has been cleared); 17 are 'rare' with a total area of less than 1000 hectares and 43 are 'vulnerable' (70 per cent of pre-European arrival distribution has been cleared or is threatened). Overall, about 56 per cent of the natural vegetation cover of the region has been lost.
Existing conservation reserves including samples of 118 of the 142 REs but a large number of these samples are small areas only and are not replicated to any extent. There is a low level of conservation reserves in the forested core of the region.
The systematic survey of land-based fauna was the biggest ever conducted in southern Queensland - covering 267 sites in 36 forest areas.
It recorded 36 species of frogs and other amphibians, 92 species of reptiles, 306 bird species, 19 species of small ground-dwelling mammals, 11 species of kangaroos or wallabies, three predator species, four ungulate (hoofed) species, 10 tree-dwelling mammal species and 32 species of bats.
Several species were identified as significant to the region, and the range of some priority species - such as the collared delma, the nangur skink and the pebblemound mouse - was found to be greater than previously thought.
The assessment found that while 90 per cent of the 544 fauna species examined were found within at least one national park, fauna associated with dry forest types, Sydney blue gum wet forest and dry rainforest were poorly represented in the current reserve system. Surveys of the region's flora revealed that:
- 33 species are endangered, 76 are vulnerable and 152 are rare;
- several parts of the region are important for conservation due to their high diversity of floral species
- 273 species are limited to the region, which holds 75 per cent of their range.
The old growth assessment used aerial photos, field research, and collection and validation of forest disturbance information to map the distribution of old growth forest types for all land tenures. It found that 301,526 hectares of the region's forest (about 8.5 per cent) is old growth or 'likely' old growth. Nearly 40 per cent of this area is within conservation reserves, with another 16 per cent within State forests.
Information on disturbance from the old growth projects helped assess the region's 'wilderness' - large areas that have 'not been substantially modified and are remote from the influences of European settlement'. The northern part of Fraser Island, Cooloola and Lamington National Parks and areas in Kroombit Tops and Blackdown Tableland were among places identified as potential wilderness areas.
Many of the environment projects, along with extensive data reviews, surveys, workshops and widespread community consultation contributed to the assessment of the region's national estate.
The Register of the National Estate is a register of places that have national estate heritage value defined by the Australian Heritage Commission Act 1975 as 'those places, being components of the natural environment of Australia or the cultural environment of Australia, that have aesthetic, historic, scientific or social significance or other special value for future generations as well as for the present community'.
Under the Environmental Protection (Impact of Proposals) Act 1974, the Commonwealth must consider the possible effect of decisions concerning forests on the national estate.
In South-East Queensland, a wide range of places were identified as significant for their geological, floral, faunal, Indigenous and non Indigenous cultural heritage and as places of natural history.
The giant sand dunes of Moreton Island - examples of wind-produced coastal sites - were among places with regional significance because of their geological heritage. The Lamington volcanic peaks and the Glasshouse Mountains were identified as significant examples of volcanic activity, the Murgon vertebrate fossil site as an example of a stratigraphic site, and the Bunya Mountain basalt caves as an example of weathering and erosion.
Natural history places were identified through surveys, workshops, research and government records. Of 163 sites which have National Estate significance, 102 are in State forests and 61 are in national parks or on private land.
Eighty-nine places of non-Indigenous heritage were put forward for potential national estate listing, including forestry-related buildings and structures (41 per cent), recreation areas (11 per cent), areas related to farming and grazing (7 per cent), and to mining and mineral processing (5 per cent).
The Indigenous cultural heritage project, which is still underway, will describe known heritage sites and conservation principles and guidelines for their protection and management. A separate National Estate Report will also analyse protection of national estate values and the development of conservation principles.