Buffel inaction makes mockery of parks hype


p2145-Bess-PriceBy ERWIN CHLANDA
Parks and Wildlife Minister Bess Price (pictured) this week described the Northern Territory’s national parks and reserves as “invaluable” and called for their continued protection for the health and well-being of all Territorians.
But she is doing nothing to stem the take-over of buffel – declared a noxious weed in South Australia – in the very parks she is responsible for.
Eminent botanists including Peter Latz have repeatedly warned of the risk that large tracts will become a mono culture – all buffel – to the detriment of the wide range of flora which is part of The Centre’s appeal.
Mrs Price relegated a response to our questions to a spokesperson, who emailed: “The Parks and Wildlife Commission NT managed  buffel  grass in national parks and reserves to protect infrastructure from fire and in areas with  high biodiversity value.
p2310-buffel-2“PWCNT  had spent more than $52,000 on weed control so far this financial year, not including staff and vehicle costs.
“The spokesperson said it should also be acknowledged that buffel grass provided valuable pasture for cattle producers in Central Australia and was used to mitigate erosion.”
A media release for Mrs Price says she “told an Estimates Committee hearing that the NT’s parks and reserves included some of the Territory’s most majestic natural, cultural, historical and recreational assets … while it was possible to put a dollar figure on the economic value parks provided to our tourism industry, it was not possible to put a dollar figure on the true value of the Territory’s parks and reserves.”


  1. Buffalo grass, cane toads and other feral species of multiple kinds are ruining biodiversity in our National Parks and the integrity of their very existence. Will money make a difference if there was a budget increase for parks – or is it all too late?

  2. So Bess spends less on weed control in all the parks and reserves in the Territory every year than she spends going to New York for a week.
    Yup, Priceless – or hopefully we will be soon, anyway.

  3. A few pastoralists have more power over traditional owners and those who live in Central Australia. Buffel grass will not be declared a weed in the NT, as pastoralists use this as a last resort in drought times.

  4. Steve is running and he is the buffle king. Loves the stuff. Anyone with half a brain and eyeballs that has been in Alice for a while will know how it has spread and changed the landscape into a boring monotony of buffle.
    It kills the trees when it burns and new ones find it hard to break through. Where are the fields of wild flowers? Buffled.

  5. Maths: But as Steve will tell you it keeps the dust down.
    Destroys the environment but it’s all good – no dust.
    Also as Steve will tell you the tourists don’t notice the ruined landscape, the absence of flora and fauna.
    All they see is the green and they are happy.
    He’s aiming to represent us and his buffel views to the Territory and beyond.
    What an asset.

  6. It may come as a total shock to the collective commenters on this page, but the money that makes the world go round, pays the welfare cheques, has to be earned!
    The food that you put in your mouth has to be produced, or you starve!
    Now here’s a tricky bit for you. Buffel grass is … you guessed it, it is grass!
    Grass feeds livestock! Livestock feeds you while also earning from buyers around the world those precious dollars you expect in your pocket every week.
    And here’s another surprising fact for you, the reason we were suppressing dust was because … wait for it … previously there was very little grass, native or otherwise, to hold our soils together!
    Buffel was introduced to tackle dust and to provide feed for livestock. It has been astoundingly successful on both fronts.
    So successful at holding our soils together, minimising run off, improving soil fertility that today we are producing many times what we once did off this country.
    You may not necessarily think that this is a good thing, but you should understand that the reason the world supports the vast population of humanity that it does today is because of our ingenuity in getting the most from the earth by farming.
    If we were to take away that farming billions of people would starve! Are you volunteering to be one of them? Buffel is part of the answer in improving our pasture. Improving pasture is farming!
    Now I acknowledge that buffel poses a whole lot more management problems than deserts sands and sure its a pain in the proverbial in the garden, but next time your wrestling with a bush or waxing lyrical about how hot it burns think of this: The reason it burns hotter than other grasses is because it contains more energy than other grasses!
    The firies will tell you it is fuel. They’re wrong its not fuel, its food!
    That food may very well be the only thing keeping you and yours in existence on this planet!
    So let’s try a bit of commonsense when it comes to buffel.
    Of course it needs more intensive management. Burning, except when absolutely necessary, should not be part of that management because fire and buffel combined do immense damage!
    Buffel should be grazed even in national parks.
    As for buffel harming tourism – BS!
    Not one visitor in a hundred thousand would know anything about it unless you poisoned the well for them!
    I am absolutely certain our visitors would love to see local stockmen at work herding cattle in our parks, providing Dude Ranch style opportunities, great for jobs, great for our economy.
    Great idea, instead of sitting around winging about it get up off your backsides and take up some of the opportunities it offers. We can only hope!

