Rainforest is found in the Northern Territory and all states except South Australia. Two million hectares (55%) are in Queensland and 0.7 million hectares (20%) are in Tasmania. There are many types of rainforest in Australia, varying with rainfall and latitude. Tropical and subtropical rainforests are found in northern and eastern Australia in wet coastal areas. Temperate rainforests occur in eastern and south-eastern Australia: warm temperate rainforests grow in New South Wales and Victoria, while cool temperate rainforests grow in Victoria and Tasmania, with outliers at high altitude in New South Wales and Queensland. Dry rainforests occur in pockets protected from frequent fire in sub-coastal and inland areas of northern and eastern Australia. Monsoon rainforests occur in northern Australia in seasonally dry coastal and sub-coastal regions.
WHY IS THE DAINTREE SO SPECIAL?
Covering an area of 120,000 hectares (1,200 sq kms), the Daintree National Park is situated within the Wet Tropics World Heritage Area (WTWHA) that encompasses a total area of 894,420 hectares (~900,000 hectares or 9,000 sq kms). Proclaimed in 1988, the WTWHA extends for about 450km between Cooktown and Townsville. Vegetation in the area's 900,000 hectares includes tropical rainforest, open eucalypt forests, wetlands and mangrove forests. The WTWHA meets all four natural criteria for World Heritage listing. These criteria recognise the area's exceptional natural beauty and the importance of its biological diversity and evolutionary history, including habitats for numerous threatened species. The WTWHA also has cultural significance for Aboriginal people who have traditional links with the area and its surrounds.
The Daintree Lowland Rainforest is the oldest rainforest on Earth, having existed continuously for over 120 million years. It holds exceptionally high biodiversity and conservation value and is the largest continuous area of tropical rainforest remaining in Australia. Rainforests once covered much of Australia, however, as conditions became drier the rainforest contracted to remnants along the east coast. The flora of the Daintree contains an almost complete record of the evolution of plant life on Earth, including extremely ancient flowering plant families found nowhere else. The Daintree Lowland Rainforest also provides a refuge for many unique species of fauna including the southern cassowary, Bennett’s tree-kangaroo, and musky rat-kangaroo.
The International Union for the Conservation of Nature notes that within the broader wet tropics region, “the Daintree River to Cape Tribulation coast has a special status - it is the last surviving, essentially intact, tropical lowland rainforest in Australia. Significant stands of threatened lowland communities are now confined to this area.” - IUCN
Lowland tropical rainforest of the Wet Tropics is typically confined to land east of the coastal ranges of north east Queensland and below 80–100m above sea level (asl), with the main area of former distribution being predominantly between 0–40m asl. Modelling of the minimum predicted extent of lowland rainforest using past climate scenarios shows that the Cape Tribulation-Mossman and Cairns-Cardwell areas are where the ecological community is enduring, having retained stable lowland rainforests during historical climate fluctuations. It is noted that the Cape Tribulation to the Daintree River area appears to have a disproportionate representation of ancient and endemic species.
WHY DOES THE DAINTREE NEED SAVING?
In 1981, several thousand hectares of lowland rainforest and pasture land were subdivided in the Daintree lowlands. This resulted in over 7,500 hectares of subdivided freehold land in the Daintree lowlands north of the Daintree River being excluded from the Wet Tropics World Heritage Area (WTWHA) that was declared in 1988. The forests in this excluded area are recognised as exhibiting environmental values equal to, and in particular cases, surpassing those of the World Heritage listed forests.
As of November 2021, the entire Lowland tropical rainforest of the Daintree was listed in the Endangered category of the threatened ecological communities list under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (Cwlth) (EPBC Act). This listing is reserved for ecological communities that the Commonwealth Threatened Species Scientific Committee (TSSC) considers to have a high or greater chance of extinction in the wild in the medium-term future or earlier.
The primary conservation objective of the listing is “to mitigate the risk of extinction of the Lowland tropical rainforest of the Wet Tropics, and help recover its biodiversity and function by protecting it from significant impacts as a Matter of National Environmental Significance under national environmental law, and by guiding implementation of management and recovery, consistent with the recommended priority conservation and research actions set out in this advice.”
Conservation advice developed by the TSSC is based on the best available information regarding the conservation status and threats to an ecological community at the time of listing. The associated conservation advice for the listing of the Lowland tropical rainforest of the Daintree states “there should be no further clearance and damage to this ecological community because it has been greatly reduced in its extent and condition.” Unfortunately, clearing and damage to this ecological community continues to occur in the Daintree. Subject to approval by the Shire Council, development for housing still occurs today on privately owned freehold properties in the Daintree lowlands.
