The Establishment, Management and Evaluation of the Conservation Reserve System in the Rangelands of Western Australia

Anthony Brandis, University of Notre Dame Australia


The rangelands of Western Australia cover about 85% of the State and include the sub-tropical savanna of the Kimberley, the semi arid and arid spinifex, the southern mulga shrublands and the extensive chenopod plains of the Nullarbor. About 40% of the rangelands are managed for the production of meat and wool under a pastoral lease system. A large range of ecosystems occurs within these pastoral leases where, after a relatively short period of time, many changes to native flora and fauna populations have occurred. Biological diversity in the rangelands is declining most noticeably with the extinction, or reduction in the distribution and abundance, of many medium sized (40 – 4000 gram) mammal species. Introduced predators, such as cats and foxes, weeds, changed burning regimes and the impacts of sheep and cattle are the principal factors that are believed to be responsible for the demise of plant and animal species. The recognition of the need to conserve the full array of indigenous ecosystems and species within the pastoral region has occurred at all community and political levels in various international, national, state and territory, and local settings. One of the fundamental strategies to conserving the State’s biological diversity is the establishment of a comprehensive, adequate and representative conservation reserve system. As most biodiversity occurs outside the conservation reserve system there is recognition of the need for cooperative management of off-reserve land having high conservation value, as well as the need for the introduction of ecologically sustainable management practices on all other land outside the reserve system. The Western Australian government is committed to the conservation of native flora and fauna through the establishment of an expanded system of terrestrial reserves and the setting of environmental objectives for other land uses. A targeted pastoral lease acquisition program has been progressively implemented with the cooperation of all major interest groups. To date (February 2004) over three and a half million hectares of land held under pastoral lease has been purchased for inclusion in the conservation reserve system. Off reserve management agreements have also been developed with pastoral lessees. While there is an extensive body of literature on the theoretical principles of reserve system establishment, there is little that addresses the real world political, economic, and social issues that need to be addressed before a comprehensive, adequate and representative reserve system can be established. This research evaluates the conservation reserve design literature, and provides a pragmatic approach to achieving a comprehensive, adequate and representative conservation reserve system within the prevailing land use framework, while recognizing the political, social, cultural, economic and planning constraints. It also reviews issues related to dealing with pastoralists, pastoral industry bodies, and relevant government agencies that were faced throughout the acquisition program.