MEDIA REPORT | Orange City Council’s Mt Canobolas bike trail opposed by scientists

Orange City Council’s proposal to make Mt Canobolas a “world-class centre for mountain bike riders” has been strongly opposed by local conservationists and scientists.

The Canobolas Conservation Alliance (CCA) – a community group of scientists, bushwalkers, environmentalists and concerned individuals – say the planned network of more than 100 kilometres of bike trail would “inflict irreversible damage” on ecological as well as heritage values.

CCA vice-president and adjunct associate professor at Charles Sturt University’s School of Agricultural, Environmental & Veterinary Sciences, Dr Andrew Rawson said the conservation area earmarked for development contained over 1000 species of flora and fauna – a number of which appear on state and commonwealth lists as threatened, endangered or critically endangered.

“A lot of the people within the group have done research work on the mountain – scientific work on the mountain – for years, in some cases decades,” he said.

“The consultants employed by council [to assess the ecological impact to Mt Canobolas from the bike trails] rely very heavily on the information that we’ve gathered over the years, [because] whenever we do any sort of work on the mountain, that often ends up in a state or federal database.

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“The consultants [employed by council] have been asked to provide… an opinion about whether or not this development can go ahead. The problem is that that opinion is based on very little of their own information, from what we can tell, and ignores the views and opinions of the scientists who have actually collected the data.”

The CCA is calling for the environmental and archaeological impact assessments drafted by consultancy firms the Environmental Factor and Apex Archaeology, respectively, to be made available to the public.

While 68 per cent of the proposed trails are mapped in the State Conservation Area (SCA), council has said their placement is in areas identified as low risk in regard to environmental impact, and extremely low risk in terms of cultural heritage impact.

Additionally, council communications officer Allan Reeder said that any areas deemed ecologically, culturally or historically sensitive would have a “wide buffer” around them.

“Consultants have spent months closely examining the areas of the mountain which must be protected. In co-operation with local members of the Indigenous community, they identified new Indigenous heritage sites as well as places of key environmental significance,” he said.

“By walking every metre of these proposed trails, the consultants have also established that there are severe weed infestations in the conservation area. Constructing a network of bike trails will increase the number of visitors, giving national parks the budget they need to deal with the weeds. The best way to protect the mountain’s unique biodiversity is to build a network of trails.”

Following the release of the next stage of the proposed bike trail earlier this month, council said that, thanks to the specialist firms hired to assess the environmental and archaeological impact of the development, it was possible to have mountain bike trails through a conservation area.

“By designing a network of trails which leave large buffers around these known sensitive areas, these experts have made it clear it is possible to have a world class network of trails and protect the mountain’s special places,” Mr Reeder said.

However, Dr Rawson says the scientists and experts who created the database these consultants would have been referring to, had all presented their findings with a clear message about the bike trail development: “Don’t do this”.

“[Council] have consistently ignored this advice and are embarked on a wasteful and, we believe, ultimately fruitless exercise that would also see the region’s most important natural asset desecrated,” he said.

Report by Alana Calvert in the Central Western Daily, 14 October 2021