Inundated by rain and fuelled by the thrill of exploring a prospective career path, I entered the ACT Parks, Conservation and Lands (PCL) depot at Stromlo. Through the welcoming haze of freshly brewed tea, I could see the firefighters discussing last week’s burn, the office ladies rallying the singing phones, the field staff preparing their hoard of tools and the rangers devouring emails. Behind the façade of green polar fleece and Blundstone boots, I knew this was a place of action.
My guide for the week was Craig, a ranger in charge of the majority of Canberra’s southern nature reserves. Being a practical person who enjoys getting their hands dirty, I obviously enjoyed touring Aranda Bushland, Kowen Forest Bruce Ridge and Mount Ainslie in a more than capable Toyota Hilux. However, I would like to share with you a different insight I gained through my brief stint as a PCL plebe.
The very first concept I learnt at university was that managing resources is about managing people. Craig was a living and breathing example of this. His primary role as a ranger is to manage and build working relationships with numerous stakeholders from all walks of life, to meet the conservation objectives of his 300 long project to-do list. In addition to this confronting task, recent cuts to sector funding and human resources means that he is virtually a one man army. The involvement of volunteer groups such as Parkcare and NGOs like Greening Australia are crucial in the management of Canberra’s nature. However over the contentious issues of land clearing and prescribed burning, environmental management seems to become a political game won by the highest bidder.
One of the greatest challenges in this line of work is getting stakeholders to appreciate the broader picture of an issue. Many struggle to comprehend the implications their actions would have at a greater scale. The skills one gathers at school of essay writing, statistical analysis and Pythagoras theorem may suit some careers, though good people skills are needed to become a successful ranger.
A predominant theme emerging this week has been about reusing local resources to address multiple environmental projects, stemming from the theory of thinking globally and acting locally. Over the past year, ACT PCL have established a program where detainees from the Alexander Maconochie Centre complete field work as part of their release program. Recently these men have been clearing Acacia baileyana or Cootamundra Wattle from Aranda Bushland. As well as drastically reducing fire fuel loads at this urban interface, the transported prunings are used as a protective barrier for seed regeneration and mulch at the Fairground restoration site. Craig preaches the merit in reading the landscape to identify these multibeneficial opportunities.
This week was an invaluable experience that put my university degree in practice and I thoroughly enjoyed discovering the other side of the rugged ranger we all know.