Australian Heritage Commission, 1998
ISBN 0 6425 4590 1
Part C - A Code for the Management of Wild Rivers
6. A Code for Management of Wild Rivers: General Approach
'Wild Peace', headwaters of Eucumbene River, NSW.
Photo: Kate Foster © © 1998
The Code addresses the major impacts on wild river values and suggests planning and management actions to enable these values to be protected by achieving the stated goal and objectives of wild river management.
The Code draws heavily on two excellent sources that discuss wilderness values and natural catchment values respectively, these being Robertson, Vang and Brown (1992) and Land Conservation Council (1991).
To conserve wild river values by protecting them from human induced hydrological, geomorphological and biological disturbances, and by allowing the associated natural systems and ecological processes to continue indefinitely.
6.2 Management objectives
- To identify existing and potential threats to wild river values and to prevent those threats from degrading values.
- To support existing uses, provided that they continue in a manner that does not threaten existing wild river values.
- To rehabilitate areas suffering limited disturbance.
- To provide for, and support appropriate Indigenous use and management of wild rivers and their catchments.
- To provide opportunities for research, education, resource use, recreation and aesthetic enjoyment on wild rivers and in their floodplains, where such activities do not have a significant impact on natural hydrological, geomorphological or biological processes.
- To encourage widespread community support for wild river protection, and cooperation in their conservation by resource management agencies, and users of wild rivers and their catchments.
'Winnecke Creek', 50 km south-west of Lajamanu, NT.
Photo: Lyndon Baker © 1998
- Planning should be consistent with the Australian Natural Heritage Charter (Copies of the Charter can be obtained from the Australian and World Heritage Group, Environment Australia).
- A management plan should be prepared for a wild river and its catchment within two to three years of its designation if its values are not already addressed in an existing plan. A management plan for a wild river can be brief, in the nature of an action statement, and its preparation does not need to be an expensive, lengthy process. Alternatively, it could form part of a plan for a larger area.
- The management plan should include:
- identification of the special characteristics and values of the river and its catchment;
- identification of existing and potential threats to its natural condition and process;
- management objectives and actions required, including a monitoring program;
- a statement of priorities and target dates for implementing the actions;
- the desired ecological and hydrological conditions, water quality, visitor experiences and cultural values to be maintained in the wild river and its catchment, and the indicators to be used to monitor these conditions, experiences and values;
- strategies to ensure that impacts of activities in the catchment, including the cumulative impact of incremental development, fall within specified limits;
- access policies, including the management of existing roads and tracks;
- identification and justification of any emergency or essential management operations that may be undertaken, and measures for restoration to be undertaken after any impact from these operations; and
- a process and timetable for reviewing the plan and assessing its implementation.
- The management plan may also include:
- a visitor management strategy specifying acceptable activities on the river and within the floodplain, and recreation user capacities; and
- a process for the assessment of development proposals.
- Preparation of the management plan should involve consultation with stakeholders and the community, especially with the Indigenous people who speak for that country.
- If an existing management plan applies to all or part of the wild river and its catchment, then the existing plan should be reviewed to assess whether it adequately protects wild river values. If not, then provisions of the management plan produced for the wild river could apply and be incorporated into the existing plan when it is reviewed.
- The wild river management plan should be incorporated into the management plans or land use controls applying to the surrounding area.
- It is desirable that wild rivers be given special consideration in the development of all local government planning processes (eg. Local Authority Strategic Plans in Queensland).
- Planning should be based on the principles of Integrated Catchment Management.
- Management operations and infrastructure, including those essential for maintaining wild river values, should be located outside wild river catchments wherever this is an option. An example of such an operation is fire prevention, although it is recognised that some fuel reduction, or ecological burning, may be necessary in some catchments from time to time.
- Where management operations must occur within the catchment, they should be carried out in a manner consistent with the maintenance or enhancement of wild river values, except for emergency and essential operations.
- All emergency and essential management operations should be carried out with the least possible impact on wild river values. Where degradation has occurred as a result of these activities, rehabilitation should be undertaken when practicable. This may need to take into account restoration of natural surface configuration and drainage, provided that the restoration activities themselves do not cause additional damage.
- Tracks, particularly river crossings, constructed for emergency operations will generally have impacts on wild river values and in most cases should be closed and allowed to regenerate.
- Emergency and essential management operations which may be permitted include:
- control or removal of introduced species;
- conservation of threatened species and communities;
- protection of fire-sensitive species and communities;
- essential fuel reduction burning and maintenance of essential management tracks;
- restoration of natural processes and communities;
- planned fires necessary to maintain vegetation communities;
- rescue operations;
- management of visitor use and its impacts;
- management action or use of devices to mitigate extreme hazard to human life and property; and
- maintenance of sites and artefacts forming part of the area's cultural heritage.
'Tidal River near Oberon Bay', Wilsons Promontory, Vic.
Photo: Doug Spowart © 1998
- The conservation of wild rivers could be assisted through improved community awareness of the values of wild rivers and through enhancing the understanding of management principles and strategies for wild rivers and their catchments. Particular target audiences could include recreational or tourist visitors, tourist operators, and other users.
- Involvement of the community in the conservation of wild rivers should be encouraged, for example in the management planning process, in the preparation of minimal impact codes for users, and in the monitoring of water quality or ecological condition.
- Where wild rivers or parts of their catchment occur on private land, landholders should be supported in any efforts to manage these areas for their wild river values. Financial incentives could be provided so that landholders can adopt these management principles without financial disadvantage. These incentives could include covenants, priority assistance in existing funding programs and financial assistance for management.
Actions suggested by stakeholders to gain community support for the wild river concept include:
- providing resources to groups such as environment centres to undertake community education;
- providing guidebooks to walking and canoeing groups outlining the values of wild rivers;
- providing non government groups with river management responsibilities such as maintaining river camping sites and repairing tracks in the catchment;
- involving specialist clubs in monitoring wild river disturbances;
- incorporating the wild river concept into community Waterwatch programs; and
- providing funding incentives to encourage maintenance of wild river values and appropriate catchment management.
Recreational groups such as canoeists and bushwalkers have developed codes of behaviour that cover socially and environmentally responsible behaviour. These codes assist users to understand and minimise their impact on the resource on which their recreational activity depends. They often complement or go into greater detail than required by law and aim to ensure responsible use and management of the resources. As noted in Land Conservation Council (1991) the success of a code can be measured by the extent to which it is followed. To be successful, codes need to be widely promoted to ensure that all participants, not just members of clubs, are reached.
To facilitate planning and user responsibility, key recreation groups could be encouraged to assist the development of methods that identify:
- the significance of the recreational resource;
- the impacts that may result from use of that resource; and
- the management options that reduce such impacts (Land Conservation Council 1991).
Additional initiatives to build community support through public involvement, could include:
- resourcing community groups to allow formal input into the development of the management plan, including a process for groups to consult with their members;
- building initiatives through Landcare and Integrated Catchment Management administrative structures;
- where wild rivers and catchments are in private ownership, providing resources for the owners to develop appropriate management;
- ensuring that options for management and rehabilitation include options to employ the relevant custodians of the area; and
- providing support for Indigenous people to undertake monitoring, research, interpretation, tours, and ensuring that employment is available upon completion of any training.
The principles and Code for the management of wild rivers must be viewed in the context of native title. Aboriginal peoples and Torres Strait Islanders are important stakeholders in the development of environmental resource management policies. Their right to play a role in the implementation process is similarly transparent in the light of the High Court's Wik decision. Native Title representative bodies play an important role in the native title regime and can offer service relating to the identification of potential native title holders as well as facilitation of consultation and negotiation processes relating to river management.