What do Thredbo's alpine summer slopes, the tiny hamlet of Derby in northeast Tasmania and Mount Canobolas State Conservation Area have in common?
Nothing whatsoever, but the first two world-renowned centres for downhill mountain bike riding are inevitably raised by those seeking to persuade residents and the state government that building an elaborate network of mountain bike tracks in the State Conservation Area at our back door is environmentally acceptable.
Residents, who are now considering the line-up of candidates for Orange's next council, might well ask how up to 70 kilometres of bike tracks can be incorporated into a delicate volcanic outcrop which was given conservation status because of its unique flowering plants, lichens, trees and fauna which in many cases, live nowhere else on the planet? There is a large body of scientific work available to candidates and council staff which says it cannot.
It is a question which our candidates should be acquainting themselves with because the development is being sold with the promise it will be a tourist drawcard to rival Dubbo's zoo or Bathurst's Mount Panorama.
With it will come jobs and tourist dollars, which State Member for Orange Phil Donato seems dazzled by.
Mr Donato, wrote in his weekly column on November 2 that he has had several meetings with State ministers pushing the mountain bike cause. And he is not alone.
Orange City Council has reportedly spent $500,000 on track surveys and archeologic field work, which seems more intent on finding a work-around for environmentally sensitive areas than asking if the Mount Canobolas SCA is an appropriate site in the first place.
The issue is of course not whether a mountain bike track network should be built, but where it should be built. Mount Canobolas is in some ways the easy way out when it comes to creating this sort of adventure tourism attraction.
Simply find the highest, most scenic point in the district with road access, the summit of Mount Canobolas, and build a descending network of "gravity" tracks which mountain bike enthusiasts can hurtle down. It sounds like great fun and it would be. But Mount Canobolas is not like Thredbo or Derby in northeast Tasmania.
Thredbo's MTB tracks are primarily located in a highly developed part of Kosciuszko National Park, ski fields characterised by roads, chairlift stations and cable towers, bars and restaurants. Derby has indeed enjoyed an economic miracle brought about by mountain biking, but it is a tiny town in a valley which was worked over for tin mining and later, forestry. It is as far from a unique alpine environment of immense conservation value as you can get.
Opponents of a mountain bike track network on Mount Canobolas are definitely not opposed to the sport just the location which Orange City Council seems determined to use, a delicate and environmentally precious area which should be preserved.
There are other areas around Mount Canobolas, outside the SCA which could be suitable. These should be explored in genuine consultation with the community, including the members of our indigenous community.
While elders of the Indigenous community met on November 8 with residents opposed to the proposed site and added their objections on cultural grounds, Mr Donato told State Parliament on November 11 that he had been assured by Orange City Council that consultation had taken place.
It is unclear from his public comments whether Mr Donato has spoken to the Indigenous community about what they think.
There is also an argument being promoted by Mr Donato and others that allowing a network of mountain bike tracks in the conservation area could generate funds to combat the weed problem.
There is certainly a problem with weeds in the conservation area, blackberries and other pest species have made major inroads, particularly since the bushfires.
But before we starting kicking the national parks service for failing to control the weeds, or playing the old " You can't lock it up and leave it" card, let's look at the number of rangers and the budget allocated to manage national parks and conservation areas across the central west.
The service should be adequately funded to undertake its work because of the intrinsic value of the land it manages. That is something which Mr Donato should be raising with NSW Treasurer and Environment Minister Matt Kean.
We should not be asked to trade off the conservation value of the area for a vague promise of funding to preserve it, that is no more than environmental blackmail.
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