Nature refuges

What is a nature refuge?

Nature refuges are voluntary agreements negotiated individually between the landholder and the State Government and provide for the continuation of sustainable production while protecting biodiversity in perpetuity.

Nature refuges were first established under Queensland's Nature Conservation Act 1992 as a class of protected area.

In many cases, nature refuges provide a valuable wildlife corridor between other protected areas such as national parks and state forests. Each Nature Refuge Agreement is negotiated individually between the landholder and State Government so that management requirements (eg. pest and weed control, timber management etc.) can be taken into account.  The landholder still retains ownership and management, and there is no change to public access.

AgForce and the Nature Refuge Program

Since 2007, when AgForce began to publicly support the Nature Refuge Program, demand by landholders to enter into nature refuge agreements has increased exponentially.

In May 2009, AgForce State Council passed the following resolution:

"That AgForce support the Queensland Government's Nature Refuge Program because it:
  • Recognises the vital role which Queensland landholders play in the protection of significant natural and cultural values on their properties
  • Allows the continuation of sustainable primary production activities, including grazing and pasture development
  • Recognises individual management requirements, including the need for pest and weed, fire control and timber management, to be undertaken
  • Does not change public access to properties
  • Involves entering into a voluntary agreement (covenant) which is negotiated directly between individual landholders and the Queensland Government
  • Provides significant incentives and assistance (including NatureAssist funding) for landholders to meet their obligations under a nature refuge agreement.”
492 nature refuges are now gazetted in Queensland - protecting over 3.9 Million hectares of land. Of this area over 1.7 million hectares of land is protected by AgForce members.

AgForce's position on mining nature refuges is "That AgForce opposes mining on nature refuges in Queensland.” (Executive Committee, August 2009)

For more information on how to get involved in the nature refuge program click here.

Mining on Nature Refuges

Land protected as a nature refuge is not currently exempt from mining – but is afforded some limited protection through legislation.  The following information has been provided by the Department of Environment and Resource Management in this regard:

"Applicants for mining activities in Queensland require approvals under both the Mineral Resources Act 1989 and the Environmental Protection Act 1994.  The Department of Environment and Resource Management (DERM) must issue an environmental authority before an application for an exploration or mining tenement can be granted.  Through the conditions of the environmental authority, DERM is able to ensure that consideration is given to high value conservation areas.

A nature refuge is classed as a Category C Environmentally Sensitive Area in the DERM Codes of Environmental Compliance which applies to low impact activities. This means that the holder of an environmental authority must consult with DERM prior to conducting activities within a nature refuge. The Code enables extra conditions to be applied to activities in the nature refuge area.  DERM has successfully conditioned exploration on a number of nature refuges.

Companies must report their exploration results to the government. Together with the understanding gained from studies of the environmental and social values of the area, this enables the government to make better informed decisions in the event that a company submits a mining proposal.

Should a major mine or mineral development project be proposed in a nature refuge area, the application is assessed on a case by case basis that may involve an Environmental Impact Statement, and the resulting environmental authority would be conditioned to provide appropriate protection of environmental values of the area as well as rehabilitation requirements and, in some cases, off-set requirements. A nature refuge provides evidence of the area having significant values.”

Approximately 219 Nature Refuges in Queensland currently have some sort of mining exploration or interest over them – and a handful have been subject to exploration. The Bimblebox Nature Refuge is currently under significant threat from long haul and open cut coal mining.

A recent AgForce survey of members with nature refuges indicated that the threat of mining on nature refuges (which are protected in perpetuity) is an issue of concern. The Queensland Government has repeatedly maintained that Nature Refuges are an essential component of the Queensland Government's commitment to achieve their 20 million hectares of protected area by 2020. The is no simple solution to these conflicts, and mining and resource development on Nature Refuges will be an area that AgForce will be continuing its strong opposition and lobbying in an effort to obtain a suitable resolution.

Log in to access case studies of nature refuges owned by AgForce members.

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