Yurol Ringtail has been described as the last major environmental land project Noosa Shire will see, but few understand its significance or how it came about. Reports by PHIL JARRATT.
As pollies and bureaucrats slapped each other over tea and scones in Noosa council chambers the other day, the real celebration of Yurol Ringtail’s conservation project was taking place in the sodden forest itself , where 34 koalas had been located.
This important indicator of the importance of the project was pointed out by Noosa and District Landcare Officer Rachel Lyons the night after the celebration.
Using heat-sensing cameras on drones in six sampling areas of the 2,400 hectares of former forest land and plantations, Rachel and her team made this small but significant discovery. Extrapolating the results to current vegetation areas in the project area, this equates to a current koala population of 286, with an expectation of 528 living in the Yurol-Ringtail habitat by the time revegetation work is complete.
The restoration of the koala is just one of the many exciting things that should happen as we approach the completion of the last and huge piece of the puzzle that is Noosa’s Green Crescent.
Yurol-Ringtail is perhaps best understood by taking a backcountry route. From Tewantin, head along McKinnon Drive towards Boreen Point. To your left, except for a few private properties, all of the forest you see is part of the new park.
At Louis Bazzo Drive, turn left. The forest you see on either side is parkland to the outskirts of Pomona.
From Pomona to Cooroy, the forest on the left is a park.
Take the Cooroy-Noosa road towards Tewantin. From Tinbeerwah to the bottom of the escarpment, the forest on both sides is parkland. A thousand hectares of this 2400 hectare addition is already a national park, much of it being restored and around 100 hectares being aided.
Welcome to Yurol-Ringtail.
But strangely, few people outside of a small cohort that helped create it seem to know much about this extraordinary achievement.
The story begins about a decade ago, during the dark final days of the de-amalgamation battle for Noosa to reclaim its county, when Noosa Parks Association veteran Michael Gloster and members of the management team of the NPA sat down and worked out the main headland projects. this should be achieved over the long term to create a strong case for Noosa’s World Heritage listing.
Michael Gloster recalls: “The first was to restore the health of the river. The second linked the national parks of Noosa, Cooloola and Tewantin into a single national park area of 100,000 hectares.
“To put this into context, when NPA settled 60 years ago there were only 240 hectares on Noosa Headland, but over the previous decade we gradually added elements into what is now known as Tewantin National Park.
“Around the rest was a state forest, mostly a pine plantation. We realized that to build our case, we had to buy the land back, convert it to hardwood and make it a national park.
The acquisition of Yurol-Ringtail, delivered in 2018, effectively seals Noosa forever into a crescent of protected national parks and wildlife corridors, creating a world-class wilderness refuge and huge economic benefits at very little cost.
It’s not quite the final link – there are still 200 hectares to be secured – but as the former Mayor of Noosa, Tony Wellington, told this writer shortly after the acquisition: “It’s probably the last really significant environmental land project Noosa Shire will see. I am very proud that this happened under my leadership, that I was involved in crafting the agreement, and that the council I led supported such a grand project.
But the case had not been easy.
During Queensland’s Beattie and Bligh Labor governments in the first decade of this century, the state’s forestry plantations were privatized in a devastating blow to the Noosa Parks Association.
Gloster says: “We had all of the Noosa Shire state forest plantations on our target list for revegetation as native forests and relocation to a future Tewantin National Park.
“I sulked for a few years about the Beattie-Bligh government sellout, but Eureka realized that the forests we wanted were now owned by a global company called Hancock, based in Boston, and it’s still more easy to deal with pragmatic business interests rather than state bureaucracies.
Did Hancock really want to keep a few thousand hectares in Noosa, or would he sell it if the price was right?
Gloster decided to find out.
Local management did not respond, but the parent company of HQ Plantations, which owned the leases on the forests in question, was Hancock Timber Resource Group, the world’s largest manager of ethical forestland investments, with more than 50 billion US dollars under management. Gloster went straight to the top and argued the case.
Again, nothing happened.
Gloster picks up the story: “Then, out of the blue, Brian Farmer, the CEO of Hancock Queensland Plantations, phoned me and invited me to lunch, where he told me it would cost 3.5 million dollars. I knew it was doable. But I knew I had to field a lot of ducks quickly.
First, Michael Gloster needed to ensure that Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service management would support the addition of revegetated state forest plantations in Tewantin National Park, then he needed the support of the Department of Environment and of Science, which includes QPWS in its portfolio, and the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries, which has state forests and oversees headquarters plantations in its portfolio.
He brought in Noel Playford, who had a long list of contacts from his time as chair of the Local Government Association of Queensland, to arrange meetings with department heads.
Says Gloster: “Noel has accompanied me to every meeting, and department bosses have given unequivocal support, including a willingness to recommend to their ministers that the state join the NPA as equal financial partners to redeem the seat, so long as Noosa Council joined for an equal share.
“I then met with Mayor Wellington and council CEO Brett de Chastel who indicated their personal endorsement and agreed to present it to council.”
The bare elements of a deal between HQ Plantations, the State, Noosa Council and the NPA, which involved the three entities equally funding the $3.5million acquisition, were stitched together within weeks , but it would take several months of hard yakka before formal legal contracts could be signed.
Along the way, officials and council officers overcame obstacle after obstacle, with de Chastel the rock-solid presenter who got things done.
But the most remarkable aspect of the deal was how a community organization, the Noosa Parks Association, was able to raise a third of the money.
Michael Gloster explains: “Since the turn of the century, the NPA has developed a business model that is an example for environmental groups everywhere. It operates information centers in Noosa National Park and the historic Double Island Point Lighthouse Cottage, and proceeds from these ventures go into a fund for the acquisition of land for National Parks.
“There are expenses, but the net return is about $150,000 a year. This has allowed NPA to join Noosa Shire Council and the Queensland Government as equal partners in protecting the surrounding Noosa Greenbelt forever.
Speaking at the Yurol Project Celebration last week, Mayor Clare Stewart highlighted the historic collaboration that made it possible, and also recognized former Mayors Playford and Wellington, “who have been involved in this project from the start. and are with us today”.
But while acknowledging the past, she and other speakers also celebrated a future in which Kabi Kabi First Nations and Greenfleet Australia would play a key role in restoring and managing the parks, with Greenfleet providing the funding through the through carbon credits by removing 700,000 tonnes of carbon from Noosa, while the Kabi Kabi Peoples Aboriginal Corporation would provide the labor.
As noted by Kabi Kabi President, Norman Bond, “Kabi Kabi looks forward to working with Greenfleet and Noosa Landcare to provide training and future employment opportunities for our people, as well as long-term protection of our country.
It seems appropriate to give the final say to Michael Gloster, the architect of the Yurol-Ringtail deal and now vice-president of the Noosa Parks Association.
He told the Council Celebration: “We had to find a way to convert the plantation forest into a national park and we learned about biodiversity and carbon sequestration as we went along, then out of the blue Greenfleet came up with finance restoration through carbon offsets.
“But it’s only recently that we’ve looked at Native Title and the prospect of cooperative management of the entire estate.
“It’s a humbling prospect, because Kabi Kabi has been here for at least 18,000 years, so they’ve been involved 300 times longer than we have.
“We are very proud of what we have achieved, but we are also touched by what lies ahead – a multi-handed approach to taking care of the country, with Kabi Kabi at the forefront. And we know it will work as an amazing, everlasting legacy project.
“So that’s what we’re celebrating today – a five-way partnership to take care of the country.”