National park destroyed in suspected back burn ‘gone wrong’

Jun 12, 2023

A FAR North national park has been left in ruins, with the once vibrant jungle now portraying scenes of a post-apocalyptic film sparking calls for greater resources to national park management or a return of the land to private grazing hands.

Forty Mile Scrub National Park, south of Mount Garnet is hardly recognisable following what has been described to Kennedy MP Bob Katter as a “controlled burn gone horribly wrong.”
The park is described by the State Government as featuring: “Ancient and recent volcanic flows, open grassy woodland, the headwaters of several creeks, and a near-threatened, isolated pocket of semi-evergreen vine-thicket.”

However, what remains of the once pristine jungle is kilometres of carcasses of burnt down trees, and overgrown invasive species including lantana – a weed described capable of “smothering native vegetation and forming impenetrable stands.”

Veteran Far North grazier Jack Fraser frequently travels the Kennedy Hwy past Forty Mile Scrub and alerted Mr Katter and Hill MP Shane Knuth of the disaster.

“One side of the road its national park – it’s all gone. On the other side its grazing country and we’ve still got all the native species, it’s well maintained and there’s no weeds,” Mr Fraser said.

“My understanding is a back burn of the national park got out of control. The burn was too late in the year; when you do backburning anywhere, you don’t burn late in the year, you burn earlier on.

“Now it’s overgrown with grass and weeds. And that’s fuel on the ground. So the next time there’s a fire (naturally) it will be like a bomb going off. You can still see the sticks of the burnt trees now, even they won’t be here next time.

“When the Aboriginals controlled this country – they burnt on a regular basis but at the right time of the year and the right time of the day where they never burnt the lot. The best thing I think you can do is graze it, and then you don’t have all of this fuel on the ground.”

Hill MP Shane Knuth said the disaster at Forty Mile Scrub was evidence greater resources needed to be allocated to managing national parks.

“When it comes six months out from an election what we see continuously is the government of the day introduce either vegetation management laws which target the land owners that are trying to manage their land,” Mr Knuth said.

“But they also introduce resuming more land for national parks. And we’re seeing now Queensland has ventured up to 8 per cent as national park – more than 140,000sq km.

“It seems like a great idea at the time, they tell everyone that it is going to be well preserved for future generations, but what it turns into is this – a breeding ground for feral animals and noxious weeds.

“So we want to continue the pressure on those that make these decisions to let people out there know that is what your tax payer dollars are going to. This could be properly managed, but it is not because there are no resources to manage all these national parks that are coming into existence year after year.”

Mr Katter said if the government was not capable of caring for the land, it should be left to the farmers.

“There’s a cattle station owner across the road (Kennedy Hwy). If this fire crossed the road, the cattle station owner would’ve immediately put the fire out,” he said.

“National parks – they create these great big parks, but there’s no one looking after it.

“The French pay their farmers to stay on the land – because they say someone has to look after the land – who better than the farmers.

“Farmers and First Australians have cared for this land for hundreds of years, done no harm to it.

“So if you want to declare a national park – put someone there to actually look after it.”