Wednesday, October 5, 2022

DEC bid to save hallowed ground

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Patricia Gill, Denmark Bulletin

The Denmark Environment Centre is lobbying to block the building of a network of nine mountain bike trails in 68ha of Mt Hallowell’s lower south eastern slopes.

Instead DEC is calling for the Shire of Denmark to develop the mountain bike trails on Shire-owned, steep, already degraded land at the corner of Turner and Glenrowan roads.

Public comment on the joint Shire and Outdoors Great Southern (formerly Great Southern Centre for Outdoor Recreation Excellence) proposal closes on August 1.

Speaking on behalf of DEC, Murdoch University sustainability lecturer Nicole Hodgson says the high physical impact of building mountain bike trails is not compatible with sustaining the conservation and cultural values of a precious Class A Reserve.

“We need to find an alternative site such as DEC has already done at Turner Road,” she said.

The Turner Road site, the so-called Denmark Estate Area, 4.5km from town – is closer than the proposed trails on Mt Hallowell – and is not within an A-class Reserve.

Mt Hallowell, Kooryunderup to the Bibbulmun people, is listed on the municipal inventory of the State Heritage Council.

It is regarded with reverence as a culturally significant spot for Noongar men’s business.

The proposal to develop walking and mountain bike trails in Mt Hallowell was identified in the Great Southern Regional Trails Master Plan.

The plan explored options for mountain bike trails in the shire, including Mt Shadforth, Weedon Hill, Inlet Drive, Recreation Centre Reserve and Mt Lindesay.

Mt Hallowell was considered the most suitable.

Ms Hodgson said the footprint of mountain bike trails was much bigger than a walk trail, winding through bush and creating more fragmentation.

Research had shown the far greater ecological impact from downhill mountain biking, versus trails on the flat.

Bike trails plan raises environmental concerns

But the biggest issue was “unsanctioned trails”.

“Any proposal for mountain bike trails should demonstrate how the high likelihood of further unsanctioned trails into the precious intact core of the reserve would be managed,” Ms Hodgson said.

This was especially the case given the lack of management of unsanctioned trails at Mt Hallowell so far.

DEC was concerned that the Shire did not have the resources to manage these.

“How on earth are they going to manage the possibility of further unsanctioned trails?” Ms Hodgson said.

“How will mountain bikers be kept off the granite areas that are so culturally valuable and ecologically rare?

“The experience of other places, like John Forrest National Park, suggests that the illegal trail building becomes a nightmare for land managers, and comes with a very high ecological cost.

“As a community, we need to be willing to sacrifice an area to mountain bikes, as that seems to be the inevitable outcome, with unsanctioned trails and ongoing further pressure for expansion of the trails.

“Mt Hallowell is far too precious to be sacrificed.”

Ms Hodgson said the Trails Concept Plan was “incredibly light” on detail as to how crucial environmental and cultural impacts would be managed, with just one brief page (p 10) on “Constraints”.

“This doesn’t give us a lot of confidence that the true impacts of this proposal have been properly assessed,” she said.

Professor of Biodiversity at Albany’s Centre of Excellence in Natural Resource Management, Stephen Hopper, urges caution in the creation of mountain bike trails in areas of environmental significance in the Great Southern.

At a DEC-run field trip to Mt Hallowell last November, Prof. Hopper described the granite uplands as an “evolutionary laboratory”.

He said there were unusual concentrations of plant species on granite uplands with plants and animals, particularly mosses, on the rocks dating back 400 million years.

The flowering plants were more recent additions.

“When walking through, tip-toe on the bare rocks and particularly avoid the mass mats and small plants which are likely to be bonsaised and tens of thousands of years old,” Prof. Hopper said.

Also at the field trip, Menang educator Larry Blight spoke about lizard traps made from flat granite rocks which were human-made lizard farms and evidence of the people farming the animals.

Prof. Hopper said Noongars had mined and built lizard traps for generations and if the rocks were removed to build a garden wall or footpath tens of thousands of years of Aboriginal heritage was removed.

Shire chief executive David Schober said Mt Hallowell Reserve, which was for Conservation and Recreation, had many existing walking and cycling trails.

In recent years, unsanctioned trails (informal trails constructed without Shire approval) had begun to appear in the south east corner of the reserve.

These reflected a growing demand for mountain bike trails from nearby residents.

The reserves’ proximity to residential areas and tourist accommodation, as well as being easily accessed via the existing Ocean Beach dual use cycle path, meant that it provided an accessible recreation area for residents and visitors.

Young people could ride to the trails without relying on parents to drive them to the trailhead.

Ms Hodgson said conserving the ecologically healthy core of Mt Hallowell involved far more than protecting a ‘threatened species here and a set of plants there’.

“These things work in a complex living system and when you bring a big disturbance in you impact on the functioning of that ecosystem,” she said.

“We need these places that have had very little disturbance; they are ecological refuges and are going to become more and more important.

“They have more health to begin with to withstand climate change and if we disturb them we reduce their resilience and ecological health.”

Denmark Bulletin 14 July 2022

This article appeared in the Denmark Bulletin, 14 July 2022.

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