NSW WILDERNESS RED INDEX

Published by The Colong Foundation for Wilderness Ltd (September 1999)
2/332 Pitt Street Sydney 2000 ph 02 92997341; fax 02 92995713

email keith@colongwilderness.org.au web site colongwilderness.org.au

NAME: Tabletop
NOMINATED BY: Not nominated.
LOCATION: 85 km south west of Canberra and 65 km north west of Cooma.
SIZE: 25,000 ha Approximately

TENURE: Kosciuszko National Park 25,000 ha

Wilderness Declared:

None

Wilderness Not Declared:

Kosciuszko National Park;

Size (part of nominated area): 25,000 ha
Percentage of entire nomination (NSW & ACT): 100 %

DESCRIPTION:

Tabletop Mountain, the focal point of the wilderness, is a basalt residual overlying Ordovician sedimentary and volcanic rocks. The underlying sedimentary deposits were subject to three periods of uplift. Initially folded and uplifted in association with regional metamorphism during the Silurian, the deposits were again uplifted with the emplacement of several granitic intrusions during the Devonian, and finally these intensely folded rock deposits were again uplifted during the Tertiary with basalt eruptions which remain as basalt cappings throughout the area.

The wilderness is drained by the Tumut and Eucumbene Rivers. The general level of the terrain drops away steeply into these river valleys, with a spectacular gorge in the headwaters of the Tumut River.

Vegetation in the Tabletop area is generally subalpine in its highest ranges, to wet sclerophyll forest at lower altitudes. In subalpine areas, small areas of bog, fen, heath and sod tussock grassland dissect eucalypt woodlands. Above 1,600 metres, a Eucalyptus niphophila woodland predominates. E. niphophila is a fire sensitive eucalypt. Most individual trees are less than fifty years old, reflecting past burning practices. The woodland community typically has a shrubby understorey, with species of Oxylobium ellipticum/podocarpus dominant. On poorly drained sites, a low heath of Kunzea mulleri/Epacris serpyllifolia replaces the woodland. Where there is an elevated water table, fens and Sphagnum develop in frost hollows.

Extensive montane forests occur between 1,100 and 1,600 metres. These forests are dominated by a wet sclerophyll forest community, with principal species being: Eucalyptus delegatensis (alpine ash); E. dalrympleana (mountain gum); E. viminalis (manna gum); and E. radiata (narrow-leaved peppermint).

Below 1,100 metres eucalyptus woodlands of E. melliodora—E. blakelyi and E. rubida predominate, with E. pauciflora and E. viminalis on moister sites.

No rare, endangered or threatened flora are known to be found in the area but a species of restricted distribution, E. pendula, which is related to the Snow Gum is known to the area.

No comprehensive fauna surveys of the Tabletop Wilderness have been found. A survey of the proposed Brindabella Range National Park, an area containing some similar habitats, details fauna that should be expected to occur within the Tabletop area. The survey found 298 species of fauna comprising: 47 mammals; 181 birds; 26 reptiles; 12 amphibians; 9 fish; and 23 invertebrates. Rare fauna of the area include: the Broad-toothed Rat (Mastacomys fuscus); the rare northern form of the Corroboree Frog (Pseudophyrne corroboree); and a butterfly (Oreixenica kershawiphryne) which is endemic to the Brindabella Range.

LAND USE HISTORY:

Aboriginal The area is part of the territory traditionally occupied by the Walgalu Aboriginal People, who were joined in the summer months by the Ngarigo and Ngunawal for the Bogong feasts.
Mining
1852 Geologist and clergyman W.B. Clarke comments on the likelihood of gold in the area after hearing reports from stockmen.
1859 November: gold struck in Kiandra (10km north of the wilderness area), officially reported in January the following year. New strikes follow at Tabletop, the Four Mile and the Nine Mile.
1861 Major rush over by autumn. Crushing of gold-bearing quartz, hydraulic sluicing and dredging in the Eucumbene River continued until 1949. Throughout this period a number of huts were established within the wilderness area by miners.
Grazing Grazing occurred in the Kiandra area as early as the 1830s. Cattle were also grazed along the Tumut River from 1858.
1889 New South Wales Government introduces the Snow Lease system to prevent alienation of land and maintain the area for the use of all graziers during drought periods. This system was never effectively implemented and a "collective monopoly" by pastoral companies and local individuals arose.
1894 Naturalist, Richard Helms, criticises graziers for their burning practices and warns against soil erosion and loss of humus.
1930-32 Attacks on grazing practices intensify with criticism of leasehold monopolies (F. Craft, 1930) and use of fire (B. Byles, Commonwealth Forestry Bureau).
1943 Department of Lands begins major review of Snow Lease system - summit of Main Range withdrawn completely and stock limits set elsewhere.
1950s Lobby against grazing intensifies with scientists increasing their criticisms: 1952 W.R. Browns’s David Memorial Lecture; 1954 A.B. Costin’s Study; 1957 Australian Association for the Advancement of Science Report recommends elimination of grazing to protect catchments; 1958 Soil Conservation Service and Catchment Areas Protection Board attempt to veto renewal of leases.
1969 Former Director General of Agriculture recommends total abolition of grazing within the newly-created Kosciusko National Park.
1974 Kosciusko National Park Plan of Management eliminates grazing other than for "special management purposes".

