LETTER TO THE EDITOR | Development plan’s eroding effects must not see light

Much debate has occurred over the last few years in these pages regarding the use of the Mount Canobolas State Conservation Area for a large mountain biking facility.

Such a development would involve a major change in the overall utilisation of the SCA from its current (pre-fire) usage, leading to increased disturbance of soils and vegetation across the park.

Apart from the obvious ecological values of the SCA as a refuge for vulnerable and unique species, impending climate change intensifies the conservation imperative of all such native vegetation remnants, especially those at higher elevations.

Significant temperature increases are likely for the Central West of NSW over the next century. Changes in rainfall are harder to model, however it seems likely that the intensity of each rainfall event will increase over time in a warmer, more dynamic atmosphere.

Long periods without rain are also projected, and the last 18 months of record warmth and drought severity in NSW is perhaps a taste of things to come. Mount Canobolas is blessed with a relatively high rainfall and cool (even cold) conditions in winter, sufficient to allow snowfalls.

Soil is not something that can be returned to the mountain. Once lost it is essentially gone forever, along with all the species that rely on it.

These snowfalls can deliver significant amounts of precipitation to the mountain, but without the energy impact of high intensity raindrops that would normally promote soil erosion.

Projected temperature increases for the region will likely reduce the ability to create snowfall from each precipitation event. In effect, the overall rainfall erosivity (a measure of the energy impact of rainfall) on the mountain will increase.

The recent extensive fire in the SCA has highlighted concerns about enhanced erosion.

Much of the SCA is very steep, rocky and covered in intrinsically erodible soils. If there is good groundcover the risks are relatively small. However any areas left bare will be at enhanced risk of erosion.

The combination of warmer temperatures, increased intensity of storms, heightened fire risk and shifts from snowfalls to rain in winter, all point to increased erosion risk.

More erosion is not only expensive to manage, but is ultimately detrimental to the ecological values of the reserve.

Soil is not something that can be returned to the mountain. Once lost it is essentially gone forever, along with all the species that rely on it.

The Mount Canobolas SCA is an exceptional remnant of the formerly extensive sub-alpine vegetation that once existed all across the region during the last glacial era.

Any further development on the mountain that permanently exposes its soils will undoubtedly initiate significant degradation of an otherwise invaluable reserve.

It is for this reason that the draft changes to the Mount Canobolas SCA Plan of Management to allow development of a mountain biking facility within the borders of the SCA is ill-conceived.

A far better change to the PoM would be to enhance the capability of National Parks and Wildlife Service staff to protect this valuable asset for all future generations.

Dr. Andrew Rawson

This letter appeared in the Central Western Daily on 27 September 2018.

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Written by Col Bower

I am an environmental consultant trained in entomology and botany. I am an accredited Biobanking Assessment Method Assessor with almost 30 years experience in biodiversity assessment. I have visited, observed and studied Mt Canobolas since 1980.