Think Global, Act Local – Sydney’s Parks
Greetings from outside of Sydney Olympic Park!
The event organizers, in their great wisdom, realized that even the most determined of us congress-goers can’t spend eight straight days in windowless rooms without going stir-crazy. Therefore, on Sunday we had the opportunity to take a field trip and see how local parks are addressing the global themes of the congress, from ‘reaching conservation goals’ to ‘inspiring a new generation.’ Options ranged from whale-watching to cruising up the Hawkesbury River to visiting the Blue Mountains World Heritage Area. While presenters and panelists at the congress had already discussed and debated many methods and strategies for conservation, here was our opportunity to see them being implemented on the ground. Four of us opted for the trip titled ‘Think Global, Act Local,’ which visited two national parks on the Cumberland Plain just outside of Sydney.
First we visited Cattai National Park, a park holding both cultural and ecological significance. The park contains a number of Aboriginal sites, and we were shown three rock engravings in sandstone – two of human figures, both with arms stretched overhead, and one with two ships. While the two human figures may be thousands of years old, archaeologists think that the ships depict the arrival of Europeans to Australia. Thousands of engravings have been documented, and researchers are continually finding new ones underneath the layer of dead leaves covering the sandstone bedrock. Park staff told us they keep the locations of most sites secret to prevent vandalization.
The forest in the park has a similar history to many forested areas in New England: it is relatively young, having regrown after being completely cleared for agriculture. At the time of European settlement, the Cumberland Plain comprised of over 1000 square kilometers of woodlands and forests. Settlers quickly discovered that it held some of the more fertile soils in the area, and it was rapidly transformed for agricultural purposes in the early 1800s. Now, under the protection of the park service, the scribbly gum and bloodwood forests are growing back. A park biologist is testing the use of different bat boxes to see if they will entice bats to re-inhabit the area; the forests are not yet old enough to have snags or hollows, which bats prefer to nest in. The park’s bat biologist had captured several bats the previous night for a trapping study and brought them out for show-and-tell.
Our last stop was at Scheyville National Park, where we saw adaptive land management in action. Australia has a lot of problems with invasive species ranging from grasses to shrubs to trees. Many of these species were brought in as ornamental plants to decorate lawns and gardens. With no natural predators, these plants then move into natural areas and out-compete native species. This was the first time I have ever heard a plant described as ‘feral.’ The park is working to eradicate lovegrass, which is an invasive that replaces native grasses but provides poor forage for wild animals. We visited a field site where managers were testing across field plots to see which was the most effective method for killing lovegrass. Fire? Herbicide? Fire and then herbicide? This study seemed tedious, but the results will be valuable in helping the park determine the most effective method of eliminating an endangered species. Some U.S. senators may claim that ‘watching grass grow’ is a waste of money for the US government, but here watching grass grow – or hoping that it won’t – just might pay off for long-term management of this area.
Overall, it seems like the Australian national parks face many of the same challenges as US national parks, such as protecting historic sites, restoring human-altered landscapes, engaging new audiences, and eliminating against invasive species. This is one of the many reasons why the World Parks Congress convenes every 10 years – so park managers and scientists from around the world have the opportunity to learn best practices, discuss new challenges, and create visions for our parks and other wild spaces.