The challenge of Yourka

Friday 21 September, 2012

Five years ago, Yourka Reserve was a spectacular yet rambling place, waiting to be discovered. In 2012, reserve managers Paul and Leanne Hales look back on how far the reserve has come, as they face its biggest challenge yet.

River red-gums on billabong

In October 2008, Paul and Leanne Hales paid a visit to a rugged property in Central Queensland, with flowing creeks and billabongs, where the landscape was rugged and lush. The place was Yourka Reserve, which Bush Heritage supporters had helped to buy in 2007. 

Waterfall on Cameron Creek. Photo: Wayne Lawler / Ecopix

It was a stark contrast to the home that Paul and Leanne had shared for the previous three years as Bush Heritage reserve managers on the rolling, sandplain heaths of your Eurardy Reserve, Western Australia.

We were struck by the diversity of vegetation, the lush landscape and the closeness of our surroundings.

"At first Yourka felt a little claustrophobic," says Leanne, who has since walked the hillsides and creeklines of Yourka Reserve countless times, in her role as co-reserve manager with husband Paul. "We were struck by the diversity of vegetation, the lush landscape and the closeness of our surroundings.

At Eurardy, we'd become used to being taller than the surrounding vegetation. We were used to seeing a long way when we looked out to the horizon."

Waterfall on Cameron CreekWaterfall on Cameron Creek. Photo: Wayne Lawler / Ecopix

The early days

When Yourka was purchased it was a beautiful and bountiful place. But as experienced land managers, Paul and Leanne could see the work ahead of them. Unlike at Eurardy, where conservation techniques were shaped around the scarcity of water, Yourka's forested hillsides and rocky outcrops presented a different challenge.

"Bush Heritage bought the place just as two really big wet seasons took hold - there was water everywhere," says Paul. "The roads and tracks were overgrown and you could hide a four-wheel-drive in some of the washouts they were so deep. It took an hour-and-a-half to travel 16km to the main shed."

In 2012, thanks in large part to the ongoing help of supporters like you, a journey across Yourka is a different story. The main shed takes just 15 minutes to drive to, with high-quality roads serviced regularly.

We started to build quality roads," says Paul. "That's so important - because without access you can't have land management," he says. "And without land management, you can't have conservation - it's essential for weed control, fire management and species monitoring.

Aerial view across Yourka ReserveAerial view across Yourka Reserve. Photo: Wayne Lawler / Ecopix

A landscape of storms

One thing that hasn't changed is the weather. Cyclones and storms regularly bring torrents of water that break the banks of the magnificent Herbert River creek system. In the summer of 2011, after successive flooding rains, Yourka Reserve was in the eye of Cyclone Yasi.

When Paul flew over Yourka two weeks later, "it was carnage. Trees were down and infrastructure was damaged, although thankfully not a lot. The roads stood up well, but trees had fallen across them. The neighbours accessed their property by boat for a month afterwards, and we had to travel by quad bike, with a chainsaw, clearing the fallen trees as we went."

Generous donations from Bush Heritage supporters together with funds from the Queensland Flood Relief program enabled the Hales to get Yourka back on track. "Each year we're better placed to deal with the weather that is thrown at us," says Paul. "It means that we can start to face up to other challenges."

Volunteer Wayne Lewis on the hunt for siam weed among lantana at Yourka Reserve, QLD. Photo: Kim Ely
Siam weed may well be the greatest threat faced by any Bush Heritage reserve.

Siam weed, the next big challenge

Of all the challenges the Hales face at Yourka, one is most pressing. Once the summer wet season arrives, bringing rains that replenish the landscape and set the vegetation on its yearly growth spurt, the green of the kangaroo grasses and ironbark trees will be swallowed up by the choking, twisting green of siam weed.

As one of our ecologists said recently, "Siam weed may well be the greatest threat faced by any Bush Heritage reserve." And this means that Paul and Leanne have some hard work ahead of them. Even with the improved roads, Leanne and Paul must walk every kilometre of creek line, getting down on their hands and knees, and crawling through infested areas.

"It's incredibly hard yakka, but in a way," says Leanne, "it's the most exciting thing we could achieve at Yourka - to control this weed. There is a lot to be done, but the importance of the work makes us all the more determined."

Yourka Reserve was acquired in 2007 with the assistance of Ian and Nan Landon-Smith, the Australian Government under the Maintaining Australia's Biodiversity Hotspots Program, The Nature Conservancy and The Nature Conservancy's David Thomas Challenge.

Yourka Reserve Siam weed: Extermination in critical and containable sub-catchments on Yourka Reserve is supported through funding from the Australian Government's Clean Energy Future Biodiversity Fund.

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