Off-road Vehicles in the Arthur Pieman Conservation Area

For three years, the Tasmanian Parks and Wildlife Service (PWS) has been talking with stakeholders and the general public regarding the impacts of 4WDs and other vehicles on the sensitive Arthur-Pieman Conservation Area (APCA): it has hired consultants to talk with the community to do further assessments; it has summarised public comments, hold workshops to discuss concerns with the community stakeholders – but not one off-road track in the APCA has been closed. (See below, ‘Parks and Wildlife Service’s Chronology of Inaction’.)

The Arthur-Pieman area has been described by the Australian Heritage Commission as, ‘one of the world’s greatest archaeological regions for its rich Aboriginal heritage’. The Aboriginal heritage and natural values are under constant threat from the increasing frequency of 4WDs in the conservation area.

For these three years, the off-road vehicles have continued to damage the natural values and Aboriginal heritage of the APCA, but the PWS has never defined a consultation process and a clear and transparent timeframe for making decisions on track closures. Nor has it defined the criteria to be used for closing tracks in terms of natural and cultural values, i.e. what are the criteria for deciding whether a natural or cultural heritage value is significant and vulnerable enough to justify closing a track to vehicles? This question was asked of the PWS during the public consultation process in April– June 2010, but has still not been answered.

PWS has some very good advice and data, provided by Birds Tasmania, regarding the important bird nesting and feeding sites that ought to be closed, but appears to want to decide arbitrarily which ones are important and deserving of protection.

In the Arthur-Pieman Conservation Area: Sustainable Recreational Vehicle Access Draft Report 2010 the PWS recommended numerous tracks be closed – and, in the TCT’s opinion this is the absolute minimum number of tracks that must be closed. Additional tracks must also be closed as recommended by the community and conservation groups to ensure the conservation of natural values and of Aboriginal heritage. Failure to do so will see an unacceptable loss of biodiversity and heritage values from the area.

What we have asked Minister Wightman to do

We understand that this three-year-long process may come to an end when Minister for Environment, Parks and Heritage Brian Wightman makes a decision, before Christmas, about which tracks will be closed.

The TCT has lobbied Minister Wightman to:

-          immediately act to permanently close the 30-plus tracks which both the conservation groups and off-road vehicle groups support closing

-          put in place a moratorium to stop vehicle use of remaining contentious tracks until they can be resolved to the satisfaction of both conservation groups and the Tasmanian Aboriginal community

-          in the absence of a moratorium, avoid a rushed decision and provide another six months to ensure a better informed and orderly resolution which involves the Tasmanian Aboriginal community

-          require that the PWS define the criteria that will be used for closing tracks in terms of natural and cultural values

-          if the government cannot involve the Tasmanian Aboriginal community in the ongoing consultation, at the end of that six months put in place a moratorium on any driving on unresolved tracks.

Parks and Wildlife Service’s chronology of inaction

From the end of 2008 to December 2009

Arthur Pieman Off-road Vehicle Management Group developed a set of recommendations which were released by the PWS in the report Arthur-Pieman Conservation Area: Sustainable Recreational Vehicle Access Draft Report 2010 (Arthur Pieman Tracks Report).

April 2010 – June 2010

Arthur-Pieman Tracks Report released for public comment.

July 2010

Minister David O’Byrne held informal meetings with a range of stakeholders. The TCT lobbied him to clarify what process would be followed to determine which tracks would be closed.

November 2010

Minister O’Byrne held a series of stakeholder meetings in Smithton at which he outlined how a consultant had been hired to carry out additional Aboriginal heritage surveys. The minister and PWS offered ongoing stakeholder meetings, including a tentative offer of one in February (2011) at which we would have a preliminary report on the progress of an Aboriginal heritage survey (subject to approval of the Tasmanian Aboriginal community).

December 2010

A supposedly new permit process for off-road vehicle use in the APCA was announced, which merely involved payment of a new fee, no tracks were closed and no new management actions were implemented.

February 2011

Minister Brian Wightman responded to enquiries from conservation groups by stating that:

‘Plans are under way for facilitated workshops to be held with reserve stakeholders groups to discuss track use and values in order to establish an agreed track network’, but failed to provide a timeframe for these workshops.

April 2011

PWS released a brochure, Arthur-Pieman Sustainable Access Project Report and Stuart Lennox (Manager Strategy & Sustainable Use, PWS) followed this with meetings with some stakeholder groups.

July 2011

PWS released two reports* on its website but these were not distributed to stakeholder groups or widely advertised (beyond a media release)  – nor did they make any actual recommendations regarding track closures.

* Social Values of the Arthur-Pieman Conservation Area

   Analysis of Public Responses Arthur-Pieman Conservation Area Sustainable Vehicle Access

August 2011

Moore Consultancy was hired to consult with stakeholders and make recommendations to the PWS regarding disputed tracks. Meetings held with stakeholders August–November 2011.

September 2011

Minister Brian Wightman met with a number of stakeholder groups in Smithton.

Peter McGlone