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Protecting the Shoalwater Bay Training Area during exercises is the priority of Defence environmental experts from DSRG

ENSURING the Shoalwater Bay Training Area (SWBTA) remains a model environmental feature when used for military training is the job of Defence environmental officers such as Tennille Danvers, of Defence Support and Reform Group (DSRG).

Tennille, a Regional Environment Officer from Defence Support Central Queensland in Rockhampton, knows the training area well, having provided environmental support to numerous activities and exercises during her time with Defence.

She supported Exercise Talisman Saber last July as part of a team of environment officers from DSRG.

The team was on the ground to provide advice to the exercise commanders on the strategic and environmental significance of the SWBTA, as well as advice to range users to ensure activities were conducted in a sustainable way. They also conducted activity-specific environmental clearance processes for any event that could potentially cause environmental harm.

Tennille was supported by Environmental Officers Raelene Greenslade and Sam Stead, Regional Environment Officer Kerrie Lock and Senior Environmental Manager Richard Poli.

"During exercises, we basically coordinate a recon with units to go on-site, meet and see what their training intent is," she says.

"The exercise commanders put forward what they're proposing to do and then the regional environmental officers can provide specific guidance on areas to avoid; for example, areas where heritage values would be affected.

"This way we can ensure the environmental requirements of the training area are met while the forces can still reach their training goals."

The SWBTA is one of the largest military training areas in Australia but contains many environmental aspects of both state and national significance, which has in part been recognised with its listing on the World Heritage, Commonwealth and National Heritage registers.

The training area is bisected by two bioregions - the Brigalow Belt to the west and the Central Queensland bioregion to the east. While both have protected vegetation communities, the latter has significant areas of "endangered" and "of concern" vegetation.

"If a unit wishes to fell 300 trees on one side of a creek it might not be optimal based on the vegetation classification," Tennille says.

"On the other side of the creek it may not pose such a concern as the area could be covered by a different bioregion."

It is not just the plant life that personnel need to be aware of when conducting exercises.

"There's quite a lot of Aboriginal heritage significance in Shoalwater Bay. Depending on where the units are on the ground they may be operating within a zone of moderate or high cultural significance," Tennille says.

"Environment staff are available to provide advice to all range users on appropriate activities in such areas to ensure Defence maintains these heritage values."

Tennille says the team strives to work with commanders to provide reasonable access to SWBTA.

"I find that if you explain what restrictions are in place and why they are in place, and be able to suggest an alternative when asking the question ‘does this meet your training requirement?' then we can generally come to a solution that meets our combined needs," she says.

"It's very easy for someone new to say ‘no' because we know the environment side of the business but don't necessarily understand what the training requirement is, and that comes with time."