Launceston Environment Centre Closes

Recently a small piece in the Launceston Examiner (July 22, 2015) marked the closure of the Launceston Environment Centre (LEC) after 41 years of community service. This was a sad reminder to me of when as Chairman I presented my 6th Annual Report for 2002-03. I recalled the small band of dedicated volunteers, including Hon. Secretary Dr John Wilson and Brian O’Byrne as Treasurer, who had been willing to staff the Charles Street office, to manage the many projects, seek funds for new projects, make submissions on State policies and new developments, support local individuals and community groups with heritage and environmental concerns, represent the LEC on numerous committees that dealt with the local environment, heritage and local government planning issues, as well provide input on the development of the then new Northern Regional Natural Resource Management Association. For many years, the extensive library was well maintained by volunteer Helen Jones.

Funding from the Australian Government Grants to Volunteer Environment and Heritage Organisations (GVEHO), though never secure, enabled the LEC to function with a part-time paid co-ordinator, a post filled by Yo Eastley.

Even though the LEC gained tax deductible status with the Australian Taxation Office, this did not provide any additional ATO donations. However, during the years 2002–03, $400,000 in grants was matched with in-kind support which enabled the engagement of specialists for the completion of many important environmental community projects.

Since 1997, the LEC had hosted the Launceston Waterwatch program but this ended when federal funding ceased, and the project officers Ruth Mollison and Duane Richardson became redundant. It was Ruth who discovered a rogue fish Gambusia holbrookii during routine monitoring of water in the Tamar Island Wetlands, and Rodney Milner was funded to continue the eradication project. This fish from Mexico has an appetite for eggs of frogs and other aquatic life, and had the potential to wipe out many of our native threatened species including the green and gold frog (Litoria raniformis).

Project officer Sandy Leighton and LEC volunteers undertook studies of the Plomley Trapdoor spider Migas plomleyi and a land snail Pasmaditta jungermanniae, which were threatened invertebrate species in Cataract Gorge. Subsequently, additional funding enabled this work to be progressed with the engagement of zoologist Simon Fearn. In partnership with the Launceston City Council, QVMAG, Hydro Tasmania and DPIWE Nature Conservation Branch a management plan was developed for these species.

In the nearby Trevallyn Reserve, a team of local experts (Sandy Leighton, Jim Nelson, Sarah Lloyd, Steve Cronin and Simon Fearn) was engaged to undertake field studies over 2 years. This resulted in a report ‘Trevallyn State Reserve Management Guidelines of Fauna Species of Conservation Significance’ that was completed for the Parks & Wildlife Service.

Another successful project was the education and management for three endemic Engaeus burrowing crayfish that are nationally listed as threatened species. The project was linked to a species recovery project that had been awarded to DPIWE Nature Conservation Branch. However, our negotiations with Environment Australia resulted in combining the two projects, with the LEC administering the combined grant. Following on from Jim Nelson’s work, Joanna Lyall administered the Burnie species and Susannah Kenny administered the Lilydale and Scottsdale species. This work included the management of fire on buttongrass, the prime habitat for this local species. LEC staff were involved with landholders and the community with on-ground rehabilitation works, workshops, a web page and a video production. During site monitoring, Jim located at least one new species (yet to be described) which became a star media event and even made the pages of the Launceston newspaper. Leigh Walters, as Land Covenant Officer with the Tasmanian Farmers and Graziers Association, was contracted to undertake discussions with local landowners for possible covenants and/or the purchasing of land, a project that ensured the conservation of the critical habitat for the Scottsdale species.

Forestry issues were ever present, particularly with community concerns about the quality of Launceston’s water supply in the upper catchment with extensive clearance of native vegetation in north-eastern Tasmania for plantations. With help from Rod Knight and Alistair Graham, the LEC became involved with the Regional Forest Agreement (RFA) to provide guidelines for the protection of some of the threatened forest communities in the north-east region.

Of great concern to community health was the burning of firewood for woodheaters within the Launceston city. Linked to this was the approval of plans by the Launceston Council for a replacement out-dated second-hand wood fired boiler for the Gunns timber mills, located at Inveresk. With support from Tasmanian Conservation Trust (TCT) Director Michael Lynch and the Environment Defenders Office, the LEC was successful with an appeal against the Council decision with a condition introduced by 2004 for a reduction in particulate emissions from the Gunns wood-fired boiler to meet a new standard 100 micrograms/cubic metre.

The LEC participated in the Air Quality Working Group that had statewide stakeholder representation. This group successfully lobbied for the Launceston City Council to introduce backyard burning controls and established a federally funded woodheater buyback scheme, overseen by our project officer Rosemary Norwood. This was soon followed by the introduction of the State Air Quality Policy.

Through support from the Tamar Region Natural Resource Management Strategy Reference Group Inc, the LEC also completed a 2 year Backyard Biodiversity Program to raise community awareness and identify the state of knowledge of biodiversity in the Tamar Region. A free booklet Gardening for Native Biodiversity was published that promoted the growing of native plants found in the region.

With support from the George Town Council as well as support from the Australian Maritime College, University of Tasmania and the Queen Victoria Museum, an Envirofund project enabled the preparation of a photo-inventory to document the marine values of the Tamar estuary in the significant Low Head/George Town area. Ben Brown was engaged to steer this project to identify and promote these values to the local community, including schools.

Residents of Trevallyn affected by noise emanating from the industrial operations of Gunns Limited at Inveresk were supported by the LEC with their appeal to the Resource Management and Appeals Tribunal against Launceston City Council’s decision to allow for an extension of Gunns operations. Through a formal mediation process, the source of the noise was located and Gunns agreed to undertake measures to reduce the noise levels. At that time, the State Government then produced a draft Noise Policy.

Jointly representing both the Tasmanian Conservation Trust and the LEC as stakeholders, we attended meetings at Cradle Mountain to maintain a watching brief on the upgrading of infrastructure and planned tourism developments in this iconic area.

Mining and mineral exploration activities applications in sensitive conservation areas also attracted our attention. Representing community stakeholders, we were joined by TCT’s Alistair Graham, and mediation was arranged by Mineral Resources Tasmania to meet face to face with the applicants. As a result, on most times special precautions were agreed to so as to safeguard the natural and cultural values of the areas under investigation. We attended meetings with iron ore miners and processors at Savage River and Port Latta. Also gold miners at Henty needed a community environmental organisation for the endorsement of their mine rehabilitation plans for their leach residue dam. Utilising the expertise of Elizabeth Town horticulturalist John Dudley who provided advice free-of-charge, we brought in an amended plan for the implementation of more appropriate rehabilitation methods.

As a regional community organisation, the LEC was invited to attend meetings, workshops and discussion groups, make formal submissions, attend public hearings and to front the media on many environmental issues. 

In winding up the Launceston Environment Centre, the Board decided to donate the remaining funds of $10,000 to the Tasmanian Conservation Trust who plan to use this funding to help expand their operations in the north. However, the TCT is also under severe financial pressures to survive in the current very unhelpful political climate.

Peter C. Sims OAM

(Hon. Life Member Tasmanian Conservation Trust)