Tree Removal - Geraghty Park

Subject: Tree Removal - Geraghty Park
From: (Syd Curtis)
Date: Fri, 14 Aug 1998 10:15:24 +1000
The Chief Executive Officer,
Mareeba Shire Council.

Dear Sir,

       May I offer some general thoughts on the question of removal of
over-mature trees?  (It would quickly becaome apparent to you that I have
no personal knowledge of the Geraghty Park situation, so I admit that at
the outset.)

        It is stating the obvious to say, ONCE CUT THEY CANNOT BE PUT BACK!
But it is an important point.  Please don't act precipitately.

In Queensland generally the supply of trees old enough to provide hollows
for birds and mammals has been drastically reduced and of those remaining,
about half are already dead.  There is a real danger of a crash in the
populations of hole-nesting birds and hole dwelling mammals in the next
decade or so.  Anything we can do to save such trees now, is worth doing.

I am aware of the problems facing Local Governments particularly with the
modern tendency to sue public bodies for any injury sustained in public
places.  (I was in National Park administration back to 1963, and after
retiring in '88, lectured in environmental law at Gatton College for a few
years which of course necessitated my becoming well acquainted with the
Planning and Env. Act and its 'predecessors'.)

Ned's Beach on Lord Howe Island is a fish sanctuary.  Fish feeding in
knee-deep water was a popular public pastime ... until a small shark took a
nip of a boy's leg.  The LHI people 'took round the hat' and collected
about $10 000 which they gave to the boy's family to defray medical
expenses, emergency air travel,  compensation for loss of holiday, etc.
But back on the mainland the family sued and of course won - the Lord Howe
Island Board faced a massive pay-out, or their insurer did.  The insurance
company said "no more fish-feeding".

That was the situation when I visited LHI in December '96.  I reckoned
fish-feeding would be just about impossible to stop and wondered what would
happen.  In December '97, this was the situation: twice a day a chap drives
up with a supply of scraps from restaurant kitchens, places a large
portable sign on the beach reading "Fish Feeding in Progress.  Enter the
water at your own Risk!"  (or something like that) and interested visitors
stand at the water's edge or venture in a little way (at their own risk)
while the chap wades in to mid-thigh depth with a couple of buckets of
scraps and masses of happy fish up to about 60 or 70 cm long enjoy the
feast ... and about 15 marine-adapted black ducks enjoy the bits that wash
ashore.  Problem solved.

Perhaps your Council could come up with a similar piece of lateral thinking
to save those trees.  Maybe an informative sign that points out that hollow
trees are a vital part of the habitat for certain birds and mammals, but
they can shed limbs, etc., and people enter the area at their own risk.
That of course would depend on the trees being in an area that the public
don't need to enter.

On the subject of warning signs you almost certainly will know what I'm
about to tell you, but in view of how widely the misconception was held,
I'll repeat the story just in case.  I was Assistant Director (Legislation
& Policy) in the NP & WS before retiring, and anything of a legal nature
came over my desk.  The Service was peripherally involved in an action
where a child in a school group was injured by a falling dead tree when
camping on a National Park.  The Education Department was being sued.  (No
camping permit had been obtained from the Service, so technically they were
camping illegally and no action was taken against the Service.)

I had heard a report that the NSW Service was successfully sued by someone
who dived into shallow water and was injured despite the Service having
erected a warning sign saying "Shallow Water. No Diving".  The story, as I
heard it, was that the Court ruled that because the Service erected a
warning sign, it knew of the danger but did not restrain the person and
therefore was liable.  I checked this out with the legal section of the NSW
Service and was told that this was a widespread story but was completely
wrong.  No such court ruling had been made, and that it was certainly
better to put up warning signs where appropriate.

My association with National Parks goes back far enough to recall Eddie
Volck, a senior research officer in Forestry Department based at Atherton,
being called to give evidence in a case taken against a northern local
authority by somone injured by a limb falling from a tree above a
rainforest walking track.  So as I said before, I can appreciate your
Council's problem.  But if there is some way those trees and their birds
and mammals can be saved, it is surely worth considering.

The Integrated Planning Act 1997 has placed a tremendous responsibility on
local governments to look after the environment on behalf of all
Queenslanders.   Hollow trees that are essential for the survival of
certain species of birds and mammals, clearly come within the category of
"valuable features" being resources of ecological significance.  As such
they are a "core matter" which must be addressed in the preparation of a
planning scheme.  The Act requires a local government to identify desired
environmental outcomes and measures to achieve those outcomes.  And in
exercising a power or function under the Act, the local government must act
in a way that furthers the purpose of the Act which is to seek to achieve
ecologial sustainability.

As I understand the situation, existing town plans, strategic plans and the
like continue to have effect, to the extent that they don't conflict with
the new Act, and local governments have five years (from March '98?) to
develop a planning scheme.  A major part of that task (I've heard it
suggested that this might take three years) is to completely assess the
resources including all ecological resources of significance in the area.
In view of their scarcity, habitat trees for hollow-frequenting fauna are a
vital part of this.

No doubt your Council will be mindful of these matters in considering what
to do about the trees, and will avoid removing them if there is a
reasonable alternative.

Yours sincerely,

Syd Curtis, at 69 Miles Street, Hawthorne, Q. 4171. (Phone 07 3399 8830)

H Syd Curtis

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