Individuals and organisations came together in Geraldton last week to throw their weight behind ambitious plans to transform purchased former pastoral stations into havens for people and wildlife.
The Create Ranger Parks initiative would involve the Government transforming former pastoral properties – purchased by the WA Government 20 years ago – across the Mid West, Murchison and Gascoyne into national parks managed by Indigenous rangers.
Geraldton’s Labor candidate Lara Dalton pledged Labor’s support for the proposal. Ms Dalton committed five years of funding specifically for the initiative if Labor were elected at the March State election.
The City’s other state government candidates, Paul Brown (Nationals) and Ian Blayney (Liberal) expressed general support but did not make a specific commitment to protecting the parks or funding the ranger programs.
“[Create Ranger Parks] just makes sense,” Ms Dalton said. “It ticks so many boxes – socially, environmentally, and culturally.”
The initiative would build on the work of a past government initiative that resulted in the purchase of 5 million hectares of pastoral lease for addition to the conservation estate.
However, with such a massive and remote area, and limited budgets, the properties became largely unmanaged, leaving feral animals, fires and weeds to damage the environment and negatively affect surrounding pastoral properties.
“These properties present an incredible opportunity for regional development that will mean a win for everyone,” said Linda Goncalves, spokesperson for Partnership for the Outback.
“We want the Government to finish what it started 20 years ago and create an extensive network of protected parks, managed by Indigenous rangers, with a particular focus on new jobs and business opportunities.
“Labor’s commitment to funding for Indigenous rangers is really welcome but we call on all parties to commit to creating the parks which would leave a lasting legacy for future generations.”
Speaking at the meeting in Geraldton, Aboriginal Elder Richard Nelly said Indigenous rangers working on their traditional country created a whole raft of benefits.
“Having Indigenous rangers working on country makes for healthier lifestyles, improved economic circumstances and better connection to culture and country,” Mr Nelly said.
He envisaged the Mid West becoming a world leader in Indigenous ranger programs.
“It’s up to us to plant the seed for this vision now, and we need lots of support to help water it,” he said.
An independent economic assessment of the proposal by Social Ventures Australia found that every $1 spent on the initiative would bring $3.70 worth of value to Western Australia, of which $2.30 would be a direct benefit for government, covering everything from improved health and increased employment to reduced crime and environmental benefits.
Ms Goncalves said the program would need to be introduced in a staged manner, with existing land managers training new Indigenous rangers in a process spanning 10 years. She stressed the need for the program to work in harmony with other landholders and people living in the areas.
Also speaking at the meeting, former Department of Parks and Wildlife operations officer and current rangelands ecologist David Blood highlighted the unique and rare nature of many of the landscapes, plants and animals contained in the purchased former pastoral properties.
He presented a slide show outlining stunning vistas of lakes, flat-topped hills, ancient granite outcrops and rare wildflowers – each currently locked away from the public and without conservation management protection.
Create Ranger Parks is an initiative backed by non-government groups and businesses such as Yamatji Marlpa Aboriginal Corporation, Western Mulga, and Partnership for the Outback.