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Byron Shire
August 9, 2022

Residents resist removal of trees in Arakwal national park

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Melaleucas trees to be removed. Photo supplied.

Local residents on Evans Street in Byron Bay, that backs onto the Arakwal national park, have raised concerns over the intended removal of approximately 40 melaleuca trees in the park and near their properties.

‘We have spent countless hours removing ute-loads of dumped rubbish and invasive weeds from the park and our immediate surrounds,’ said one resident David Hosking.

‘This included observing the natural inhabitants and the flora and fauna. Over three years we have observed and followed a family of two tawny frogmouths produce a single off spring each year in the melaleucas immediately in front of our property. Two families of butcherbirds whose nests have been rebuilt each year and a family of blue-faced honeyeaters. Not to mention the hundreds of lorikeets which appear on flowering time to gorge themselves on the nectar of the melaleucas trees.’

Significant risk of fire

Responding to their concerns local community protection officer Ian Cook joined residents yesterday to discuss their concerns.

Mr Cook highlighted the ‘significant risk on the interface’ between the park boundary and local properties in the area. The park boundary is an asset protection zone (APZ) and there is a legislative requirement that the National Parks and Wildlife Service(NPWS) have to protect the properties on the park boundary particularly in light of the current fires destroying homes in both NSW and Victoria.

He pointed out that there is a significant ‘transient population’ that includes people travelling and camping up the coast as well as the homeless who often light fires in the park as well as ‘almost every second home being a holiday let’ that increases the risk of fire and its potentially dangerous outcomes.

A spokesperson for the  office of environment and heritage said that ‘The work is required to maintain the Asset Protection Zone, a crucial part of the fire management strategy for the park providing a buffer zone between the park and neighbouring properties.’

Looking for a compromise

Tawny frogmouths nesting in trees that are set to be removed. Photo supplied.

While the residents acknowledged the need for some removal of trees to create a safety zone, clear access for fire trucks and canopy thinning to reduce fire risk they said they ‘were looking for a compromise’ and that the removal of all the trees ‘may be a bit drastic’.

They went on to highlight that the more recent buildings on the street complied to strict fire regulations and that part of the reason they had chosen to live at this location was that they wanted to be close to nature and help rebuild the natural environment and ecosystems.

Jenny Atkins, team leader ranger for the Tweed Byron area for NPWS has told Echonetdaily that Mr Cook and a ranger had spent afternoon reassessing the site and were currently making a final decision on the number of trees to be removed.

‘Residents are certainly getting their voice heard,’ said Ms Atkins.

‘We have been having an open dialogue and they will know by the end of tomorrow.’

Survival plan

During the session Mr Cook highlighted the importance of a bushfire survival plan with only one resident having thought about their plan.

‘It is amazing how many people don’t have them,’ he said.

Mr Cook showed residents photographic modelling that demonstrated the vulnerability of the houses next to the national park to fire and encouraged them all to put together a bushfire survival plan. Anyone in a fire prone area should put together a bush fire survival plan more information is available online

‘OEH are responsible for protecting people and adjoining properties.’

Properties in areas of fire risk are also able to put a sign on their gate if they have a static water source on the property, like a swimming pool or dam, that could potentially be used by firefighters to fight fires you can find out more here.

[Photos]


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6 COMMENTS

  1. There is a point missed here too and that is the delicious Tea-tree honey. Beekeepers always put their beehives at tea-tree areas on the Macleay and a bee-man always put his bee-hives on the farm on magpie straight heading to Mullum (the straight just after the Brunswick Hds exit and roundabout) to get the honey from all the tea-trees there. I always bought Tea-tree honey. At Burringbar, a beekeeper’s tea-tree honey could be bought and I sure missed that when the service station was closed. Tea-tree honey goes candy naturally, so is always a favourite.

  2. The National Parks and Rural Fire Service staff don’t take vegetation removal lightly as believe it or not – many of them really do care about ecology and the environment. The problem is that they are also responsible for protecting life and property and sometimes have to make the tough decisions. Think about what just happened in Tathra – if that happened in Byron and government staff had identified a number of vegetation issues that would carry fires into houses – and yet no action was taken – these people will find themselves in court trying to justify why nothing was done. I say give the parkies and the firies a break – they are the experts and are trying to do what is best. If a climate scientist tells me that global warming is due to increased CO2 emissions due to human activity – I believe them. If a GP tells me I’ve got tonsillitis – I believe them.

  3. Byron Bay residents in Evans Street are brushing up for a march in anger over Arakwal national park as the National Parks and Wildlife Service intend to remove 40 melaleuca trees in the park near their properties.
    Do not the NPWS know that the melaleuca grows in wetland so the removal could revert the grassland into swamp with infestations of mosquitoes and Ross River Fever?

  4. I remember that area in the 1960s when it was a rifle range and it was without the melaleuca trees and mostly the short heath plants. The target bunker was up Honeysuckle Hill end and the furthest shooting mound was near Milne St. The best solution would be for a housing retreat policy like they have for the coastal erosion retreat ie make the people living close move away ! So do you protect the lives of the people who moved into the fire zone by removing trees or do you kick the people out of their homes ?
    And you have seen what happened down at Tathra this week .

  5. The trees in question are broad-leaved paperbark (Melaleuca quinquenervia) and they rank as probably the most flammable and fire-loving trees in NSW, being virtually explosive in wildfires due to a combination of papery bark promoting crown fires and high volatile oil content of their leaves. They are extremely common, widespread and also highly invasive – ranked in the top 100 of globally invasive species. As above comments note they weren’t there 40 years ago.

    They are most unsuitable at the bush-urban interface. This situation under discussion is a legacy of decades of poor past planning practices where “fuel-free” zones between development and bushland were not mandatory. Their removal is safer for residents and firefighters when the inevitable wildfire occurs, and will allow vehicular access for fire trucks. It will not affect honey production & will have negligible – if any – impact on hydrology and mosquito numbers. Their removal and creation of the APZ is a no-brainer for anyone who understands bushfire management !

  6. First up thanks to the Echo for a balanced and insightful article, this is the sort of smart journalism our community needs. After reading it I agree that the Firies and Parkies should be supported – indeed applauded! Not only are they the experts, but more importantly they’re the ones in the legal and actual firing-line if things go wrong. It’s the poor rangers and fire officers who’ll be called on to risk their lives if there’s a wildfire. I wonder how many of the neighboring landowners are active RFS members?
    But there’s a bigger point being missed here; it is National Park’s responsibility to maintain Arakwal National Park and its biodiversity. This means conducting control burns to both minimize the chance of catastrophic wildfire and maintain critical habitat for wildlife, which of course has depended on Indigenous fire regimes for eons. So concern about a single pair of frogmouth in the APZ is a red-herring and only highlights the self-interest of those would invade this strip of Aboriginal land. Public apathy towards our natural heritage has seen successive NSW governments decimate the National Parks Service. The skeleton staff that do remain are under huge pressure in places like Byron. How they’re expected to do their job looking after our parks when they have to deal with uncooperative neighbors is anybody’s guess.

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