Shooting range a rare koala habitat haven

Images of a sprawling nature sanctuary, thousands of baby tree buds and waterbirds flitting about a lagoon don’t often spring to mind when one pictures a shooting range. However, the SSAA Queensland Inc Shooting Complex Stewartdale, located in the scenic Ripley Valley south of Ipswich, is the rare exception. Perfectly located just less than an hour from the Brisbane airport, the Stewartdale property is home to the SSAA Ipswich Branch and a number of ranges spread across almost 1000 hectares.

While the shooting ranges are certainly a drawcard for its 3000 members, it is the recent conservation activities taking place on the land that has the attention of environmental groups and support of the Queensland Government. Detailed in past editions of the Australian Shooter, the Stewartdale Nature Reserve is the largest state-funded koala habitat restoration project ever undertaken in Queensland. Officially opened by the then Queensland Environment Minister Andrew Powell in February 2014, the mammoth task of planting 113,000 trees across 210 hectares of the property has just been completed. These trees will be available as potential future homes for koalas, as the demise of their native habitat continues due to land clearing and logging in other parts of Australia.

SSAA Stewartdale property manager John Beck has taken up the task of maintaining the property, including building the challenging fence line, and was involved in the tree planting process. “It took a good four to five months of 12-hour days to plant 113,000 trees,” he told Australian Shooter on a recent visit to the property.

The efforts of the tree planters are obvious upon entering the property, as thousands of plastic shields stretch across the landscape indicating the recently planted buds. The shields protect the plantation from feral animals that sometimes trample across the property; John now in charge of pest control.

Along with the dedicated nature reserve, the property is also home to 700 trees that have been specifically planted for the Moggill Koala Hospital. The Stewartdale Fodder Plantation produces eucalypt leaves for the Department of Environment and Heritage Protection to harvest and feed sick or injured koalas residing in the hospital. “It’s a multi-purpose piece of land with three aspects: the koala sanctuary, the trees for the hospital, and also land for wildlife,” said John.

This multipurpose land use idea is evident, with some interesting ducks and shovellers spotted frequenting the Bundamba Lagoon, simply called ‘the lake’, which Birdlife Australia has been surveying since 2005. Birdlife Australia is the country’s largest independent, non-for-profit bird conservation organisation and aims to ‘create a bright future for Australia’s birds’.

Birdlife Australia’s Margaret Cameron said the surveys are very important as they allow for a consistent 10-year count that provides a continuous long-term service to conservation across the country. “To have a count like this is a good service the SSAA is giving to conservation,” she said.

All of this wouldn’t be possible without two important protagonists in the form of SSAA National President and former Queensland President Geoff Jones and former SSAA National President and Queensland President Bob Green. They were behind the original land purchase for SSAA Queensland back in 1998 and orchestrated the nature reserve with the state government.

Bob pointed out the popularity of the koala among international crowds. “It’s more than just koalas though, it’s a wildlife refuge,” he said, echoing John’s sentiments.

Geoff agrees. “The lake itself is significant, as during its redevelopment some years ago, three islands were created for birds to breed in safety; the resulting landscape means they are protected from feral cats and foxes,” he said. “It is also the cornerstone of the Flinders Karawatha Corridor.”

The corridor is another significant feature of the property. It refers to the largest remaining continuous stretch of open eucalypt forest in South East Queensland, spanning 60km, and includes part of the Stewartdale property.

Along with the SSAA shooting ranges, the SSAA Queensland Conservation & Wildlife Management Queensland Branch uses part of the property as a training base for CWM members, while the local Army Cadets also utilise the land for survival training. Additional ranges on the property are leased by the Ipswich and District Rifle Club and the Ipswich Field Archery Association.

In another exciting development, SSAA Queensland President Michael Pommer confirmed to Australian Shooter that there are plans to build a world-class pistol range on the property. “It will be a multidisciplinary pistol complex built to international standard, all within an hour of the Brisbane airport,” he said. “We are hoping it could be used as a training facility for the upcoming Gold Coast 2018 Commonwealth Games, and for hosting international pistol competitions in the future.”

For now, as shots ring out among the serene background and a herd of friendly cattle graze to keep potential fire fuel under control, one thing is certain: The Stewartdale Nature Reserve epitomises the SSAA’s commitment to conservation in this country.

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