Sunday, May 26, 2024

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HomeIssue 2Todd River: Trees in, buffel out

Todd River: Trees in, buffel out

p2320-Todd-buffel-1By ERWIN CHLANDA
Buffel will be removed from a number of “target sites” and up to 1100 trees and shrubs will be planted along five kilometers of the Todd River between Olive Pink Botanic Gardens and Heavitree Gap.
The project is hosted by Alice Springs Town Council through the Federal government’s Green Army Program, says the Arid Lands Environment Centre (ALEC).
“Buffel grass is an aggressive colonising plant that grows rapidly after rain,” says ALEC.
“It takes much of the nutrients out of the ground and displaces native grasses and sedges, especially on river banks, alluvial flats and moist areas.
“Buffel grass is significantly more flammable than native grasses, and in the case of a fire can cause damage to the river redgums along the Todd River.”
Says Jake Eden, the Green Army project’s supervisor: “The Green Army also aims to provide an opportunity for young members of the community to enter the workforce, receive accredited VET training and gain valuable life experience.”
The project for 17 to 24 year olds is starting now and will run till October.
Follow-up work is still under discussion with the council and others, says Alex McClean, of Arid Edge Environmental Services, the contractor for the work. He says it is recognised that without ongoing control of buffel the initiative would be a waste of time.


  1. @ Elvis: Were the traditional owners consulted when in 1961 Government officers and cattlemen started releasing seeds on 31 stations in the Centre? It is the Europeans’ mess, let them fix it.

  2. Can we please not make this a black / white issue? It is in everyone’s interest to eradicate as much of the buffel grass taking over OUR Todd River as possible.

  3. In times of an “unusual rainfall event”, as the weather mob call it, water runs into natural water courses. The more rain you get, the higher the water level in that water course gets.
    Put barriers like dams, weirs or even causeways along the watercourse and you change the natural flow.
    Denude the land around the water course by failing to establish buffer zones, allowing access to people, hooved animals and big, boofy 4WDs with big chunky tyres and you have a problem.
    Introduce invasive flora which outcompetes the natives, then add really hot fire and you have barren banks.
    Add an unusual rainfall event and you have erosion. That silt will gather at the barriers creating a higher river bed. Next time, the water will be higher.
    We can blame traditional owners for failing to look after the land. We can blame white fellas for introducing invasive grasses and cutting down trees to create a new street or road. We can blame the rednecks who enjoy driving their boganmobiles through the sand.
    We can blame the forefathers for poor urban planning practices. We can blame Adam for selling TIO. Hell, we can even blame God for sticking the nozzle in up in the hills every now and then and giving Alice an enema.
    The blame game is good. It gives politicians free publicity and a photo op and it gives bureaucrats excuses for more forums, seminars, meetings and best of all, travel. Perhaps even overseas, with the Minister. Anything but real work.
    Or we can do what has to be done, get rid of the alien flora, plant lots of trees along the water courses – it’s amazing how much water those big gums suck up – and create buffer zones.
    Dare I say it, maybe even removing some of the silt may help.
    Good news story, Erwin. Well done to all those involved. It’s a pity it got immediately hijacked by the Territory’s favourite sport, the blame game.

  4. Buffel grass has been spreading across the country now for years and it has replaced native grass in many places.
    My question is, what chemical spray will be used to remove this grass and what effect will this have on the native animals and insects, frogs (etc) who have adapted to this buffel?
    Because it is a known fact that certain chemical sprays leave a toxic trail killing everything else, plus the grass and contaminating the soil and water supply.
    How much toxic spray will be needed to clean up the Todd River? And where will this waste end up, on whose property?
    If round up – glyphosate or any glyphosate is being used, the long term effects on plant and animals (etc) will be dramatic as research has already proven this.

  5. Keep in mind that there was a concerted effort to eliminate buffel and couch grass in the Todd River from the Taffy Pick Crossing to Heavitree Gap 15 years ago, which (if I recall correctly) was part of the Alice-in-10 program.
    The project cost about $400,000 and involved Aboriginal workers. The grass was mainly slashed and sprayed with Round-Up.
    There was also removal of sand and silt build-up at Heavitree Gap. This was intended to be the beginning of a program of systematic removal of exotic grasses and other weed species along the entire length of the Todd River from the Telegraph Station to Heavitree Gap.
    Both my father and I commented in the media at the time this will prove to be a waste of public effort and expense.
    Our predictions proved correct – there was no more funding made available for this work, other than sand excavation of the Todd River adjacent to the town centre combined with upgrading of the Wills Terrace Causeway in 2006.
    There also was no follow-up to the grass control work near Heavitree Gap. Here we go again …
    In reply to Laurie Butcher’s comment about Glyphosate (Round-Up and related weedicides), there’s no obvious long-term adverse impact on the environment from the use of these chemicals. However, there’s plenty of evidence (especially in Australia) that some of the target weed species are developing resistance to this chemical.
    I first started using Round-Up for buffel and couch grass control in the early 1980s when our family lived at the CSIRO Field Station (now Centre for Appropriate Technology). It cost $30 per litre at the time. I achieved complete control of theses grasses in the area around our home but after we departed in 1988 there was no further management of that ground, consequently both grasses have returned to dominance exactly as they were before I controlled them.
    Prior to living at CSIRO at Heath Road, our family resided at AZRI next door (then called the AIB Farm).
    It was during this time that extensive work was undertaken by the Soil Conservation Unit and AIB Farm management to achieve dust control through the establishment of buffel grass.
    This was mainly done for the benefit of passenger jet airliners at the Alice Springs airport which required clean air for safe operation (yes, we can blame tourism just as much as pastoralism for the systematic introduction of buffel grass in our region).
    I started gardening when I was six years old (1969), and amongst the first weeds I had to contend with was buffel grass.
    I recall at first I didn’t know what to do because everyone in those days thought this was a good plant – anyway, I can reasonably claim having the longest continuous experience with controlling buffel grass of any person in Central Australia.
    If anyone wants to see a good example of what can be achieved with sustained control of buffel and couch grasses, both from spraying and chipping – and consistent follow-up – go take a wander through the grounds of the Olive Pink Botanic Garden.
    I’m proud to be the person who was the major contributor to achieving this result, during my time of working there from 2000 to 2008.