HOW ARE PROPERTIES ASSESSED FOR ACQUISITION?
Properties are assessed by a trained ecologist who has Tertiary qualifications in horticulture, botany and rainforest science. Our target list of properties has been developed by an ecologist who holds a Bachelor of Environmental Science (Hons) specialising in Wildlife Ecology and Threatened Species Management. Each property we negotiate to purchase has been given a priority acquisition score based on regional ecosystem classification, biodiversity status, protected area connectivity, canopy coverage, corridor function, proximity to settled lots, settlement risk, the existence of encroachments and encumbrances, likelihood of being added to Queensland’s Protected Area Estate and value for money in the current market. We are also mindful of the cultural significance of the land and how it complements the broader landscape.
HOW ARE PROPERTIES PROTECTED FOREVER?
Once acquired, properties are entered into a process for them to be protected in perpetuity under the Nature Conservation Act 1992 (NCA). This process allows for properties to be proposed for inclusion in the Daintree National Park (CYPAL). This in turn allows for joint management of national park land by Traditional Owners (represented by an indigenous corporation registered under the Corporations (Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander) Act 2006) and the Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service. This program is the only formalised, non-Government program which purchases land for conservation to be owned and managed by Traditional Owners.
We are working with the Queensland Government’s Department of Environment and Science, Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service to develop a streamlined process for the transfer of properties into the protected area estate. The Department of Environment and Science and other key stakeholders are fully supportive of this outcome, however, it is a lengthy process that requires the cooperation of multiple stakeholders. Over 250 properties that have been acquired within the original subdivision in the Daintree Lowlands by government agencies and not-for-profit organisations have already been added to the Daintree National Park (CYPAL).
HOW IS DEVELOPMENT CONTROLLED IN THE DAINTREE?
The Douglas Shire Council, the local government authority responsible for development approvals in the Daintree, introduced a new planning scheme in 2006 to control development in several precincts located within a declared “Conservation Zone”. This planning scheme, and subsequent amendments to the scheme, provides several codes that control development within settlement areas north of the Daintree River up to Cape Tribulation. A significant portion of the Douglas Shire Council local plan for the area is privately owned freehold land and is outside the boundaries of the Wet Tropics World Heritage Area.
The Douglas Shire Council acknowledges in its planning scheme that the ‘rural residential style’ allotments north of the Daintree River posed a risk of significant detrimental impacts on the ecology and landscape character of the area, particularly if fully developed. The Council notes as part of the planning scheme that further development would result in a greater resident population leading to pressure for an increased level of service and extension of infrastructure, which in turn would lead to more development pressure. The Council also warns that “such an outcome is contrary to the objectives of preserving the area’s natural environment, landscape character and relative isolation to maintain the area’s intrinsic attractiveness to tourists and residents.”
The land we acquire under the Save the Daintree buyback program is located north of the Daintree River up to Cape Tribulation within Douglas Shire Council's identified conservation precinct, the low impact residential precinct or the environmental management zone. Subject to the Shire Council's approval, development can occur in all of these areas.
ARE CASSOWARIES UNDER THREAT?
The southern cassowary (Casuarius casuarius johnsonii) is listed as endangered by the Australian Government. Animals listed as endangered by the Australian Government are considered to have a very high risk of extinction in the wild in the near future.
The southern cassowary is listed as vulnerable on the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List. Established in 1964, the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species has evolved to become the world’s most comprehensive information source on the global extinction risk status of animal, fungus and plant species. Animals listed as vulnerable on the Red List are considered to be facing a high risk of extinction in the wild.
According to the Wet Tropics Management Authority, the organisation charged with managing the Wet Tropics World Heritage Area, the Wet Tropics population of the southern cassowary is still in decline.
Land clearing, particularly in the coastal lowlands and the Atherton Tablelands where our buyback program operates, has significantly reduced cassowary habitat over the last century. Although the rate of habitat loss has slowed, the population is still threatened by the impacts of fragmentation and other ongoing issues, such as:
- continued loss of habitat through clearing for residential settlement and agricultural expansion
- fragmented habitat (especially from roads and subdivisions)
- vehicle traffic (road kills are the number one cause of adult cassowary deaths)
- dogs (which are especially aggressive to chicks and juveniles)
- feral pigs (impact on their habitat)
- cyclones are a natural part of the Wet Tropics ecosystem, but combined with the other threats mentioned above, can lead to an increase in the death of cassowaries.
ARE ANY PROPERTIES WITH HOUSES PURCHASED AS PART OF THE PROGRAM?
No, none of the properties acquired under this program have houses on them. The ‘Stronger Together’ Save the Daintree buyback program only considers high conservation value properties for acquisition that remain undeveloped or unsettled and that are situated within the 1980s “rural-residential” style subdivision in the Daintree lowlands north of the Daintree River. We only purchase properties freely offered to us for sale or that are available on the open market.