  7. Steve Brown: If the food security of billions depends on growing declared weeds that degrade the land, literally depleting the nutrients in it and not recycling them, and destroying the natural environment then we are all stuffed.
    But it doesn’t have to be that way.
    Grazing is not nearly as important as tourism to the NT economy.
    2000 jobs in the grazing industry and falling.
    6,000 in accommodation and food and rising.
    Tourism is a large economic driver of the Northern Territory economy and earns us well over one billion dollars a year.
    By contrast grazing is far less significant.
    The average income for stations carrying less than that was just $70,000 last year. Average debt $150,000 to $1.4 million.
    Keeping the dust down is costing us dearly and will continue to do so in the future.
    And tourists who see our adverts showing off a field of wildflowers and flowering Corkwoods and Cassis bushes will certainly notice the difference as they look out on a buffel grass monoculture.

  8. Great, with that kind of attitude, i.e. let’s destroy the natural landscape and make a half a dozen cow cockies happy, the CLP is gonna make Steve the Minister for the Environment.
    Steve, why not clear fell the bush and replant completely with buffel, concrete over any dusty places where it won’t grow and keep a couple of examples of the native flora and fauna in a small park somewhere?
    Sydney is a good place. Save people the monotony of driving through endless plains of buffel.
    You are ridiculous and are exactly what we don’t need as a government member.
    Someone who is completely wrapped up in his own ideology and with building his own empire.
    Ingenuity is not about making more money at the expense of environmental health. That obviously leads to disaster. Ingenuity is about finding ways to exist sustainably without destroying the environment.
    And what a ridiculous statement to infer that millions would starve if you didn’t plant buffel.
    And another thing, Steve, you have said repeatedly that we should listen to you because your family have been here for three short generations.
    How often do you consult with those mparntwe_arenye people who owned your property for countless generations? Do you even know who they are? By you own logic they are experts whose views are so much more important than yours.

  9. @ Peter: The level of completely confounded ignorance in your comment is almost beyond belief, it’s as if you only blew into this country yesterday!
    I guess it goes to why you are not brave enough to put your name on your comments: Buffel is not a weed it is grass!
    The stuff that livestock live off! Not only is it not a deterrent to our visitors it can, as I described before, be part of what brings them here: Interaction between our pastoral industry and tourists has long been part of the Centralian experience.
    Of course you imagine you have some kind of expertise on this subject don’t you? I suggest you get off your proverbial, go check out the CSIRO library, run through the notes and photographs from the early fifties into the late sixties.
    Unless your completely blind or just plain ignorant you will be completely astounded at the difference in the country between now and then.
    I will await the outcome of your expedition and the appropriate apologies with bated breath.

  10. Buffled: It’s not mere millions that are kept alive by this weed, it’s billions according to political aspirant Steve Brown.
    He says buffel is food and may very well be the only thing keeping you and yours in existence on this planet!
    Far from being a land and environmental destroyer buffel is the elixir of life on our planet.
    I do enjoy Steve’s posts on these pages but have him represent us?
    No way!

  11. I understand at present the West MacDonnells National Park is under assessment for listing as a UNESCO World Heritage site. It’s perhaps worth considering that the Great Barrier Reef’s continuing status as a UNESCO World Heritage Site is threatened by the environmental degradation this region is suffering from climate change-induced coral bleaching, increased sedimentation and consequent algae / seaweed proliferation, and frequent predation from outbreaks of Crown of Thorns starfish.
    In my opinion the integrity of the natural environment of the West MacDonnells, indeed of the entire range system and also other regions, is under severe threat from the encroachment of buffel grass.
    Should this threat continue to advance, the listing of the West MacDonnells must surely be a dubious prospect or may be short-lived if the listing proceeds.
    Peter Latz isn’t alone in his criticism of buffel grass. My father informed me that George Chippendale, the first government botanist of the NT, expressed reservations about the wisdom of introducing buffel grass into Central Australia, and that was at the time of the notorious drought of the 1960s.
    I remember in the early 1980s Frank McEllister, the senior horticulture technical officer in the NT Department of Primary Production, regularly cursing the proliferation of buffel grass at the Horticulture Block at AZRI (which ironically was the same site in the early 1960s where the CSIRO conducted a trial for the introduction of pasture grasses, finding a range of buffel grass types potentially of greatest potential for this purpose in Central Australia. I hasten to add that the CSIRO was by no means alone in this kind of research work).
    Frank pointed out to me several times the disparity in the relative value of production (at least potentially) per unit area of land between horticulture and pastoralism, with the former far superior than the latter; however, while buffel grass is considered useful for grazing, it represents a serious cost to horticulture because of its weediness.
    It was Penny van Oosterzee who I believe was the first person in Alice Springs to publicly highlight the threat buffel grass posed to the natural environment, in an article published in the Centralian Advocate in 1987.
    That sparked a war of words which I now regret included myself in defending the work that had been done to introduce buffel grass.
    However, Penny’s article opened my eyes and I began to realise through my own observations she is correct.
    I’ve had a bit to say myself on this topic, see http://youtu.be/5YU_la8jQEo (A theory on roo poo) and http://www.alicespringsnews.com.au/1444.html (Buffel grass increasing flood risk in The Alice? COMMENT by ALEX NELSON).

