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The Pilliga National Park (Gilgai section) and the Pilliga State Conservation Area (“the Pilliga project area”) are managed under an historic partnership agreement between the NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service and AWC. The agreement provides a new, ground-breaking model for collaboration between the private sector and the private (non-profit) sector. A feature of the partnership will be the establishment of a large (~5,900 ha) feral predator-free area in the Pilliga project area and the reintroduction of at least 6 mammal species that have been extinct in the Pilliga for more than a century. This program forms part of the NSW Government’s Saving our Species program.
The Pilliga project area covers 35,000 hectares at the northern, more productive section of the vast Pilliga forests. The Pilliga forests stretch across the flat, sandy plains and low hills between the Warrumbungle Mountains, near Coonabarabran, and Narrabri. The Pilliga is part of the traditional area of the Gamilaraay (also known as Gamilaroi or Gomeroi) people.
Extending over half a million hectares, the Pilliga forests are the largest consolidated block of forest and woodlands in western New South Wales. The forests are dominated by White Cypress Pine as well as a number of eucalypt species, supporting many native plants and animals which have disappeared from the surrounding landscape. Iconic species include the Koala and Barking Owl.
The Pilliga project area is currently home to a large number of threatened animals. It forms part of a stronghold for threatened woodland birds including the Glossy Black Cockatoo, Grey-crowned Babbler, Brown Treecreeper, Speckled Warbler, Varied Sittella, Little Lorikeet and Turquoise Parrot. The Pilliga forests protect a particularly important population of the iconic Barking Owl. Threatened mammals including the Koala, Squirrel Glider, Black-striped Wallaby, Corben’s Long-eared Bat and the endemic Pilliga Mouse are all likely to be found in the Pilliga project area. The threatened Pale-headed Snake is one of more than 56 reptile species that is likely to occur in the Pilliga project area.
In common with most Australian woodlands, the Pilliga project area, and the broader Pilliga forests, have lost almost their entire suite of small to medium-sized mammals, primarily as a result of predation by feral cats and foxes. AWC plans to reintroduce at least six species of threatened mammals to a large feral predator-free fenced area in the Pilliga, including the Western Quoll, Western Barred Bandicoot, Bilby, Brush-tailed Bettong, Bridled Nailtail Wallaby and Plains Mouse. Most of these species have not been found in NSW national parks for over a century. These species will help restore a number of important ecological processes, dispersing seeds and spores, and helping retain nutrients and water.
AWC is the only conservation organisation to measure in a robust scientific manner the ecological health of a network of sanctuaries. AWC field ecologists will measure the ecological health of the Pilliga over time. In particular, we will measure:
A feature of AWC’s science and land management at the Pilliga project area will be the establishment of a large (5,900 ha) fox and cat-free area. Along with our Mallee Cliffs project, this will be the first large feral predator-free area in the NSW national parks estate. This will pave the way for the reintroduction of a suite of mammals, such as the Bilby, that became extinct in the Pilliga more than 100 years ago.
Across the 35,000 ha Pilliga project area, AWC will implement a landscape-scale feral animal control program combined with intensive weed control and, in collaboration with the NPWS, effective fire management. In addition, a range of biodiversity research projects will examine the effects of feral animal control and the ecological benefits associated with the reintroduction of small mammals.
The Pilliga project area comprises the Pilliga National Park (Gilgai section) and the Pilliga State Conservation Area in the north west slopes and plains region of New South Wales. The region experiences a semi-arid climate. Most of the creeks in the Pilliga are dry sand-beds which flow only during significant rain events. The forests have developed on relatively infertile soils; adjacent fertile soils of the Liverpool Plains and Namoi Valley have been heavily cleared for agriculture. The Pilliga project area supports species and ecosystems that are typical of the western slopes and plains of NSW and, given its size, it represents a significant reservoir for these species. However, a number of species associated with more mesic eastern forests, such as the Koala and Glossy Black Cockatoo, also occur in the project area. Within the Pilliga, there is a gradient in fertility from higher elevations in the south-east to the more fertile ‘outwash zone’ in the north-west; this gradient determines habitat quality for a number of species.
White Cypress Pine is the most widespread tree in the Pilliga project area, and in the Pilliga forests more broadly. This species is found in various associations (vegetation types) with other eucalypts including Narrow-leaved Ironbark, several species of Red Gums, Rough-barked Apple, Pilliga Box and Poplar Box, as well as Bull Oak and Belah. Less commonly occurring tree species include Black Cypress Pine, Brown Bloodwood and Broad-leaved Ironbark.
Broombush forms a distinctive vegetation type in parts of the Pilliga project area. Fire regimes in the Pilliga forests have changed since Aboriginal management, with fires suppressed in the western section, which includes the Pilliga project area, while the eastern section has become subject to a regime of regular wildfire. Most of the forests in the Pilliga, including within the Pilliga project area, have been selectively logged for over a century; the combination of changed fire regimes and logging has led to significant changes in forest composition and structure, in particular a thickening of White Cypress Pine and Bull Oak.
The science team in the Pilliga is led by Dr Rod Kavanagh. Science staff include three wildlife ecologists: Dr Leah Kemp, Laurence Berry and Viyanna Leo; and two field ecologists, Jennifer Lewis and Chris Malam.
In addition to permanent land management and science staff, there are a number of students, interns and long-term volunteers who assist in delivering the science and land management program.