SSAA makes mark on koala conservation

The SSAA Ipswich rifle range has become a permanent home to koalas as a part of an initiative between the Queensland Government and the SSAA to save diminishing habitat for the native animal. As a part of ongoing efforts by the SSAA to contribute to environmental conservation, almost 1000 hectares of the range, which is located 30 minutes south-west of Brisbane, has been dedicated as the Stewartdale Nature Refuge.

The Stewartdale property, which is also home to a wetland rehabilitation program, will see the largest state-funded koala habitat restoration project undertaken in Queensland. The project will include the planting of more than 100,000 trees over 200ha, where it will be managed for the next five years as a part of ongoing efforts to ensure koalas have suitable habitat into the future.

SSAA Queensland President Geoff Jones and SSAA National Immediate Past President Bob Green have worked closely for some time with the state government to get this project off the ground in an area where urban sprawl is set to make an impact on the koalas’ native habitat. The pair recognised that the large protection zones required on rifle ranges had the potential to be put to greater use and while they were met with initial trepidation, the state environment department has embraced the new nature refuge site and its potential.

Queensland Environment Minister Andrew Powell opened the new nature refuge in late February, telling the media that extreme green groups don’t have the monopoly on conservation.

“We have already committed $26.5 million through our Investing to Protect our Koalas initiative,” said Mr Powell. “These nature refuges are a further example of how we can achieve real environmental outcomes by partnering with the community, landowners and traditional owners.

“The agreement to establish Stewartdale Nature Refuge is a significant contribution to conservation in Queensland. The land’s title stays with the landowner, but the nature refuge agreement provides for the land to remain a refuge.”

Geoff said that the local community could be proud of the new and significant partnership between the SSAA and the Queensland Government, particularly with the Department for Environment and Heritage Protection staff who had been very helpful in getting the project off the ground.

“This contribution by the SSAA is a definitive action that illustrates our willingness to turn our conservation sentiments into reality, by effectively allocating a large portion of our land to ensure the koala population in our local area lives on,” he said.

The range adjoins an area earmarked for future urban growth, which threatens to take over native bushland and wipe out habitat for not only koalas, but also other species important to the biodiversity of the region. While in some parts of Australia koalas exist in pest population numbers, in Queensland, they are recognised as being ‘vulnerable’ and as such, the protection of their natural habitat is a priority.

The koala nature refuge program adds to an existing wetland rehabilitation and management program on the same property, which has brought back a wide range of bird and water species to the local area.

“We really have the perfect area for a refuge like this,” said Bob. “We already manage pest animals on the property and the remaining vegetation is virtually untouched. By increasing the vegetation, we are performing a service to the local wildlife, complementing our wetland program and ensuring the longevity of our property, which will perpetually remain a nature refuge.”

Birdlife Australia’s Margaret Cameron, who has a close working relationship with the SSAA and the Stewartdale property through ongoing bird surveys and wetland management advice, welcomed the guarantee that land in the area would be retained for conservation purposes.

“This is a fantastic initiative and it will continue to benefit the region for many years to come,” said Margaret. “The work on the Stewartdale property so far has been a success and this will continue as we contribute valuable vegetation to a region that will be impacted by development.”

Stewartdale Nature Refuge is a key part of improving the Flinders-Karawatha Corridor, a significant 60km tract of open eucalypt forest in South East Queensland. The Ripley Valley, where the property is located, sits between new urban growth and will form an important balance between sustainable regional growth and the environment.

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