Protecting Tjoritja (West MacDonnell Ranges) National Park

40 years ago ALEC, formerly the Central Australian Conservation Council, played a central role in campaigning for the establishment of the Tjoritja/West MacDonnell Ranges National Park. ALEC has also played a role in advocating for the protection of the Park’s heritage values in both its nomination for world and national heritage listing. 

ALEC has been engaged over the decades in consultation with joint management plans and conservation strategies for the Park. We have also supported and organised volunteer workshops to raise awareness of the international significance of Tjoritja for its ecological, geological and cultural values. 

This January we have witnessed what is likely to be the worst fires in the Park’s history as the combination of heatwave conditions and high fuel loads caused tens of thousands of hectares of the Park to burn. 

The scale of the fires is devastating, and after three significant fire events in the last two decades, some areas of the Park may not recover fully. 

Climate change is a threat to our natural systems and special places like Tjoritja, and brings more extreme weather, heatwave events, increased spread of weeds like buffel grass and an increase in bushfires. 

The Northern Territory Government must urgently invest in greater planning and resources for the Park. An increase in fire events put tourism infrastructure, dedicated park and bushfire volunteers and government employees at great risk. 

To the credit of all involved, the Glen Helen, Ormiston Gorge and Standley Chasm ranger stations and visitor centres were protected from the fire, unfortunately however, much of the ranges and the plains were burned. 

There are reports of some recovery already underway, which is welcome, however the fire sensitive Callitris glaucophylla (white cypress pine) among other species will not recover in these areas and we have grave concerns about the highly endangered Central Rock Rat Zyzomys pedunculatus.  

The impact of buffel grass on the spread and intensity of the fire cannot be understated. Buffel grass has continued to infest creek lines and the ranges throughout the Park. The spread of weeds, buffel grass in the south and gamba grass in the north, that cause high fuel loads is a Territory wide issue. 

The management of these noxious grasses within the context of climate change is an urgent and critical need to protect what makes our Territory parks special and destinations in their own right. We know these risks are exacerbated by reduced capability and capacity within Parks and Wildlife due to limited resources. 

ALEC representatives have visited areas of the Park to bear witness to the impacts of the fires and have spoken to volunteer firefighters, Parks employees and ecologists about the damage done. 

All of the people that we have spoken to agree that more needs to be done to protect the values of the Park from regular fire and the expected expansion of buffel grass. Targeted approaches to protecting the ecologically and culturally significant sites from buffel grass and fire are required. 

The joint management process for the Park has been disbanded. This poses additional challenges in terms of identifying the target areas for buffel control and protecting the cultural values and special sites on the park. 

It is important that this tension is addressed in a timely manner to ensure management moving forward will incorporate the knowledge of local custodians and traditional owners as required by the joint management plans. 

There is a need for support and training to develop a confident culture around fire management and to educate tourists of the need to manage fuel loads throughout the cooler months.  

NT Parks and Wildlife needs to be funded to protect the ecological and cultural values without having to trade these off against the demands of visitor management. 

ALEC is urging the Northern Territory Goverment to increase the budget for Parks and Wildlife to protect the Territory’s natural icons from the threats posed by weedy grasses, wild fire and ultimately climate change. This will need to be in the order of several hundreds of thousands of dollars each year

Our key asks are that:

  • Climate policy will become a key management priority for national parks.
  • Parks services are properly funded so that they can protect the environmental assets and all of the cultural and ecological values of the Park.
  • A focus on driving research and innovation into buffel management and understanding how climate change is exacerbating all other threats to the Park. 
  • Increase research and monitoring into how landscapes are being impacted by these fires and invest in building resilience to climate change.
  • This park be properly joint managed through participatory planning, which means bringing in the perspectives of the Arrernte custodians and traditional owners of that country early in the process, not in the later stages. 
  • Regular controlled burns in mild seasons are carried out to replicate as best as possible traditional burning practices. 
  • Research and training is funded to better understand these changes in order to be prepared as the impacts of climate change continue to emerge. 

The key to success here is timely investment into the health and management of our parks to protect the cultural, environmental and economic values that the Tjoritja/West MacDonnell brings to Central Australia and the Northern Territory. 

ALEC has wriiten to Minister Moss, Minister for Tourism and Culture and Minister Eva Lawler, Minister for the Environment and Natural Resources, Minister for Climate Change to advocate for greater resources for Tjoritja.

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