Restoring the rainforest

A far north Queensland not-for-profit environmental management organisation is investigating a new market-based scheme to step up investment into the region for habitat restoration.

It’s a hard call amid the adverse publicity surrounding the carbon credit scheme.

But North Queensland is recognised as one of most biologically diverse regions in the world. The UNESCO World Heritage-listed Great Barrier Reef laps onto the shores of the Wet Tropics, which is also heritage-listed, and amongst the fronds of the tropical rainforest and the surrounding area are 60% of Australia’s butterfly species, 40% of bird species and 30% of our mammals, according to the Wet Tropics Management Authority.

Terrain NRM (Natural Resource Management), a not-for-profit, community-based environmental management organisation, believes that a carbon credit market could help restore the rainforests.

Terrain NRM Project Coordinator, Bronwyn Robertson, says they want to make absolutely sure the “Cassowary Credit Scheme” is done properly.

The proposal is still in the development stages, and Robertson says learnings from the carbon market will be a critical part of the process.

Revegetation at work in north queensland. Credit: terrain nrm.
Revegetation at work to restore the rainforest in North Queensland. Credit: Terrain NRM.

“We are participating in the broader international development of a biodiversity market to ensure that the structure and integrity of that market can counter the negative reputation currently given to parts of the carbon market, and result in transparent, positive biodiversity outcomes,” she says.

“The most important phase for us is coming up into this pilot testing phase that we are about to move into.

“We absolutely want to make sure we run through a rigorous testing process with our scheme to try and iron out any of those potential issues.”

Terrain NRM will also factor in the knowledge gained through the existing Reef Credit Scheme, where farmers and landholders in reef regions can earn extra income by taking actions on their land to reduce run-off to the reef. Farmers generate and then sell Reef Credits.

While Cassowary Credits is still in the draft design stage, the current proposal is to help restore some privately held land, unsuited to farming, to its natural condition.

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In partnership with farmers and landholders, projects would take rainforest or former rainforest areas from a low baseline condition to an identified higher level of vegetation condition – in other words, projects would restore the rainforest habitat.

“Projects would be monitored and assessed over the life of the project, unitised and converted into credits based on that change in condition over time,” Robertson says.

“There is a range of metrics used for projects to assess the changing vegetation, and that’s been developed based on decades of background scientific information and monitoring data we have gained from the Wet Tropics region and restoration sites.”

The market scheme is named after the striking cassowary. Credit: terrain nrm.
The market scheme is named after the striking cassowary. Credit: Terrain NRM.

The current modelling for the scheme would allow investors, including governments, philanthropists and businesses, to pay farmers and landholders to undertake the restoration projects. One of the objectives is to secure long-term sustained investment for restoration in the Wet Tropics region as the impacts of climate change and other threats continue.

Another aims to benefit regional communities and Rainforest Aboriginal people within the region.

“Current carbon methods don’t promote biodiverse plantings in our region and we are trying to account for the additional benefits of rainforest restoration both for nature and carbon, as well as Indigenous people and local communities, to ensure that a fair price is paid for this very high value product,” Robertson says.

The Cassowary Credit Scheme – named for the large and quirky bird found in the rainforest – was the subject of an earlier feasibility study to determine whether a market-based scheme could be implemented to provide an incentive to landholders and a way for other bodies to invest in restoration.

Robertson says while there has been some targeted consultation, the next stage of the scheme will allow more broad consultation and peer review.

No timeframe has yet been set for the launch.

“We really want to make sure we get this right before we go any further with it,” she says.

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