Graziers construct a number of huts within the wilderness throughout this period.

Hydro-electricity

1941 Premier William McKell makes the development of water resources of the Snowy Mountains part of his election policy.
1944 Kosciusko State Park Act passed, by which 75% of water catchments for the proposed hydro-electric scheme are conserved within the Park. Conservation of water resources for irrigation and power is the major reason behind the preservation of the park and the demise of grazing.
1949 – 1974 Snowy Mountains Hydro-Electric Authority (SMHA) founded by Act of Federal Parliament in 1949 for the implementation of the scheme. Construction involves seven power stations, a pumping station, 17 large dams and 225 km of aqueducts and channels. Total storage capacity is 7,000 gigalitres. The centre of the scheme became Lake Eucumbene, 5 km west of the wilderness area, which collects the runoff from the headwaters of the Snowy, Eucumbene, Tumut and Murrumbidgee Rivers.

The stored waters are redirected from their natural catchments to flow through tunnels, from whence they are discharged into the Murray and Murrumbidgee river systems for agricultural irrigation.

The Tumut and Eucumbene Rivers which flow through the Wilderness Area are dammed. The Tooma Reservoir, at the northern end of the area, is excised from the area. Further destruction of wilderness values occurs at the Happy Jacks Pondage, just upstream. The tunnel that conveys the water from Lake Eucumbene to the Tumut does not impact directly on the wilderness, and the lake has helped to isolate the area from disturbance that would have otherwise arisen from adjoining farm lands.

SMHA constructed a number of unsightly huts within the Wilderness Area throughout the period.

Cloud Seeding In May 1993 the Snowy Mountains Hydro-Electric Authority released an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for its Snowy Precipitation Enhancement Project. This would involve increasing snow precipitation over the Snowy Mountains area by releasing silver iodide and indium sesquioxide from generators placed in 16 sites approximately 4 kilometres, apart along a north-south line, extending from Cabramurra to Mt. Youngal.

National Parks are dedicated to protect natural values. It is not acceptable to have humans tinkering with natural conditions and the climate in a National Park or wilderness area. The Wilderness Act 1987 requires that a wilderness "evolve in the absence of significant human interference".

The proposal involved: 32 generators on trailers; 2 radiometers; 1 radar; 2 particle probes and snow sampling apparatus; 30 vertical snow sampling sites; and a weather station. Installation, maintenance and operation will involve many visits by 4WD, skidoo, and helicopter. None of this equipment or these journeys is appropriate to a wilderness area. Helicopter visits for snow sampling are unacceptable in the Tabletop Wilderness and in the National Park generally.

The snow seeding proposal was rejected by the Commonwealth Government following a submission by the NPWS that it is incompatible with the National Park Plan of Management.

1997 Under the provisions of the Snowy Hydro Corporatisation Act 1997, the Snowy Mountains Hydro-Electric Authority will become the Snowy Hydro Corporation and privatised once the environmental flows for the Snowy River are determined.
The proposed Corporation will be granted a 75 year lease by the NPWS for a rental of $0.5 million a year. Further long term leases will also be granted to Transgrid for its powerlines that dissect the park. A Snowy Management Plan will regulate the activities of the Corporation. Many of these activities cause widespread and ongoing environmental problems. These activities include quarries, exotic plantings on prominent roadways, inappropriate roads, and many powerline easements, artificial stream flows and stream diversions that are an impediment to wildlife.

Tourism

1860 - ca. 1910 Snow shoeing and skiing originally used by Kiandra miners becomes a major recreational activity with the establishment of the Kiandra Snow Shoe Club.
1909 Kiandra eclipsed as a tourist destination with the construction of the road to the summit of Mt Kosciusko and the opening of the Kosciusko Hotel by the Government Tourist Bureau at Diggers Creek.
1980 1 January: Mr C. Myers secures three year licence for establishment of ski lifts, Nordic trail and facilities.
1980 May: The visually prominent Kings Cross area, approximately two kilometres south of Mt. Selwyn, proposed as a day-use ski resort.
1982 Mt. Selwyn Management Unit established at 100 ha with an accommodation limit set at 50 beds.
1984 New resort lease negotiated for 45 years with Mr C. Myers until 2028. Management Unit expanded to 180ha with a potential capacity for 3,785 skiers.

