In November 2021, the ACT Government legislated and released the Canberra Nature Park Reserve Management Plan (act.gov.au). Draft versions of the plan had been under review since mid 2019 with OACT one of many groups providing input to the plan. Orienteering is mentioned several times in the plan, with the main commentary we contributed to at pages 98-99. The published version of the plan included one significant dot point that wasn’t in the draft versions of ‘guiding principles’ reviewed by OACT, and that has since shown to be a stumbling block for orienteering to access Canberra Nature Reserves. The dot point in question is for event organisers to ‘Avoid Zone 1 Core Conservation area when planning large events.’ ‘Avoid’ and ‘Large events’ are not defined terms but have been interpreted by ACT Parks as meaning events with over 100 participants are prohibited, though the policy doesn’t clarify whether it is 100 concurrent participants or 100 spread over a wide area or broad time period (eg of a couple of hours), as would be the case for an orienteering event. A map showing the Zone 1 Core Conservation areas is at page 87. As can be seen, the Zone 1 Core Conservation areas cover almost all the Canberra Nature Reserves that have been used for decades for orienteering in the ACT.
OACT representatives have met on several occasions with the relevant Directors and Rangers from ACT Parks to work through what this new plan means for the future of orienteering in the Canberra Nature Reserves. Conversations to date have been well received and there is an intent from both parties to come to a manageable arrangement, noting that the policy is legislated and there is only so much that can be done within the bounds of the policy. There is no quick and simple fix and to allow time to work through the issues, the OACT Board and Clubs will not schedule events over the 2023/24 summer series in the Canberra Nature Reserves that are listed as Zone 1 Core Conservation areas. ACT Parks Ecologists and Rangers are working on a more detailed map of the Zone 1 Core Conservation areas that will be provided to OACT later this year, from which we may be able to resume events in some of the affected Canberra Nature Reserves by avoiding the specific areas of sensitive, endangered or protected flora and fauna. This would probably see large parts of our maps hatched as out-of-bounds and for course setters to be creative in designing courses to avoid control placements and routes through the out-of-bounds, particularly as there would be no visible indication on the ground as to the out-of-bounds areas.
Updates will be provided as OACT and ACT Parks work through what the future will look like for orienteering in the Canberra Nature Reserves.