It's bizarre how we still behave as if complex biological systems change on straight line boundaries. Despite what we now recognise, and acknowledge with national park status, as the immense biological richness of the Fitzgerald, these same ecological systems continue to the east, with little acknowledgement, protection or conservation management.
Yet it is right here that the biological mix gets even more intriguing and jumbled. On the eastern boundary of the park windswept heathlands and towering Salmon Gums grow almost side by side. White sand plains give way to red volcanic soils, evidence of a major volcanic intrusion, an ancient caldera, that swirls amongst the granites and quartzites.
The Fitzgerald and Ravensthorpe systems, combined, have now been recognized by the Australian Government as one of Australia's biodiversity hotspots. However, this importance is still lost on many decision makers. The Steere and Phillips River Valley, south of the town of Ravensthorpe, has over 50,000 hectares of public land, too rugged and rocky for farming, but without management for nature conservation. This wide swathe of bushland has been fragmented into two narrow corridors either side of the small town of Ravensthorpe, tenuous links between the coast the more arid ecosystems further inland.
An ecological convergence zone climaxes in the Ravensthorpe Range, a low ridge of hills that arc around the northern edge of the town. The mix of geologies and features brings together different plants from the wheatbelt, goldfields, southern sand plains, south coast and quartzite systems, making the vegetation communities of the Range among the richest in Australia. In addition to the seventeen endemic plants, many others are at the limit of their ocurence. The Range is also recognised for its rich array of native rodents, and the deep eucalypt litter of unburnt areas supports the Ravensthorpe Lerista, a recently discovered small endemic lizard.
Recommended for gazettal and management as an A class conservation reserve since the early 1970's the Range has been subjected to a long running discussions with mining and local interests. While the bickering continues, ecological values have been severely eroded. Roads, firebreaks and mining grid lines criss-cross the range. A number of tourist trails and look outs have been plonked along the very ridge tops, a sure way to encourage the introduction and downhill spread of dieback fungus. Now a number of major mining developments are underway.
But there is ongoing liaison between the local shire, the Department of Environment and Conservation and the major mining companies operating in the area on how to protect and manage the natural ecosystems and minimise the impact of human activities.
In 2012 our focus is drawing the key information together for the broader Ravensthorpe Connection, the Range and sweping areas of Public Land to its north and south, and developing an initial conservation approach. Stay tuned!