High-intensity mountain biking is incompatible with the primary nature conservation objectives of the SCA. It is unacceptable to desecrate the SCA when multiple viable mountain biking venues exist outside the SCA on land that does not have high conservation values.
The Purpose of SCAs
Conservation lands, including State Conservation Areas, are dedicated for the protection and conservation of biodiversity, habitat, ecosystems, populations of threatened species, landscape values, scenic features as well as geological and geomorphological features. In addition, the recreational use of such land must be both appropriate and ecologically sustainable.
Mountain biking does not in any way contribute to these aims, but rather detracts from them. It is not consistent with the guiding principle of ecologically sustainable development.
The proposal is large in scale, the aim being to establish an internationally attractive centre for mountain biking. Over twenty tracks and circuits would be established within the SCA, totaling over seventy kilometres (71.7 km) in length and traversing much of the reserve. There is a high concentration of tracks proposed west of the Federal Falls Picnic Area, in the valley east of Old Man Canobolas and north east and south west of the Tea House. There would be a trail head established near the Tea House from which cyclists would ascend via densely packed switch-backs to the higher parts of the mountain on both the north and south sides of the Summit Road. Similar dense switch-backs occur in numerous other places on steep ascents. Another trail head would be established on the Summit with three steep ‘black’ runs descending to the north, north east and west. Vegetation disturbance and clearance for the track network is likely to result in the loss of up to 30 hectares of native vegetation. An estimated 50,000 additional visitors per annum to Mt Canobolas are expected once the conversion of Mt. Canobolas to an international mountain biking centre is complete.
The figure below shows the whole proposal which includes some 72 km of tracks in the SCA, an additional 27 km of within Glenwood State Forest (the north western part of the diagram) and 6.3 km in crown land managed by Cabonne Shire Council.
This proposal would have very significant impacts on the reserve. Considerable soil disturbance would occur, especially where switch-backs descend steep slopes. There would be increased soil erosion and loss, potentially silting pristine creeks with headwaters on the mountain.
Increased soil erosion and loss, potentially silting pristine creeks with headwaters on the mountain
The SCA is a small reserve of only 1672 hectares. As a consequence, the populations of unique and threatened biodiversity in the reserve are also small and quite vulnerable to local extinction. The mountain biking proposal increases this risk. Many of the tracks traverse sensitive environments including critically endangered and endangered ecological communities.
Large influxes of spectators are likely to have significant impacts on the trackside vegetation due to trampling and littering at viewing points, and the establishment of a network of informal access tracks for viewing. The overall impact of clearance for the track network and spectator trampling and informal track formation is potentially considerable.The rock plate habitats support the endangered Mt Canobolas Xanthoparmelia Lichen Community, which occurs only on Mt. Canobolas and includes three lichen species that are also confined to Mt Canobolas. This community occupies relatively small areas at the higher elevations of the reserve, is highly vulnerable to foot traffic and likely to be used as easy access to viewing points.
Similarly, the heathlands on Mt. Canobolas differ compositionally from any other known heath communities and represent an unnamed vegetation type restricted to the SCA. The heathlands also occupy limited areas, often associated with the rock plates and are highly vulnerable to disturbance.
networks of mountain bike tracks would also fragment the habitats and territories of small native mammals
The network of mountain bike tracks would also fragment the habitats and territories of small native mammals by removing ground cover vegetation and effectively creating barriers of open ground that they would not traverse. This is likely to have the effect of creating sub-populations within species and reducing the exchange of genetic material among sub-populations. Small sub-populations may go extinct. There is also a small but significant risk of collision of mountain bike riders with larger wildlife such as kangaroos.
The extensive track network penetrates to the remotest corners of the reserve, disrupting bushland areas that have suffered little disturbance by humans historically. These areas protect near pristine remnants of the unique vegetation types of the Mount Canobolas Volcanic Complex that have all but disappeared and are listed as threatened. These areas are the core habitat of much of the wildlife that depends on the SCA for its survival. Opening up these areas with a network of tracks makes it easier for feral predators to penetrate and devour wildlife and will lead inevitably to invasion by exotic grasses and other weeds.
Soil disturbance and the presence of cleared ground is also likely to facilitate the establishment and spread of weeds within the reserve, particularly introduced perennial grasses, which so far have not become a problem within the SCA. Perennial grasses such as Cocksfoot, Phalaris, False Oatgrass and others are a major problem on volcanic soils in the Orange district, but have not yet significantly invaded the SCA.
Mountain biking does not exist in ‘harmony’ with nature and causes significant environmental damage
Myths versus Reality
The proponents of the Mt. Canobolas international mountain bike centre often call for a ‘balance’ between intensive mountain biking, low intensity recreation and nature conservation in the SCA. They also claim that mountain biking and nature conservation can co-exist ‘harmoniously’. In reality, the notions of ‘balance’ and ‘harmony’ in this debate are beguiling myths, invoked to justify the takeover of land dedicated to nature conservation for another purpose. Mountain biking does not exist in ‘harmony’ with nature. Rather, mountain biking is just another threat to biodiversity and inevitably reduces the viability of the natural systems upon which it is imposed. Even the best managed mountain biking tracks cause significant environmental damage, as demonstrated by a large and growing literature. The unavoidable conclusion is that mountain biking is incompatible with nature conservation, the primary function of the SCA.