Logging

circa 1860s - 1910 Firewood collection associated with gold diggings at Kiandra.
1930s - 1944 Selective logging based at the Alpine Sawmill site, that adjoins the eastern flank of the wilderness, is undertaken in the Eucumbene River Valley. Timber licences were gradually cancelled on expiry following the creation of the Kosciusko State Park in 1944.

HISTORY OF CONSERVATION MEASURES:

1935 Myles Dunphy first proposes the Snowy-Indi Primitive Area, establishing the basis for an Alpine National Park straddling the Victorian - NSW border.
1944 Dedication of Kosciusko State Park which includes the wilderness assessment area.
1958 Grazing ended in Kosciusko State Park above 1,350 metres.
1965 Kosciusko State Park Trust produces "interim master plan" which proposed five wilderness areas, but does not include Tabletop.
1967 Kosciusko State Park declared a National Park following the creation of the National Parks and Wildlife Service Act 1967. Phasing out of grazing leases below 1350 metres begins.
1969 Grazing ended in Kosciusko National Park.
1974 Kosciusko National Park Plan of Management adopts Goodradigbee Wilderness Area, encompassing approximately 104,000 ha in three segments, separated by public roads. The fragmentation of the wilderness was also partly the result of heavy lobbying by fishermen and 4WD clubs at the public display stage of the (Draft) Plan of Management.
1976 Helman wilderness study identified Bogong, Fiery and Bimberi to be of wilderness quality, but recommended they be treated separately, due to dividing power lines. Bogong, although of wilderness qualit,y did not rate as wilderness, being considered smaller than the study’s minimum size criteria of 25,000 ha.
1981 Minister for the Environment, the Hon. Eric Bedford, gazettes 15,764 ha of former travelling stock, camping and water reserves to Kosciusko National Park. This places the control over stock movement through the park with the NPWS.
1982 Kosciusko National Park Plan of Management declares Bogong (25,000 ha) as a wilderness area under the National Parks and Wildlife Act 1974 but re-classifies the remainder of the Goodradigbee Wilderness Area into other management types. Over 70,000 ha of wilderness "lost".
1986 Australian Alps Memorandum of Understanding signed between ACT, NSW, Victoria, and Commonwealth governments.
1988 September: Victorian National Parks Association (VNPA) publishes the Australian Alps World Heritage Nomination Proposal which includes the Goodradigbee Wilderness.
1989 Australian Alps Memorandum of Understanding revised and ratified.
1992 The Prime Minister and the Premiers of all Australian states, except Tasmania, sign National Forest Policy Statement. This Statement declares "until the assessments (of forests for conservation values) are completed, forest management agencies will avoid activities that may significantly affect those areas of old growth forest or wilderness that are likely to have high conservation value".

Bogong Peaks Wilderness Area declared under Wilderness Act.

1994 9 September: Premier Fahey announces his final determination of new areas to be gazetted as wilderness. This determination has decreased to 6 wilderness areas totalling 113,000 ha. Government declares only 22,750 ha, east of the Long Plain Road, as the Bimberi Wilderness, excluding the Fiery Ranges (Goobragandra Wilderness).

22 September: Bob Carr, Leader of the Opposition, censures the Premier for breaching his promises on wilderness and commits NSW Labor to the declaration of twelve new wilderness areas.

1996 12 April: The Government declares 29,287 ha of Kosciuszko National Park as Goobarragandra Wilderness and 4,466 ha of Scabby Range Nature Reserve as an addition to Bimberi Wilderness.

5 July: The Government revokes 2,280 ha of Buccleuch forests, in the Myers and Flat Creek catchments, for addition to Kosciuszko National Park, and declares 2,238 ha of this as an addition to the Goobarragandra Wilderness.

1999 31 May: The National Parks and Wildlife Service Southern Zone releases its Wilderness Assessment study areas for the Southern/Tumut forestry comprehensive regional assessment (CRA). Through this process, the Tabletop Wilderness Assessment Study Area (WASA) will be examined.

THREATS:

The two main threats to this wilderness area are fragmentation and vehicle access.

Dams Raising the dam walls of the Eucumbene Dam would increase flood inundation of the Eucumbene River Valley, while denying adequate flows to the Snowy River which reduce downstream siltation and estuarine salt water intrusion.

Recommendations: Dams and their impoundments are incompatible with wilderness management. Better management of water resources, including application of a water pricing policy which reflects the true cost of water and dam infrastructure, will avoid the need for more dams. Diversion of more water to western streams for irrigation will raise inland watertables thereby increasing salination and land degradation. The water would be better used to increase environmental flows (28 per cent minimum) to the Snowy, so that the salination problems caused by wasting irrigation water in inland Australia are not exacerbated. Energy conservation, and regulating energy use to reduce peak demand, is more efficient and less costly than building further hydro power generation infrastructure.

