There are many global examples of ecological restoration projects that combine a shared vision and common community understanding of what needs to be done to restore social, cultural, and ecological well-being. Here the spotlight is on an exemplary model of local, state, regional, and national cooperation and collaboration found in Queensland, Australia: Trees for the Atherton and Evelyn Tablelands (TREAT) near Malanda.
Trees for the Evelyn and Atherton Tablelands
The Atherton Tablelands—a high plateau on the edge of the Outback—is former tropical rainforest now mostly given over to dairy and beef cattle, some sugar cane and high-income horticultural crops for the nursery industry. The Tablelands host a growing eco-tourist industry and are attractive to both retirees and those just looking for a summer home. These land uses have destroyed, degraded and fragmented the native rainforest, leaving just small, isolated islands of original forest stranded in an agricultural sea. The remaining small remnants of tropical rainforest are increasingly susceptible to invasion by weed species and provide poor habitat for threatened and endangered species. Therefore, one restoration goal in the Atherton Tablelands is to provide habitat and a migration corridor for the endemic Lumholtz tree kangaroo, a small marsupial of the forest canopy.
To achieve restoration goals, local Queensland restoration ecologists use a variety of restoration strategies or methodologies to fit different situations and goals. But whatever the restoration plan, their work relies upon partnerships, collaboration and civic engagement. In Australia, restoration is cooperative government/volunteer effort and Trees for the Atherton and Evelyn Tablelands (TREAT) is one such example.
TREAT is a volunteer organization powered by partnerships with local, state and federal governments and other volunteer organizations. TREAT (one of Australia’s top 25 restoration projects) and its governmental partners have formed a full-service restoration practice. TREAT secures funding from state and federal governments and partners with local and regional groups to restore plant communities in Queensland’s Wet Tropics World Heritage Area tropical rainforests. (TREAT’s work is done under the auspices of the Wet Tropics Management Authority.)
TREAT also assists private landowner applicants by cost sharing as a partner in the grant application. TREAT coordinates, sponsors and finds funding for a range of other programs such as the Threatened Species Network, and the Weed Spotters Network which trains people to identify, find and map outbreaks of invasive species.
Land Use Changes
Land use changes in the Tablelands raise concerns not only about habitat loss but also about water quality because of increased nutrients from fertilizer and manure runoff, chemicals from pesticide and herbicide applications and erosion and silting of streams and trampling of stream corridors by cattle. Because of this TREAT officials view their work both as a land management exercise and as a tree-planting program. TREAT promotes improved water quality through a series of workshops that offer talks on monitoring and water quality sampling. TREAT also provides landowners with incentives to do simple things—such as installing silt traps, rehabilitating wetlands, and planting corridor buffers with appropriate tree species that exclude cattle from waterways—to improve the quality of water in streams on their own property.
In a typical year TREAT nurseries produce, and volunteers plant, thousands of tropical rainforest trees. Staff of the Queensland Environmental Protection Agency use their technical knowledge and indigenous people contribute their traditional ecological knowledge (TEK) of the tropical forest to collect the fruits and design the seed and planting mixes. TREAT volunteers clean the seeds, sow them and care for the seedlings until they are ready for out-planting.
In February and March of 2006 for example, TREAT volunteers planted just over 7,000 trees along Peterson Creek, a stream corridor restoration designed to serve as a habitat corridor between two tropical forest remnants. This work is typical of the shire-based Wet Tropics Tree Planting Scheme and has been widely practiced since the wet tropics received World Heritage status in 1988.
Restoration Implementation Using The Rainforest Model
Plant species that are key building blocks and drivers of ecosystem function are missing from some of the fragmented and cut over Wet Tropics World Heritage Area’s rainforests. Also missing is the structural complexity, diversity of life forms (trees, shrubs and vines) and various forms of litter that indicate active nutrient cycling, a key ecosystem function. The restoration strategy is to plant the building blocks or framework species that attract the birds that introduce and disperse species. Restorationists use the existing remnants such as those found at the Curtain Fig as “repair guides” that provide important clues about the structure and composition of original ecosystem. The restored forest then expands upon, and buffers, the remnants, reduces edge, and creates “stepping stones” or links in fauna dispersal and habitat corridors that lead to even more dispersal and establishment of rainforest flora.
One endangered type of Australian rainforest that benefits from this restoration strategy is Mabi Forest—a structurally complex forest known for its vines—which is now down to about 2% of original extent. This isolation has implications for maintaining and restoring wildlife habitat because of loss of important food plants, and fragmented habitat, which disrupts migration routes and isolates breeding populations.
The Mabi Forest is important habitat for several rare animal species such as the Lumholtz tree kangaroo, a pocket-sided marsupial and over 114 species of birds, including the ostrich-sized Southern Cassowary. The cassowary’s population (as of 2010) was only 1,200 to 2,500 individuals and efforts are underway to restore a habitat corridor along the coast and throughout the Tablelands. The Cassowary’s population decline is thought to be due in part to fragmented breeding habitat caused by agriculture and grazing, and loss of important food plants because of deforestation.