  12. Steve: Once again this topic has come up and again you show that you have little experience in this apart from buffel supplies food for your cows.
    A few things: Buffel does not help the soil nutrients. It takes them so other plants and trees cant grow.
    Fire is very important for our native vegetation. However buffel provides a large fuel load and is a high danger to life, infrastructure and white gums. Yes when you’re property goes up in flames whom are you going to contact, Steve?
    The only thing which you have said that is true is that it helps with soil erosion. But this is not natural it has been introduced – what was used before?
    If we have a issue in soil erosion there are other management tools which we can use.
    The last comment is that if we introduce cattle in to our parks the Macs will not get their world heritage status.
    Leave your comments to something you really understand e.g. how to put cows in a truck.

  13. I think we’ve been here before with poor old Steve. A man so tied to his own ideologies that he mocks or makes fun of others who dare challenge him on buffel grass, with comments that ooze sarcasm.
    A question that those in the ‘pro buffel camp’ (pastoralists, Steve Brown – that’s about it) need to answer is this: If buffel is so critical to feed cattle, keep dust down (and not much else) then what did cattle eat prior to it being introduced here in central Australia?
    Considering cattle had been in the centre for approximately 70-80 years prior to the disastrous introduction, what were they eating? Air? What was stabilising sand, sand dunes and suppressing dust storms? Couldn’t have been native species, could it?
    Buffel has been described as “cattle’s potato chip”. Basically, something cattle can eat non stop but adds very little in the way of nutritional value, hence why they gorge themselves on it all day.
    Cattle do eat native species, just a lot less as they have much higher nutritional value (micro nutrients) and therefore achieve a feeling of satiety much sooner.
    I’d take the opinions of trained botanists with decades of experience (like Latzy for example) over a self serving Steve Brown any day.

  14. Agreed, Interested. If we follow Steve’s lead we wouldn’t have national parks but national overgrazed wastelands with polluted waterholes and little or no natural landscapes flora or fauna.

  15. Poor old Steve, lambasted yet again for his old fashioned opinions.
    He does deserve respect as a senior Territorian who may he hopelessly stuck in the past but also helped to build the Territory.
    OK he and the other old timers also sowed the buffel seeds of environmental destruction for subsequent generations but he didn’t know that at the time.
    Lamentable that he can’t see the folly of his ways but he is a Territory character and harmless enough (unless elected to represent us).

  16. @ The Buff Club (Posted June 27, 2016 at 2:29 pm): There’s a couple of points to make in response to your comment. First, my father worked as an assistant to botanist George Chippendale in the late 1950s and in the early 1960s (right up to the time of Chippendale’s departure in mid 1966 where, for a period of time afterwards, my father was in charge of the NT Herbarium).
    This period coincided with the major drought of the 1960s, during which Chippendale and my father conducted plant species surveys and collections across the NT.
    My father has often told me about his observations of the enormous dust storms that afflicted Alice Springs during this period, noting that they were prevalent in the pastoral area surrounding the town.
    Whenever he travelled further afield in desert sandplain or dune country (unproductive lands for primary industry) there were no dust storms; rather he could observe the dust rising on the horizon originating from the cattle country.
    The second point is that my father and I were participants in a CSIRO research project in the early 1980s studying the grazing preferences of cattle at varying stocking rates.
    This work was mainly done at AZRI in the vicinity of where the suburb of Kilgariff is now being established. The data I helped to collect revealed that cattle preferentially graze palatable native grass species ahead of buffel grass.
    In circumstances where grazing pressure is high and/or constant, buffel grass gains an extra competitive advantage over native species.
    Buffel grass is a species adapted for grazing by large animals, native grasses generally are not.
    I’m not opposed to the beef cattle industry, I think it has a legitimate place in our local economy.
    However, it’s clear that the management of the environment to meet the demands made of it by seemingly conflicting industry and community sectors requires a sophisticated and flexible approach to ensure we mitigate the damage we continue to inflict upon it.

  17. It is important to note that there are multiple cultivars of buffel grass in the region. Some buffel is considerably more palatable than others.
    Buffel grass seeds are easily carried through wind and are not reliant upon livestock to disperse the seed.
    It could be argued (and likely demonstrated) therefore that there is the likelihood that less palatable buffel cultivars will outperform and crowd out the buffel types of which Steve Brown and many other cattle-people currently treasure.
    Of course, such a notion would require the belief in that crazy little thing called science and adaption.

