As David Claudie, previous chair of Cape York, stated in the recent annual report “The land can exist without people, but people cannot exist without the land.”

The people of Cape York are dependent on the land being healthy and productive. In 2014, the Cape York population is estimated at around 17,000, 57 per cent of whom are Indigenous. Most people (around 70%), live in towns of 1,000 people or greater. Conservation and natural resource management programs amount to approximately 200 jobs and less than $20 million. Strong and resilient livelihoods require good planning, awareness for sustainability, ability to adapt to changes, strong governance, explorations to diversify economic land uses and well-managed businesses. Core to sustainable land management is an awareness that people are the stewards of these valuable places, and their livelihoods are dependent on it.


People recognise the importance of the natural environment in ensuring their continued livelihoods and lifestyle. The small and close-knit communities value the limited jobs and incomes that come from managing the land. But people often talk about other parts of their lifestyle when mentioning Cape York: the weather and tropical climate, open spaces, recreation, food and materials from the land.

What's changing?

While some suggest that population growth is currently around two per cent, the population in 2014 was much the same as it was 20 years ago. In 1995 CYPLUS reported a Cape York population of 18,000. Nevertheless, there has been a major shift in the livelihoods and management of natural resources.

There have been shifts in land tenure from leasehold to Aboriginal freehold, improved access to country through Native Title and an increase in the national reserve system of parks and nature reserves. This has led to more Indigenous people going back to country, resulting in challenges and incremental improvements in capacity and governance. Currently, people are moving towards more integrated systems of health, education and arts within the NRM sector. There was a recent change in landholders’ alternative income streams through the uptake of the Carbon Farming Initiative.

What are the key issues?

Political division of people and poor coordination across the landscape are often on top of the list of people’s concerns about resource management on Cape York. Healing these divisions is made harder by land tenure insecurity and top-down legislation and planning that do not hear local voices. People are concerned about the economic and environmental sustainability of the land.

Improving sustainability can be achieved by looking for ways to enable new ideas to emerge, such as through ecosystem services markets, while helping with traditional industries. This can be achieved by improving education, promoting communications, building trust, empowering Indigenous groups and developing business skills.

Aspirational Program Goals

  • Diverse, strong, resilient, sustainable and economically viable livelihoods.
  • Integration of Indigenous and conservation values to promote ecologically sustainable development on Cape York.
  • People working together to care for Cape York's ecosystems and to promote the sustainable use of Cape York’s natural resources.