4WD use and
related problems
The State Pollution Control Commission (SPCC) Inquiry into the Recreational Use of Off Road Vehicles found "The use of vehicles in areas with high wilderness value, jeopardise wilderness qualities". The study area has received limited four wheel drive use along its existing fire trails, focused on Happy Jacks and Brooks Huts.

Recommendations: Happy Jacks and Brooks Huts should be approached on foot. Removal of vehicle access should reduce the incidence of vandalism at these huts. The natural values around these huts are best protected by inclusion in the Tabletop Wilderness. The most suitable and direct approach to Happy Jacks Hut is from the road that passes Eucumbene Lookout, a distance of six kilometres. Four wheel drive vehicles may use the existing public roads within the Kosciuszko and Namadgi National Park but should be excluded from wilderness areas.

Horse Riding The National Bicentennial (horseriding) Trail passes through the Tableland Wilderness assessment area along the Happy Jacks and Tolbar fire trails, and has led to increased horseriding in the sensitive areas around Happy Jacks hut. The environmental impact of horse riding on vegetation and soils in wilderness areas is well recognised. Horse riding, particularly large commercial parties, causes soil compaction, erosion, introduce weed species through manure and disturb wilderness appreciation.

Recommendations: Wilderness use must be consistent with protection of natural and cultural values and emphasise self reliance. Within the nominated wilderness, there is an apparent bias for horse riding over other management objectives which, in time, will severely degrade wilderness values. The "wait and see what happens" approach to the environmental impacts of horse riding is unacceptable. There is sufficient historical evidence to establish a strong case against horse riding in Kosciuszko National Park.

An alternative route to the east of Kosciuszko and Namadgi National Parks should be developed to cater for horse riders.

Fishing This still occurs within the area of nomination and feral fish are still introduced into the rivers within the wilderness area. No measures have been proposed to protect endangered fish inside the Tabletop Wilderness Area.

Recommendations: Trout and other feral fish should be trapped and removed from the Kosciuszko National Park as a pest species. Native fish should be protected in national parks and fishing should be regulated by the National Parks and Wildlife Act.

Management tracks The current network of management tracks in the Tabletop WASA are a major cause of ecological degradation. Management tracks facilitate illegal off road vehicle use. Illegal management track users: cause fires; introduce noxious weeds and rubbish; often carry guns; and degrade stream banks, fragile wet heaths and sphagnum bogs, creating many management problems. Such users have been known to undertake ‘pig dogging’, where pigs are deliberately released into wilderness areas. These same problems are used to justify retention of management trail systems in wilderness.

Recommendations: The Four Mile, Happy Jacks, Tolbar and Tabletop fire trails within the wilderness study area should be kept closed and allowed to revegetate, so as to reduce the occurrence of the above environmental impacts.

Power lines and associated roading The high tension power lines (66kV and 11kv) and associated roads isolate the wilderness on three sides and mar the visual landscape.

Recommendations: The 1974, 1982 and 1988 Kosciusko Plans of Management all indicate the importance of reviewing non-conforming structures in the park with the aim of progressive removal. Alternative routes should be found for the 66kV transmission line, while the 11kV power lines that separate the Tabletop Wilderness from the Jagungal Wilderness, should be relocated or removed if no longer needed.

The Snowy Management Plan that regulates the power generating and transmission facilities within the park should be subject to public comment and review. The Plan should guarantee access rights for park visitors, ensure the leased park lands remain in public ownership and prevent further hydro power development in the park.

Under the Snowy Management Plan a ten year relocation and replacement scheme should be established with construction of new transmission lines to the west of Happy Jacks Creek. In the meantime, only essential maintenance should be undertaken on these transmission lines. Roads traversing both easements should be returned to locked management trails.

Huts There are five huts in the wilderness assessment study area: Broken Dam; Four Mile; Happys; Happy Jacks (No. 3); and Brooks. They range from being an example of accommodation on the gold fields to variously reworked tin shacks of little historic significance. These huts tend to focus human impact, particularly soil erosion and litter.

Recommendations: Huts which had historic value but were rebuilt, like Happys and Happy Jacks, or which have no significant historic value, should be removed, as these cultural values are duplicated elsewhere in the park. Those with historic value, such as those within the Kiandra-Tabletop Historic Area of 10,300 ha should be managed as historic ruins.

CONTACT ORGANISATIONS AND INDIVIDUALS:

Colong Foundation for Wilderness
Level 2, 332 Pitt Street
SYDNEY NSW 2000
Contact: Keith Muir (Director) Ph: (w) 02 9261 2400
Fax:02 9261 2144
keith@colongwilderness.org.au

RELEVANT COLONG BULLETIN ARTICLES:

See Colong Bulletin Index under:

"Wilderness"; and
"Kosciuszko".

Return to NSW Wilderness Index