The Franklin-Gordon Wild Rivers: Safe from More Dams but Still Vulnerable

By Allardice, Sas | Journal of Outdoor and Environmental Education, January 1, 2005 | Go to article overview

The Franklin-Gordon Wild Rivers: Safe from More Dams but Still Vulnerable


Allardice, Sas, Journal of Outdoor and Environmental Education


Introduction

The Franklin-Gordon Wild Rivers National Park is part of the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area (TWWHA). It encompasses mainly cool temperate rainforest and wet sclerophyll forest ecologies. These ecologies contain some of the best representations of Australia's ancient flora dating back 60 million years to the time of Gondwana (Parks and Wildlife Service Tasmania, 2005b). The habitat of many endemic, rare, threatened and endangered Australian animals are located in the area (Griffiths & Baxter, 1997, p. 1), which also contains many sites of spiritual and cultural significance to the indigenous people of the area, such as Kuti Kina Cave (Griffiths & Baxter, 1997, pp. 26-27).

The area has a colourful history of use, abuse and shifting values dating back over 36,000 years to the first recorded human activity in the area by the Tasmanian Aborigines. However, the most dramatic impacts and changes have occurred in the last 140 years since white Australians first started visiting the area. The Franklin River became well known in the 1970s and 80s as a result of the controversial plan to dam the Franklin, and subsequently, as a popular destination for tourists and nature enthusiasts.

In this paper, I plan to describe the Franklin River environment, the changes it has experienced over time, and to detail how visitors to the area can act responsibly to ensure the future health of this unique environment for generations to follow. I will also discuss some potential broader implications of tourism in the area. To assist the preparation of this paper, informal interviews were conducted with two commercial rafting company managers (Geoff Mitchell from Rafting Tasmania and Brett Fernon from Water by Nature), and an unknown representative of the Parks and Wildlife Service Tasmania (PWST) from the Queenstown Office.

The Franklin-Gordon Wild Rivers National Park environment

Native flora

The two main vegetation types around the Franklin River are: Cool Temperate Rainforests (CTR), which line the banks of the river; and Wet Sclerophyll Forests (WSF), which grow inland of the Rainforest. The main species that grow in the CTR include Myrtle, Leatherwood, Celery-top Pine, Sassafras, Huon Pine, Pencil Pine, King Billy Pine or Deciduous Beech (Parks and Wildlife Service Tasmania, 2005b). The Huon Pine is endemic to south-west Tasmanian rivers and along with other slow growing pines, are Australia's oldest living trees. They are also one of the oldest living organisms in the world, some reaching 3,000 years of age (Parks and Wildlife Service, 2003c, p. 2).

Wet Sclerophyll Forests have a shrub layer which consists mainly of musk (Olearia argophylla), blanket leaf (Bedfordia salicina) and wattles (Acacia). Species of Ash tend to dominate WSF with fertile soils as does the Swamp Gum (E. regnans). Where the soil is less fertile, endemic species like the Smithton Peppermint (E. nitida, and the alpine Yellow Gum (E. subcrenulata) dominate along with Brooker's Gum (E. brookeriana) (PWST, 2005a).

Introduced species

According to rafting guides who have been visiting the area for over 20 years (G. Mitchell, and B. Fernon, personal communication, October 28, 2005), blackberries are beginning to take hold in the upper reaches of the Franklin River near the paddling put in point. These have been cut out, and it remains to be seen if they will cause any more damage in the lower reaches of the river. Other weeds affecting the Franklin-Gordon National Park include Spanish Heath (a native to mainland Australia), Holly, and Gorse. Management involves physically removing the weeds without using pesticides and chemicals, which can contaminate the water catchment (PWST-Queenstown Office, personal communication, October 29, 2005). The root rot Phytophthora cinnamomi is present in the area and is a major threat to native plants. It is transmitted in mud and soil, especially on boots and vehicle tyres. …

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