Friday, October 3, 2014

Garnet Lehmann Park

A comment has just been sent to my blog about the fight to prevent the Toowoomba Regional Council from removing trees in this local park. I feel it needs a proper reply, but sadly it might not be quite the response that the anonymous writer was hoping for.
(See it if you wish, by using the search box to find the article on the Toowoomba Tree, and opening the comments.)

I agree with the writer that Toowoomba's progressive tree loss is a serious concern. I believe that many Toowoomba residents share this concern, and that it is worth everyone’s while to represent to our council that we value Toowoomba’s status as a town which appreciates its trees.
However, flood damage downstream from the Garnet Lehmann Park is also a concern. There will never be universal agreement on how best to deal with the problem, but I do give the TRC council and its staff the credit for considering the options and I concede their right to make a decision. It’s far easier to criticise decisions than it is to make them, especially in cases like this where there was no easy right decision.

I suspect that the defenders of the Garnet Lehmann Park trees are now losing much of the public sympathy that they once had,  by the refusal of some of their more vocal members to accept that “the fight” is lost and that further protests are not going to be productive. They also seem to be slow to perceive that the only fight they have lost is the one to have all the trees retained.
It would be so good to see them move on, (and perhaps some of them have. I hope so.) What a pity, if a great group like this loses all its momentum while there are very real and worthwhile things still to be done. They have lost one battle, but they could still achieve much, if only they keep the fire in their bellies.

Some projects could include:

1. Ensuring that TRC does indeed carry out its promise that Garnett Lehmann Park will become an ornament to our city. This could take some time, and would require a group that would be prepared to continue its activities for years to come. It’s never easy to be a stayer, but I feel sure that there are people in the group who have what it takes to persist!

2. Contributing to the new planting plan for the park.
Is there a planting plan already in the pipeline? Does the group know what tree species are being proposed? Are these species just ornamental ones, or do they have environmental value? If they are Australian plants, are they a random selection of doubtful ecological worth from all over the country, or are they local natives which will improve the opportunities for survival of Toowoomba’s wildlife. (Our local butterflies, in particular, are in real trouble within the city - if they can be found at all - because of the lack of host plants). Has the group a role to play in suggesting suitable plants to TRC, and perhaps in supporting TRC’s environmental nursery (the Crows Nest Community Nursery) where volunteers struggle to cope with the task of propagating enough plants of local native species for all the environmental groups who would like to be planting them (ironically including TRC itself).

3. Should the group be pushing for something more appropriate than Eucalyptus trees to be planted in the park? TRC has a valid concern that Eucalyptus trees can create public risk problems because of their tendency to drop limbs as they get older. To restrict planting of Eucalypts to a minimum, in safe locations, would be a reasonable council policy considering the expected high rate of park usage as our population increases. Eucalypts planted in the city could have a short lifespan. Future councils may decide to remove them for safety reasons, which would put the poor old park back to square one yet again.
Others dislike the Garnett Lehmann gumtrees for environmental reasons. East creek would have originally had rainforest vegetation, so the gumtrees are interlopers, environmentally speaking. Even many of Toowoomba's "naturally occurring" gumtrees would be invaders that have moved into a niche created as our forebears cleared original rainforest. Gumtrees do this.
When Alan Cunningham climbed Mount Hay and became the first white person to record Toowoomba’s native vegetation, he commented on the Araucarias (hoop pines)) that dominated the skyline of the Great Dividing Range where Toowoomba now stands. What an opportunity the city now has, to create magnificent plantings of these lovely trees as it revegetates our detention basins.
Equally our local fig species are not seen in the city enough. These are large rainforest trees, only suitable for planting in parks now that ever-smaller residential subdivisions are the city's most likely future. Our grandchildren will be grateful if the figs are planted now, to create wonderful spaces like New Farm Park in Brisbane.

Native Fig (Ficus rubiginosa) in Meredith Crescent. One of the very few remnant trees from Toowoomba's original rainforest.

All our other local rainforest trees are in much more trouble than Eucalypts, so pushing for a park with a shady green canopy, showcasing as many local rainforest species as possible, would be a very worthwhile environmental project indeed. It would also help Toowoomba develop its own character, something that has become a little frayed at the edges of late as development has pushed towards a look that could be anywhere in the country.

4. Could the group be widening its scope to include pushing for TRC to budget  for the city’s other detention basins to be beautified and made more environmentally friendly?

5. Could it also be adding its weight to other local projects concerned with defending the city’s trees?

Yes, is sad to lose the trees in the Garnett Lehmann Park. It is sad to lose any tree! But for those who are still protesting, can I appeal you to turn your energies towards the battles that can be won, rather than continuing to waste energy on a lost cause.