Cranes and Plans 2005-2010

In 2005 Ozcranes reviewed – and responded to – five Queensland Natural Resource Management (NRM) Plans designed to set targets, direct funding and guide effort, in regional NRM to 2010. All five regions cover critical crane habitat in north Queensland. Four of the Regions are home to virtually all Australia's Sarus Cranes, and many Brolgas: Cape York Peninsula (CYP), Northern Gulf, Southern Gulf, and Far North Queensland (FNQ, covering the Wet Tropics/Upper Herbert). The fifth, NQ Dry Tropics Region, is nationally significant for Brolgas.

Ozcranes' Plan responses created a very positive dialogue with two regions, who amended their Plans to include wetland fencing and safety guidelines for cranes and other large waterbirds. The fencing guide and other materials are in Ozcranes Conservation: Fencing».

NOTE: Terrain NRM covers the Wet Tropics & Upper Herbert, shown as ‘Wet Tropics’ on the map. North Queensland Dry Tropics is shown as ‘Burdekin’. Cape York NRM and Northern Gulf NRM share responsibility for the shaded area between them.

Map by Queensland Department of Environment & Heritage. Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Australia (CC BY) licence. The five regions are marked by ‘X’

The Cranes

Apart from all-inclusive statements about protecting biodiversity, did each Plan (or at least one of its background reports) cover the importance of the Region for Sarus Cranes and/or Brolgas? Did it note the Sarus Crane is listed under international migratory bird treaties?

Comments FNQ noted Sarus as a listed migratory species that ‘may’ occur in the Region with ‘a few’ roosting at Bromfield Swamp. But: the region has been known as significant for wintering (non-breeding season) Sarus Cranes for at least 25 years, with 1,700 to >3,000 in annual counts from 1997, and up to 800 at Bromfield Swamp. CYP mentioned migratory species in general.

Wetlands and grazing

Did each Plan focus clearly on wetland processes, uses and conservation, and sustainable grazing? Did Plans factor crane (or other large waterbird) ecology into targets and recommendations for all types of wetlands?

Comments All the Plans dealt comprehensively (allowing for CYP differences) with wetland health issues and sustainable grazing. But some Plans seemed unaware of potential impacts their Targets might have for large waterbirds, and for rural industries. A major example in some Plans was lumping everything wet – from small farm dams to vast floodplains – into ‘wetlands’ but not analysing their differences. Another was indiscriminate recommendations for ‘wetland’ fencing. The good news is, that our comments to the Plans on the fencing issue evolved into the ‘Crane-friendly Fencing Guidelines’, now updated with feedback from landowners, two Regional NRM organisations and Catchment Groups. But despite these positive informal contacts, it seems NRM is channelling scarce funds into large wetland fencing or other cattle exclusion projects, without considering potential impacts of fences on cranes and removing grazing in the long term and even in the short term.

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Threats & Costs

Example: removal of grazing Targets for universal wetland fencing without considering impacts of removing grazing are a problem for cranes, more so if wetlands are defined to include all farm dams (see above). Are the universal fencing Targets in some Plans based on the view that grazing at any level is a ‘threat’ to wetlands? If so, these Targets should factor in the management costs of keeping wetland areas free of dense weedy growth after removing cattle, and the capital costs for landowners not only of the fencing, but also providing alternative watering arrangements for stock.

Example: hunting Some illegal hunting occurs but probably targets mainly Australian Bustards, not cranes. Aboriginal hunting is legal, and has important cultural and subsistence values recognised by the relevant Plans. In terms of crane breeding ecology and population, harvest particularly of Sarus Cranes should also have been covered under the Biodiversity theme. While Sarus are not officially threatened in Australia, they are Vulnerable internationally and their current threat rating here can be questioned due to small population, low recruitment rates and significant knowledge gaps. These factors mean that sustainable hunting practices are essential for eggs, young and adults.

Possible reason: habitat values and baselines It's possible some Plan targets, despite the NRM mission to integrate natural values with production industries, took a baseline from (assumed) pre-agricultural habitat for a preferred reference state. If so, the biodiversity of production landscapes where cranes now feed, roost and breed will always be undervalued and underprotected in comparison to, say, perceived biodiversity gain from putting NRM funds into replanting forest or converting pastoral into conservation properties.

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NRM Sites & Contacts

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Most current plans and some baseline documents are available on the following sites, with a wealth of information on natural resources and rural industries. Some downloads are very large files but printed or CD copies may be available.

National NRM Home Page
Queensland Regions Collective Queensland Collective site
Cape York Peninsula Cape York Peninsula Site
Northern Gulf Northern Gulf Site
Southern Gulf Southern Gulf Site
Wet Tropics & Upper Herbert (FNQ) Terrain NRM Site
NQ Dry Tropics NQ Dry Tropics Site

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