CAN TRADITIONAL OWNERS LIVE ON PROPERTIES ACQUIRED AS PART OF THE PROGRAM?
The properties acquired as part of the ‘Stronger Together’ Save The Daintree Program are purchased for conservation. We have an agreement with the Jabalbina Yalanji Aboriginal Corporation that the properties acquired under this program will be protected and managed for conservation purposes. We are currently developing a separate program for co-financing and joint management collaboration between key stakeholders to acquire established houses in the Daintree region to provide opportunities for Eastern Kuku Yalanji Traditional Owners to reside on Country. This proposed program is aligned to support the conservation outcomes of the ‘Stronger Together’ Save The Daintree Buyback Program.
WHO OWNS THE PROPERTIES ONCE THEY ARE ACQUIRED?
The properties are being acquired by Gondwana Rainforest Trust (ABN 49 628 358 323). We are registered with the Australian Government (ASIC) as a Company Limited by Guarantee (a non-profit organisation) and with the Australian Charities and Not-for-Profits Commission. Our Constitution details that we must use all money raised for charitable purposes and restricts our activities to rainforest conservation activities.
ARE PROPERTIES ACQUIRED AS PART OF THE PROGRAM ALREADY PROTECTED?
All properties acquired for conservation as part of the ‘Stronger Together’ Save the Daintree program are outside the Daintree National Park and Wet Tropics World Heritage area which when declared, excluded over 7,500 hectares of freehold land in the Daintree lowlands north of the Daintree River. The forests in this excluded area are recognised as exhibiting environmental values equal to, and in particular cases, surpassing those of the World Heritage-listed forests.
DO ANY OF THE PROPERTIES ACQUIRED NOT HAVE DEVELOPMENT RIGHTS?
We occasionally acquire high conservation value freehold properties that do not have development rights so they can be added to the Daintree National Park to be managed for conservation. These properties are critically important to the continued conservation of the biodiversity, environmental and scenic values of the area in which they are acquired. Of the 18 properties acquired under the ‘Stronger Together’ Save the Daintree program in the last 2 years, 3 blocks that did not have development rights have been acquired so they could be added to the National Park and managed for conservation.
DO ANY PROPERTIES ACQUIRED HAVE RAINFOREST REGROWTH ON THEM?
Some of the properties we acquire have regrowth forest on them, others are a mix of regrowth and remnant forest. As of November 2021, the entire Lowland tropical rainforest of the Daintree was listed as endangered under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (Cwlth) (EPBC Act). This listing is reserved for ecological communities that the Commonwealth Threatened Species Scientific Committee (TSSC) considers to have a high or greater chance of extinction in the wild in the medium-term future or earlier. Revegetated or replanted sites or areas of regrowth are not excluded from this listed ecological community provided they meet key diagnostic characteristics such as soil type, rainfall, elevation, diversity, canopy features and structure. The members of the TSSC are appointed by the Minister for the Environment. As of February 2022, the TSSC consists of 12 experts from relevant academic fields.
DO YOU CONSULT WITH TRADITIONAL OWNERS?
Yes, we have ongoing communications with the Traditional Owners and we do that through our partners the Jabalbina Yalanji Aboriginal Corporation.
Jabalbina Yalanji Aboriginal Corporation is the peak body with the responsibility to consult with and act on behalf of the Eastern Kuku Yalanji people, the Indigenous inhabitants of the Daintree that have a history dating back 50,000 years to the earliest human occupation of Australia. Jabalbina is responsible for consulting the Eastern Kuku Yalanji with regard to the administration of Eastern Kuku Yalanji Indigenous Land use Agreements and the management of Aboriginal Freehold Lands.
It would be inappropriate to consult with Traditional Owners outside of the prescribed protocols of the Jabalbina Yalanji Aboriginal Corporation as they are the Registered Native Title Body Holder (RNTBC), Prescribed Body Corporate (PBC) and Land Trust and Cultural Heritage Body for the Eastern Kuku Yalanji People.
DOES BUYBACK NEGATIVELY IMPACT THE COMMUNITY?
We acknowledge and appreciate that local communities that support conservation have a very important role in the custodianship of biodiversity through the maintenance and enhancement of ecological communities and ecosystem processes.
Census data reveals that the number of dwellings increased in every locality north of the Daintree River up to Cape Tribulation between the census years of 2016 and 2021. Overall, the number of dwellings in these localities increased by 25% from 437 to 546 and the population increased by 11.4% over the same period.
ARE SHORT-TERM RENTALS AN ISSUE?
