West Australian - April 15, 2003

WEST AUSTRALIAN Tuesday April 15

CALM amid a storm over Cape
Tony Barras

LEONIE HORAK considers it nothing short of blackmail. The Department of Conservation and Land Management wants a slice of land and has given her and other Cape neighbours an ultimatum - agree or don't even bother attempting to renew your pastoral leases when they expire in 2015.

She sees it as a heavy handed approach to an issue that through negotiation, common sense and a bit of give and take could be settled for the benefit of the thousands of visitors to the pristine Ningaloo reef.

CALM wants a 2km strip east of the high water mark that runs along the coastline between Carnarvon in the south to Cape Range National Park in the north and takes in four exceptional parcels of land - Ningaloo Station, the Aboriginal-owned Cardabia Station, Ms Horak's Warroora Station and Gnaraloo Station.

It believes pastoralists are responsible for the coastline distintegrating to an environmental standard it contends is unsustainable. It says big slabs of country need to be rehabilitated and those who lease the properties just don't have the expertise to do it. There are also claims that another more potent force is at play in the argument; that of revenue. Planning and Infrastructure Minister Alannah MacTiernan, whose department oversees the Pastoral Lands Board of WA, said last year: "We all know there's an enormous amount of money to be made out of tourism up and down the coast. The question has to be asked: Should pastoralists have the automatic first right at this development?"

Liberal member for Ningaloo Rod Sweetman believes not.

"I have lots of issues with CALM at the moment, but I'm behind them 100 per cent on this one," he said yesterday.

"I don't think that a group of pastoralists, who are flat out managing their land under the requirements of their pastoral leases, really have the expertise to properly manage a major tourism venture on land which is getting the daylights flogged out of it.

"You only have to see the difference between CALM-managed land and that managed by pastoralists to know which one is in better shape."

Meanwhile, the long-time practice of allowing West Australians on to pastoral land and charging them a minimal fee to camp has helped pastoralists make ends meet.

They suspect CALM intends to lock the gates and cut access to the reef for average West Australians.

Pastoralists have formed the Ningaloo Reef Outback Coast Association and vowed to fight any land grab by the Government head-on.

Having just secured a $250,000 National Heritage Grant to erect proper fencing and signs, create 4WD tracks, set aside walking trails, initiate a code of conduct for all campers and launch a replanting program, they claim to have a better chance of properly managing the area than a cash-strapped, ill-resourced CALM.

"To me, CALM can't have it both ways. It is constantly complaining about lack of funds and staff, so what happens if they get their hands on this land?" Ms Horak said.

"Will they be able to properly manage it? We don't think so, we think that they will just put a lock on the gates and close the place down under the name of rehabilitation, which I don't think is entirely fair to the large number of West Australians who visit the area and act in an environmentally responsible manner.

"People pitch in up here. Nobody wants to see this place go to ruin. Why would they? Governments need to realise that in this day and age people are environmentally aware and realise their responsibilities."

But Jim Sharp, CALM's director of national parks, said the bigger question remained about land tenure and what should be done, on behalf of the people of WA, about pastoral leases with environmental and public amenity value.

"Technically, this land is already owned by the crown and a lot of people, including pastoralists, tend to forget this fact," he said. "We are now in a process of negotiation and hopefully we can discover what really matters to keep pastoralism viable and what matters to protect those other values, such as the environment."

He disagreed that CALM did not have the resources to manage the land. The Cape Range National Park was proof .

"That park has been able to sustain a pretty high level of use without degradation and there's been a great improvement in the environment," Mr Sharp said.

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