Friday, April 4, 2008

Govt to pump $180m into nature reserves

The federal government has committed $180 million towards expanding national parks and reserves through partnerships with landholders and conservation groups.
The funding over five years for the Nature Reserve System will be matched by at least $90 million from the private sector and other stakeholders, federal Environment Minister Peter Garrett said.

He said the move, under the Caring for Our Country program, would help protect native species from the effects of climate change.

The announcement coincided with a CSIRO report calling for new protected areas to conserve ecosystems threatened by global warming.
Mr Garrett said priority areas included northern Australia's sub-tropical savannah from Cape York to the Kimberley, the Mitchell grass country of north-west Queensland and arid central Australia.

"(The funding) means we'll have a much better protection of the biodiversity that's in our parks and reserves which is so necessary in the face of climate change," Mr Garrett told reporters at Namadgi National Park in the ACT.

"It recognises what scientists, conservationists, park managers, farmers and Aboriginal people have been saying to us for some time."
The minister said it will also help protect the tourism industry by safeguarding both landscapes and native species.

The existing reserve system includes more than 9,000 protected areas made up of national parks, indigenous lands and reserves run by conservation groups through to ecosystems protected by farmers on their properties.

More than 89 million hectares are now protected - about 11 per cent of the continent.
New areas would be added through acquisition or a covenant in which the landholder committed to preserving bushland.

Conservation groups said the announcement represented a four- to five-fold increase in federal spending.

"You can do a lot with that kind of money because it's a partnership arrangement," WWF policy manager protected areas Martin Taylor told reporters.
However, Mr Taylor said the cost of managing reserves to state and territory governments dwarfed the price of acquiring them.

Australian Conservation Foundation health ecosystems program manager Paul Sinclair said until now the government had spent comparatively little on preserving the nation's wetlands, woodlands and grasslands.

"These places shape us as a country and we have an obligation to protect them," Dr Sinclair said.
The CSIRO report, Implications of Climate Change for the National Reserve System, says as many different types of habitats as possible across larger areas need to be protected.
In doing so, report author Michael Dunlop said environmental scientists would be forced to rethink their approach.

"Traditionally, conservation has focused on preventing change or restoring landscapes toward a pre-European state, but we now have to accept that change is inevitable, and it's happening quite fast," Dr Dunlop said.

"Some animals and plants will be found in places where they've never been seen before, and others will disappear from areas where they were once common, and for many regions the look, sound, and smell of the landscapes we are familiar with will gradually change."
In response, the government has committed $250,000 to identify climate change refuges for native plants and animals.

The project will be funded out of the $126 million Climate Change Adaptation Program.

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