THINGS heated up in the afternoon session of the Pastoralists and Graziers Association of WA 2019 State Pastoral Forum at Crown, Perth last week.
Presentations were given by Department of Biosecurity, Conservation and Attractions executive director Peter Sharp and the Australian Wildlife Conservancy (AWC) chief executive Tim Allard.
The comparisons between the responses to the speeches were poles apart.
PGA members were openly critical and opposed to the State government's position to increase its national park ownership by taking over additional stations over the next five years and also setting aside funding for indigenous rangers.
Mr Sharp said the government owned 23 million hectares in the pastoral regions and it had a five-year plan to purchase a further five million hectares.
While $20m had been set aside over five years for the indigenous ranger program, of which a second round of funding would be made available soon.
The government's agenda to purchase more land for national parks and encourage more tourists to the area, in turn creating more jobs for locals, was met with complaints and frustration, due to the lack of government support for the programs and its reliance on the goodwill of volunteer emergency service personnel who were being pulled away from their own families and businesses to take up the slack, without compensation.
The government's "good neighbour policy" was in question as wild dogs were running rampant on government land, impacting others around them and not enough funding had been made available to ensure adequate fencing and management on Crown land.
There was also issues with people entering properties unannounced with the intent to prospect for gold or just to camp as tourists.
Pastoralists were often coming across people who didn't have authorisation to be on their land or were not listed on the prospector's licence, such as family members.
Pastoralist Christine Glenn, Ashburton Downs, Paraburdoo, said her husband spent about 10 days in the past year rescuing people from their property or others in the area as a result of increased tourism in the region.
"A lot of the time we have been able to save their lives," Ms Glenn said.
"There's not the infrastructure in place - we can't actually get our airstrips graded to fly out accident victims.
"It's our aircraft that is being used.
"We've got people travelling out spending eight hours trying to find people that have reported they have got flat tyres - they are risking their lives to come out.
"It is beautiful (the landscape) and it is a great idea (tourism) but I do wonder how much of this is conservation and how much is a tourism grab?"
Ms Glenn said she hadn't received any information about the indigenous ranger program by any organisation and "the feedback we got was that it was an agenda being pushed by government - it's not something they wanted".
She said there had been massive problems in the pastoral industry where the ball was dropped by government and the stations weren't being monitored.
"The message that we got was, 'we are being asked to do stuff for tourism that we actually don't want to do'.
"They are having to ship people in from over east to fill your positions.
"Go back and listen to the Aboriginal people - they are not going to tell you while you are telling them what you want.
"You need to listen to them and what they want and what outcomes they want because this is totally being driven by government - it's not being driven by them."
Mr Sharp confirmed that the government was reliant on volunteers and didn't have enough resources to cope with the tourism boom in the north, which had increased from 20,000 visitors when he started to 400,000 a year in 2018.
He said two people died a year on average at Karijini National Park.
Mr Sharp estimated that the tourism numbers would continue to rise to one million a year - highlighting the impact on local infrastructure and employment opportunities.
He said each time he met with an Aboriginal organisation he would present the strategic direction of government and highlight the opportunity areas, but the ball was in their court as to the direction they wanted to go.
"I made that clear to all of the groups that have some connection to the country we have identified," Mr Sharp said.
"The ball's in their court."
Mr Sharp said there were 13 organisations that were given funding under the indigenous ranger program.
Mr Allard's presentation received welcome applause.
The privately-operated AWC which entered into contracts with governments and universities to protect and preserve native species, lined up with the philosophy of the PGA.
Mr Allard said Australia was described as "a mega diverse country, one of 17 in the world - meaning much of what you find cannot be found anywhere else".
"The WA numbat can't be found anywhere else," Mr Allard said.
"Yet we have the worst rate of mammal extinctions on the planet.
"Since Europeans arrived we have lost 31 mammal species - we have another 56 under threat of being extinct in the next couple of decades."
Mr Allard said the Kakadu National Park, which was the country's largest and most resourced national park, wasn't able to manage small mammal populations.
"If we can't manage it at Kakadu what hope have we got for Australia?" he said.
Mr Allard said $1billion was spent on biodiversity in Australia and yet the funding impact was not measured.
"If that's a business model - you can't measure it - you have to question the wisdom of what you are doing in the first place," he said.
Mr Allard said the AWC existed primarily because of the impact of feral cats on the native small mammal species.
"They are the key driver of small mammal extinctions across Australia," he said.
"Depending on the time of the year there is somewhere in the order of two to three million feral cats up to around 15m, depending on the conditions.
"Every night one cat would eat five to six native animals.
"You don't have to be a rocket scientist to think of the impact that will have on the biodiversity across Australia."
Mr Allard said the AWC had erected fences in various parts of the country to provide protected habitats for some of the endangered species.
He said the AWC would work with landholders to ensure a mutually beneficial outcome in terms of managing feral pests and preserving the native environment.