Queensland Parks and Wildlife has fined two drivers who unlawfully entered the Pinnacles Reserve and bogged their vehicles to the axles $1437 fines, while four other people have been issued with formal warning notices.
Senior conservation officer Craig Dunk says the men entered the reserve at night on 4 February 2023 via a private road and drove past a warning sign which also displayed the words ‘authorised personnel only’.
“There were eleven people in six vehicles and unfortunately they were caught in a 120mm downpour and floodwaters quickly rose around them,” Mr Dunk says.
“All eleven, including a man with two children, abandoned their vehicles and waded through water in the dark before calling emergency services.
“A swift water rescue team and rescue helicopter was dispatched to the Pinnacles Reserve, and thankfully the eleven people were flown to safety by helicopter around 8:30am on Sunday morning.
“They later retrieved their vehicles but they left litter and a lot of damage behind to the environment and the firebreak, which will cost about $50,000 to repair.
“Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service officers conducted interviews with several drivers and all expressed remorse for the damage they caused.
“In handing out the $1437 penalty infringement notices, we took into account the damage that was caused and each driver’s involvement in unlawfully accessing the reserve.”
Mr Dunk says aerial photos taken in the following days after the vehicles became bogged have highlighted the damage.
“The aerial photos clearly show where the drivers have left the firebreak or track and completed widening laps or circle work in the bushland,” he says.
“The photos clearly show vegetation that has been flattened or ripped out from the ground, and large holes up to 600mm deep in the ground caused by spinning wheels in the wet ground.
“When vehicles break the surface of the soils in this area, the soils can essentially dissolve and erode very rapidly during rain events.
“Without remediation works, those bare areas are susceptible to the growth of weeds and ongoing erosion issues, and it could take months for natural vegetation to regrow.
“The Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service makes no apology for issuing fines to people who cause harm to our protected areas.
“Some of those involved in this incident apologised for the harm they caused, and hopefully the fines will deter other people from unlawfully entering our protected areas in the Townsville region.
“People who enjoy four-wheel-driving in the Townsville region are advised to tread lightly, be responsible and protect the land they are driving on.
“Drive only in areas where four-wheel-driving is permitted, don’t drive around obstacles which can widen a trail and where possible avoid muddy areas.
“In soft terrain or on unstable ground, don’t over-accelerate which can spin the wheels and cause rutting.”