AirDNA (https://www.airdna.co/) shows that there are over 90 short stay accommodation options in the above localities, 76 of which are entire homes. This accounts to approximately 20% of the housing stock in some areas.
HOW DO YOU ENGAGE ON SOCIAL MEDIA?
Every day, people discuss and debate environmental issues in thousands of online conversations. We recognise the vital importance of participating in these online conversations and are committed to ensuring that we participate in online social media the right way. We have resolved to treat negative sentiment as an opportunity to provide factual responses and to reduce the spread of misinformation. Conservation relies on cooperation among different interest groups and the appropriate use of evidence to make decisions that benefit people and biodiversity. When cooperation and evidence are impeded by polarisation and misinformation we acknowledge that we have both a responsibility and an opportunity to inform people with factual information and educate them about the value of the work we do.
In line with our Social Media Policy & Community Engagement Guidelines, and community expectations, we do not tolerate defamatory, misleading, deceptive, obscene, offensive, threatening, abusive, pornographic, vulgar, profane, indecent or otherwise unlawful commentary. This includes material that racially or religiously vilifies, incites violence or hatred, or is likely to offend, insult or humiliate others based on race, religion, ethnicity, gender, age, sexual orientation or any physical or mental disability.
If we believe a comment breaches our rules of engagement, we will hide it from view for anyone outside of that individual’s network of connections. Serious breaches are deleted. If the person continues to breach the rules, we reserve the right at any time to hide and delete comments, ban people from our page/s and report them to Facebook.
DO YOU SEEK PERMISSION TO ENTER PRIVATE LAND?
Consent to enter private land or property is usually provided to us by Real Estate Agents. Our Employee Code of Conduct requires all staff to respect the privacy of landholders and residents in areas where we deliver our projects by not unlawfully accessing properties and to seek permission of landholders to access properties wherever required.
HOW ARE YOUR FINANCES MANAGED AND HOW MUCH DO YOU PAY YOUR STAFF?
Our finances are independently audited annually and our financial statements are prepared to meet the reporting requirements of the Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission Act 2012 and in accordance with the recognition and measurement requirements of the Australian Accounting Standards and Accounting Interpretations and disclosure requirements of AASB 101 Presentation of Financial Statements, AASB 107 Statement of Cash Flows, AASB 108 Accounting Policies, Changes in Accounting Estimates and Errors and AASB 1054 Australian Additional Disclosures.
Our staff wages are consistent with community and donor expectations for the not-for-profit community sector. Collectively, our overall wage costs as a percentage of income are 40% below other organisations managing similar programs. Wages are established with processes consistent with our Remuneration Policy.
All projects are rigorously budget and costed. A thorough assessment and botanical survey is carried out to inform the development of a conservation management plan for each property acquired. This plan provides guidance and management information to protect the natural and cultural values of each property acquired and as required the removal of rubbish, weed eradication, and restoration works.
WHEN DID THE PROGRAM WIN THE QUEENSLAND PREMIER’S AWARD FOR RECONCILIATION?
The Premier’s Reconciliation Award is awarded to a nominated initiative that demonstrates innovative strategies and exceptional outcomes towards advancing reconciliation in Queensland. The 2021 Premier's Award was awarded in recognition of the buyback acquisition program that is supported by the ‘Stronger Together’ partners. In receiving the award, the program was recognised as the only formalised, non-Government program which purchases land for conservation to be owned and managed by its Traditional Owners.
WHAT IS THE ‘STRONGER TOGETHER' PARTNERSHIP?
Gondwana Rainforest Trust and Jabalbina Yalanji Aboriginal Corporation are partners in a formally endorsed ‘Stronger Together’ partnership that is built on respect, care, and the shared values of protecting the Daintree’s globally significant conservation and cultural values while also reconnecting Traditional Owners with Traditional Land. The partnership allows for the design and efficient delivery of science-based conservation programs that can be supported and actively engaged with by a diverse range of people within the community. As partners, we also collaborate to ensure the integrity of the disturbed areas on acquired properties by restoring rainforest and we work together to pursue social and employment outcomes for the benefit of the Eastern Kuku Yalanji people and the wider Daintree community.
WHO IS THE CHARITY REGULATOR IN AUSTRALIA?
The Australian Charities and Not-For-Profits Commission is the regulatory authority for charities and not-for-profit organisations within Australia (ACNC).
ABOUT GONDWANA RAINFOREST TRUST
Gondwana Rainforest Trust is an Australian Company Limited by Guarantee (the legal structure of an Australian non-profit organisation. We are registered with the Australian Securities and Investments Commission (the Australian company regulator). We are also registered with the Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission (the Australian charity regulator).