Australia’s Stock Route Network: 2. Representation of fertile landscapes

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Summary

The Stock Route Network (SRN) of New South Wales (NSW) and Queensland is a large-scale system of predominantly roadside remnant vegetation, which was established in the 1800s to allow livestock to be moved. Proposed changes to the management of the SRN could result in some portions of it being sold to private landholders, or subjected to long-term set-stocking. This may have potentially negative impacts on some of the values of the SRN. One key feature of the SRN is that it covers low-lying parts of the landscape, which are poorly protected by national parks. To quantify this, we specifically analysed a 41 million hectare portion of the SRN which transects the NSW ‘wheat-sheep belt’, characterising its representation of woody vegetation cover and topography, and contrasting this with the National Reserve System. Our analysis revealed that 55% of stock routes occur in low-lying valley portions of the landscape, compared with only 6% of the National Reserve System. The SRN supports a wide range of vegetation types and, unlike the National Reserve System, is not biased towards heavily forested areas. White Box-Yellow Box-Blakeley’s Red Gum woodland, which is listed as critically endangered by the Australian Government, was recorded in 803 (or 17.5%) of the 4575 stock routes in our data set. In contrast, only 10 of the 335 reserves within our spatial study region are known to support small occurrences of this community. Our findings suggest that the protection of the SRN and National Reserve System together may fulfil the ‘representation’ goal of systematic conservation planning far better than the National Reserve System on its own. Future research should quantify which stock routes in particular should receive priority for protection.

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