  6. Buffel grass cannot be eradicated. If you live on a small property people are able to manage it. The impact that it has had on the environment is just like the cane toads – disastrous!
    An experiment to fix a problem gone wrong. My original comment is about the taking care of the country. How many traditional owners care about buffel? How many traditional owners care about cane toads? Like cane toad and like buffel grass, the traditional owner is out of control also!

  7. The river is a disgrace as it stands. It needs to be cleaned of saplings and the sand so that the river can flow freely and reduce the impact of future flooding and any legal repercussions. The buffel grass needs to be burnt off, which will reduce the spreading of future seedlings. Let’s use a bit of our brains and maintain this river for everyone’s sake.

  8. Well Alex Nelson, as a reply to your comment, posted 8th April 12.02.
    As a young fellow there was no buffel grass where I grew up in the desert, until town mob dropped bags of seed for locals (Aboriginal people) to spread by horse.
    Guess where the bags come from mate, you must know, having been there for so long.
    Anyway go talk to Colin Stanton, he can fill in the question marks on buffel grass introductions (arid zone area).
    And as you said, there is no obvious long term adverse impact on the environment from the use of chemicals (round up) etc. You better check the word “Monsanto” and while you are at it, ask South Australia why they have put an outright ban on “Monsanto” and its genetic modification of food products, as many other countries around the world have done.
    Then ask the Hawaiians what they think about Roundup which was tested on their islands and just about wiped them out.
    Roundup has been linked to Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s, autism and cancer.
    And as you say, weeds are developing resistance to Roundup chemicals, why? Because the seeds are genetically engineered to contain and withstand massive amounts of “Monsanto” herbicides and pesticides, PCBs are Carcinogenic, but still illegally dumped in waterways, where they build up in plants, food crops, fish, other aquatic life forms then into human food supply.
    So why would anyone trust “Monsanto” to produce food, when they also invented “Agent Orange” alongside their partner, Dow Chemical (Dioxin laced) and sold if off to the US military, then it was used in Vietnam on US soldiers and innocent civilians.
    DDT is Monsanto. And Monsanto was behind the development of the bombs, which they dropped on Japan in the second world war and the Third Reich’s go-to chemical manufacturer producing Zyklon B gas during world World War Two.
    Roundup ready and BT technologies lead to resistant weeds and insects that make farming harder to reduce sustainability: Quoted by “Union of concerned scientists”. And the next time you go shopping, don’t forget the Kelloggs’ Fruit Loops, which by the way are 100% genetically engineered and Monsanto says they are safe for kids.
    Or is this just too hard to put together and out of sight, out of mind is preferred option.

  9. Fred the Philistine’s comment repeats an age-old misconception of the state of the Todd River bed.
    In general it isn’t blocked by saplings and sand. The main impediments to the free-flow of the water are causeways, these act to impede the current and cause sediment to deposit on the upstream sides.
    Conversely scouring of the river bed occurs on the downstream side which sometimes exposes the water table; and in these conditions permit a larger number of young trees to germinate and grow than might normally be the case. No such problem pertains to bridges.
    Many people, including long-term locals, are under the impression the Todd riverbed in town (mainly adjacent to the CBD) is unnaturally high.
    The old river gums clearly tell a different story, as many of them have exposed roots which indicates the river bed has actually gotten lower.
    Also, there are old river gums adjacent to the Todd River which clearly show that inundation of the surrounding land is a natural feature of the central town area.
    The best example of this is the old Parsons Street river gum but also those next to the Memorial Club carpark, too. In addition, there once used to be other river gums in Todd Street (as old photos clearly show) which were cut down in the late 1940s.
    River gums only germinate and begin to grow naturally in conditions of inundation so it is obvious the central area of Alice Springs has been inappropriately developed across a natural floodplain.
    Historically there is now significantly less widespread flooding occurring in Alice Springs in the past few decades than what was observed in the earlier period of last century, and in large part this is due to the lowering of the Todd riverbed.

  10. Fred The Philistine: One thing buffel grass loves is fires, the more you burn it the better it grows. In Queensland the stations use fires to boost the growth and freshen the grass up.

  11. I’m glad “Elvis” wasn’t in charge of dealing with polio, for example. Nothing like saying “its impossible” as a reason to do nothing. Good politician material.


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