AS THE Federal Government looks to make a market for biodiversity, some well-known Central Queensland graziers are hoping it can learn from a previous experience they had, which saw them walk away from a multi-million-dollar deal.
Adam and Jacynta Coffey purchased Boreelum Station, near Miram Vale, in 2016 and have had a major focus on improving the productivity and ecological health of their land.
They are currently signed up to a soil carbon project, which will see them earn Australian Carbon Credit Units if they can prove an increase in carbon over 25 years.
They have also had an experience with a Federal Government biodiversity offset, where a resources company was going to pay them to manage and restore habitat for threatened native species.
“Much of our property is pristine koala habitat and there isn’t a koala to be seen – we had ecologists here, who were fauna experts, and they couldn’t find any in 10 days of surveys,” he said.
“That saddened us as landholders because we’ve bought this property that is A grade koala habitat and it has no koalas. Like many landholders, we face pressures from invasive weeds and feral animals so we thought if we can get some financial help to restore the habitat then it was a good legacy to leave.”
Biodiversity offsets are different to the nature repair market which was explained in this article last week.
Offsets are part of environmental impact statements for big developments, like mines – it requires them to compensate for adverse impacts on the environment by generating a positive impact somewhere else.
Mr Coffey said there was potential in biodiversity offsets.
“As producers we don’t always have the means to do the environmental we want to do and this is a good way of generating the funding to undertake activities that benefit all of society,” he said.
“I feel like a lot of other producers are in the same boat.”
More commonalities than differences
With the project in mind, they began the task of working out the area and how they were going to improve the habitat. Mr Coffey said it was a lengthy process.
“Once you determine the area, the species and the habitat you are trying to conserve, you then enter quite a long and drawn-out process,” he said.
Biodiversity offsets are regulated under the EPBC act, so agreements between applicants and landholders need to be developed under frameworks and approved by the Federal Department of Environment.
“We were even looking at a translocation project with universities because it is quite a deal with regulation to bring koalas in – which was pretty exciting,” Mr Coffey said
“But they kept changing the goal posts over time, which is why we ended up abandoning the process.”
Cattle not allowed in project area
Mr Coffey said the initial request from the regulator was to exclude livestock from the project area for three months – which was not a problem as they spell paddocks for large parts of the year.
“We basically run one mob of cattle and because we are running a time-controlled grazing enterprise, the three month exclusion fit in with our rotations well,” he said.
“Then three months became five months, which became seven months and eventually it became clear that the program looked at cattle production and conservation as two completely separate things.
“We went through our records and worked out that we had cattle in those paddocks for 33 days/year on average.”
Mr Coffey said the Government wanted them to find peer-reviewed science backing their case that cattle and the squatter pigeon could live side by side.
“We went back to the ecologists and asked them when they breed and they said potentially all-year-round as long as there is grass-seed and there is water,” he said.
“With the way we manage our land, we believe we have the best chance of consistently having both of those things.
“The other interesting part is that Squatter Pigeons actually prefer sparser goundcover. With exclusion of cattle for long periods during the growing season we grow huge amounts of dry matter which is at odds with habitat requirements and presents a fire risk.
“Under offsets there is a focus on improving native habitat, yet the health of squatter pigeon populations has been found to be directly related to the availability of the introduced legume Stylosanthes humilis (Townsville lucerne) so there are nuances in relation to the success of improving native animal habitat. This is where we can all work together better to create outcomes.”
“Despite this being worth millions-of-dollars to us, it didn’t sit within our values in how we wanted to manage the environment. In fact, many of the prescribed management actions were at odds with what we view as being good land management.”
More willingness needed to work with landholders
Mr Coffey said a lot of the peer-reviewed science he looked into came from the perspective of removing livestock, rather than having native animals and domestic animals side-by-side. He said the government needed to be more prepared to work with landholders to improve outcomes for both.
“The reality is that if we are going to keep feeding people then these two things have to co-exist,” he said.
“This is such a thuggish approach to say we need to have more data to prove what we want to do, rather than working together with people on the ground to provide research opportunities and continue to better understand how conservation and primary production interact.”
Mr Coffey said working with ecologists on their property was a positive experience and Government could learn from it when creating these biodiversity markets.
“We spent a lot of time with these ecologists working out what they were trying to achieve, and they had a bit of time with us understanding what we did – we came to the conclusion that we were all trying to achieve the same thing,” he said.
“I then couldn’t understand why there was not much willingness from the Government to work with us like the ecologists did.”