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Fears national park zipline could threaten koalas

Canberra Times logo Canberra Times 22/05/2014 Tony Moore

Queensland government plans for a zip line ride inside Kondalilla National Park, near Maleny, have conservationists worried century-old trees will be cleared and koalas and rare birds threatened.

The zip line would be the first built within a Queensland national park.

Conservationists argue it would threaten endangered koalas which live in the area and prompt rare birds to leave. They also say trees in the national park would be cleared and trimmed in order to construct the ride.

The park is home to two rare bird species - the glossy black cockatoo and the plumed frogmouth owl.

Tourism Minister Jann Stuckey said on Thursday Australian Zip Line Canopy Tours had been selected as the preferred operatorbecause it had met the government’s "environmental, social and economic criteria" in a preliminary submission.

“The evaluation panel has identified Australian Zip Line Canopy Tours as having the best concept and demonstrated ability to finance and operate the project responsibly,” Ms Stuckey said.

“In the next stage of the process, Australian Zip Line Canopy Tours will be required to demonstrate that environmental checks and balances are incorporated into the planning, design and operation of the zip line development, and show how the proposal will deliver economically for the community.”

Representatives for Ms Stuckey and National Parks Minister Steve Dickson could not on Thursday provide information how the company's initial proposal satisfied the government’s environmental and economic criteria.

The proposed “zip line” would go over Obi Obi Gorge in Kondalilla National Park, near Maleny on the Sunshine Coast.

The idea was first proposed in 2009 through a Sunshine Coast Hinterland Nature Based Tourism Plan. Expressions of interest were called for in October 2013.

The not-for-profit National Parks Association of Queensland - set up in 1930 to promote national parks as pristine, natural landscapes - said it was horrified by the zip line plan and the state government had not done its homework.

Executive co-ordinator Paul Donatiu said other zip lines were in regional parks, state forests or on private land where habitat protection issues were more relaxed.

“By placing it in national park, we are actually giving a commercial operator a bit of a free ride,” Mr Donatiu said.

“The asset that they are actually using is underpinned by the taxpayers of Queensland, who have invested money into an area where the main goal is the conservation of nature.

“It is not necessarily to provide a high adrenalin experience.”

Mr Donatiu said platforms for the zip line would have to be erected in either high trees – possibly koala habitat trees within the national park – or from steel platforms that would need to be built.

“Both of which would constitute a fairly high level of disturbance,” he said.

The government could not reveal on Thursday how the ride would be built.

Mr Donatiu – who knows Kondalilla National Park well – said he was also concerned trees would need to be trimmed so cables for the ride could be installed.

“There is no really large emerging trees in there so they can get above the canopy,” he said.

“So they would have to actually trim vegetation to get these lines in there.”

Mr Donatiu said he understood the government’s plans to make the most of the state’s national parks.

“But national parks weren’t established so we can bring vegetation down. It is really contrary to the management principles of national parks,” he said.

He said the government’s own Wildnet Data Base showed the two rare bird species – aside from endangered koalas in the area.

“They are two birds where part of their life cycle is within the canopy of this national park.

“So they would be disturbed.”

There are zip lines operating close to other Queensland national parks - Cape Tribulation National Park in North Queensland and O'Reilly's National Park behind the Gold Coast.

One company, Jungle Surfing Canopy Tours, runs a tour through rain forest on a privately-owned land inside the Cape Tribulation National Park.

Its zip lines runs from five tree platforms.

"There are no bolts, nails or constrictive cables used in construction," the company's website says.

"All buildings were erected in previously cleared areas and there is minimal impact on the rainforest environment as we follow small unobtrusive walking tracks.

"In areas predisposed to erosion, we have built boardwalks and permanent pathways and stabilised banks with re-vegetation."

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