This year I completed two days of work experience for the NSW Office of Environment and Heritage (OEH). This experience taught me a lot about the broad responsibilities OEH has and the kinds of work OEH does in NSW. OEH is a state government office that falls under the NSW Department of Premier and Cabinet. OEH, as the name suggests, cares for and protects NSW’s natural environment and aboriginal, cultural and built heritage. As a result, OEH works closely with NSW National Parks and Wildlife service for many of their projects along with a host of government and non-government entities. This responsibility is state-wide and multifaceted, and as a result OEH projects are varied and often complex. Ranging from development proposals, biodiversity monitoring, heritage matters and indigenous affairs.
The two days work I completed each related to a different project. First, I accompanied Genevieve Wright into the snowy mountains to do an ecological impact assessment of a new bridge being built. On the second trip I accompanied Damon Oliver to the Murrumbateman region to take part in a long term Superb Parrot survey. The diversity of the project and stakeholders captures the varied nature of projects the staff of OEH work on.
The ecological impact assessment took place at the south eastern side of Tantangara Reservoir, where the upper reaches of the Murrumbidgee river exit the reservoir dam. The site had a wooden bridge that was due for replacement. Owing to the shape of the river, the proposed site of the bridge was moved 50m downstream to reduce the bridge span. This meant the new bridge was a single span bridge, beneficial to the site for two reasons. Firstly, the new bridge location allowed for a less steep, off camber and winding route past the river and adjacent hill. This was allowed easier access for horse riders with heavy floats (horse trailers) to access beyond this bridge. Secondly, the single span nature of the bridge meant there was no disturbance of the riverbed. This site was recognised as an important Macquarie perch (Macquaria australasica) habitat, an endangered fish that travels upstream to spawn.
Site of the proposed bridge project
Our task was to evaluate the impact of the proposed bridge and adjacent track and determine the ecological footprint. This particular site was a known as one of the few habitats for Raleigh sedge (Carex raleighii), a thin leaved, small, wiry plant. Little is known about Raleigh sedge other than its limited distribution.
We identified three individuals on the southern bank that would be directly impacted by the current bridge proposal. Furthermore, a host of other species, including a number of mature trees, would have been impacted by the project.
Our role wasn’t to assess whether the bridge proposal should be built that day, however, it was very concerning that these plants would be impacted by the infrastructure project. Some would argue the loss of three endangered plants isn’t a problem in the context of the whole national park. However, as OEH is tasked with assisting the community to manage NSW natural and heritage assets, it is vitally important that these kinds of surveys are completed. In this way, when impacting processes are undertaken, the impacts are better understood. This allows impacts to be weighed up against the benefits of the project, providing an evidence base for management decisions.
This position is typical for many OEH projects. The office holds limited power to prevent environmental damage, but rather acts as an advisor to other agencies who in turn enforce various state and federal laws.
The second day of work experience involved superb parrot (Polytelis swainsonii) monitoring. The day was spent walking three 1km transects over the course of one hour each (to standardise the searching effort) and counting the number of superb parrots observed. The recent heavy rain made access to some of the sites a quite adventurous as bridges had been lost and the roads pretty rough for the Toyota Camry.
Through the course of the day we observed a number of superb parrots including a two potential breeding pairs – which was really exciting!
This monitoring was part of a long term study in NSW on superb parrots, which have come under threat due to loss of habitat due to agriculture. The program is directed by OEH, but many of the transects are conducted by members of the community as part of a citizen science project. This allows more data to be collected while getting the community involved in conservation in their area.
Superb parrots (image provided)
Superb parrot population health is a contentious issue. Currently, superb parrots are listed as a vulnerable species in NSW. However, there has been a push to have them delisted, which would afford less protection for this species. This monitoring program has collected data since the early 2000s across the Canberra region and therefore gives great insight to the population health of this species in this area. Monitoring programs such as this are of vital importance for policy makers to make informed management decisions.
The work experience I completed gave a further insight into the role OEH plays in managing biodiversity and other assets in NSW. It was great to learn more about the governance of these assets following on from the workshop in week 2 as part of the ENVS3039 course I am studying at ANU. This work underscored the importance for biodiversity conservation practitioners to be versatile!
Many thanks to Damon Oliver and Genevieve Wright for letting me tag along on these field trips.