THE 40 per cent rise in demand for gold fossicking permits near Gympie could be even higher and the activity an even bigger drawcard for tourists if more state land was made accessible to the public, the Queensland State Forest Users Alliance says.
Alliance campaign manager Rhys Bosley said yesterday a recent statement from Gympie Mayor Glen Hartwig that the demand for gold fossicking permits in the Gympie region had leapt by 40 per cent during the pandemic put the issue in the spotlight.
If access to state forests in the region was improved for outdoor recreation, the potential for gold fossicking to become an even bigger activity, drawing more visitors and creating more jobs was greater, he said.
“The Queensland State Forest User Alliance welcomes the boost in recreational gold prospecting activity in Gympie and the encouragement offered by Gympie Mayor Glen Hartwig,” Mr Bosely said.
“Encouragement from the Queensland Minister for Resources, Scott Stewart, for fossicking and recreational prospecting has also been positive.
“However, the Alliance emphasizes the need for Minister Stewart to work to remove impediments that limit the amount of land available for fossicking and recreational prospecting in Queensland state forests and other types of suitable public land.
“In particular legislative provisions in the Fossicking Act, 1994, which give graziers the authority to deny access for those activities on state forest grazing leases, is a discriminatory arrangement that is not applied to any other pastime.
“The Queensland State Forest User Alliance calls on the Queensland Government to repeal the right of state forest grazing leaseholders to withhold access to fossickers and recreational prospectors to state forest leases, and work to provide the same sort of broad recreational access to Queensland state forests, as is available in other states”, Mr Bosley said.
About a million hectares of Queensland state forests are leased to about 200 grazing families, with those leases providing the right to graze cattle, but not for exclusive use of the forest. However, Alliance stakeholders report resistance to public access to leased forest areas by graziers.
“Ways state forest grazing leaseholders appear to have acted to unfairly deny access
include misrepresentation of leases as for exclusive use and the misrepresentation of their right to deny access under biosecurity obligations,” Mr Bosley said.
“The state forest graziers appear to have achieved this through elite connections and a concerted effort to influence state forest access policy in a manner that is disproportionate to their actual numbers,” he said.
At stake are significant additional economic benefits to regional and rural Queensland, including in Gympie, from state forest-based tourism. Recent economic research by metal detector firm Minelab has highlighted that recreational prospecting alone is a $54.3 million industry that supports 437 jobs in Queensland.
“Nobody denies the right of state forest graziers to be consulted about forest use and for reasonable arrangements to be made to allow them to run their businesses,” Mr Bosley said.
“From interstate experience we know that this is entirely possible, with locations such as Snake Island in Victoria having a thriving grazing industry and outdoor recreation sectors operating side by side.
“We have a situation where a tiny proportion of the Queensland grazing industry effectively claim property rights that they are not entitled to. This is unfair on all other Queenslanders and bad for the leaseholder’s own regional and rural communities who would benefit from increased forest-based tourism.
“The Queensland State Forest User Alliance encourages the Queensland Government to
correct this unfair situation and to allow Queenslanders to make the most of our state forests.”
Gympie MP Tony Perrett and Mr Hartwig were contacted for comment.