  18. There is plenty of empirical evidence to show when buffel is removed the native grasses and herbs come back, but digging the stuff out / spraying are just not feasible over large areas. We need to develop / introduce a biological agent(s) to bring it under control, and that is where we need Governments to step up.
    The alternative is to sit on our hands, and watch our parks become a degraded monoculture. Eventually nature will evolve its own means to control buffel, but the result will not be a restoration of the ecosystems we were given in trust. We will need to visit the Desert Park to see what we have lost.
    Of course to get that crucial involvement from Government we need elected members who understand and value the environment. So our votes do matter.

  19. Alex Nelson, interesting comments on the competitive advantage of buffel over native plants.
    Another is that the wind borne seed is produced in massive quantities ensuring rapid spread.
    Birds can’t eat the seed as it is too fine so no seed is lost.
    Buffel infested country is also stripped of native ants by the weed environment so even they don’t reduce the seed burden.
    The rate that buffel weed grows back after fire is truly remarkable out competing most native plants.
    And of course buffel is changing and adapting all the time so invading pristine areas that were untouched just a few years ago.
    In the very long term buffel is destined to turn most of Central Australia into a buffel plain, treeless to the horizon and subject to ferocious, uncontrollable fires.
    Unfortunately it can’t be controlled on a broad scale with current methods.
    Research must look for a biological solution but currently there is no interest in this by the NT or Federal governments.
    Our political representatives must push this issue on our behalf.
    Steve Brown to the rescue?

  20. Aaahh … buffel, one of those mercenary African grasses like kikuyu that must be heavily grazed by wave after wave of hungry migrating herbivores or … well, you know what happens if you don’t. What a mistake it was.
    Don’t let them tell you that buffel alleviated the dust of the 1960s. The incredibly wet 70s with its associated tree and shrub germination and growth, along with the cessation of grazing close to town (milk goats included) probably did more.
    One of your commentators asks what cattle grazed in the decades before buffel.
    Sadly there were a multitude of more nutritious native perennial grasses that fulfilled the same role as buffel in the same relatively fertile land types but which were not adapted to continuous grazing pressure.
    Most Australian grasses can be grazed hard but they need a long rest to recover. It just didn’t suit the business model, lack of water points, labour, fencing, markets, etc. So those desperately keen scientists which the NT provided such a haven for after the scare of WW2 found solutions.
    No easy answers to introduced species running amok, especially when all sides don’t agree on the seriousness of the issue like they did (do) with rabbits for example.
    Really though, just $52,000 for control! C’mon stump up some real dosh for some of the iconic spots in the Macs at least.

  21. @ Peter (Posted June 28, 2016 at 11:24 am): Thanks for your comment but it’s not the case that birds can’t eat buffel grass seed. I’ve observed four species (galahs, cockatiels, budgerigars and zebra finches) that eat this seed, and have photographs of most doing this; however, they only do so in specific situations (along roadsides or where grass has been mown or slashed) and consume only a tiny fraction of the amount of seed produced.
    Zebra finches were probably the first birds locally to be observed eating buffel grass seed, they used to raid seed stocks held in storage by the Soil Conservation Unit several decades ago when this grass was being systematically established around the Alice Springs Airport.
    I’ve also observed and photographed termites and seed-harvesting ants collecting buffel grass seed but again in quantities usually insufficient to adversely affect the spread of this grass.
    One exception appears to be during extended dry periods or droughts when termites apparently temporarily deplete buffel grass seeds in the soil bank but this is rapidly restored when surviving grass clumps respond to good rainfall.
    There are also two species of sap-sucking insects which I’ve observed and photographed on healthy green buffel grass foliage. One of these is a type of white-fly, although its infestations on the undersides of buffel foliage give it the appearance of a scale infestation. T
    hese insects are farmed by ants which feed on the honeydew that they exude. I first noticed the white-fly at the AZRI Horticulture Block in the early 1980s.
    Once again, these insects appear to cause no significant impact on the health and vigour of buffel grass but they are potentially vectors of viral diseases.
    Finally, there is a native species of caterpillar in southeast Queensland that has so readily adapted to the consumption of buffel grass seed-heads that it is considered a commercial pest.
    It’s actually known as Buffel Seed-head Caterpillar and has been problematic in Queensland since at least the 1980s. I have a Queensland Agriculture Department Agnote paper from that time which provides advice on how to manage this insect species infestation of buffel grass pastures.
    Indeed, when the infestation is too heavy, the recommendation is simply to plough all the grass into the ground and start again! It’s clear from this that there are already a few potential natural control agents for the spread of buffel grass.

  22. How can Bess Price OR anyone else, given the saturation level this grass has reached, contain or destroy it – I would like to know?
    What is the process of removing buffel from the environment?
    Are chemicals used? If so, which ones and what about the toxicity to the soil, water, other native plants and animals?
    Can anyone actually cost the removal of this grass per square km or what ever other unit of measurement you many wish to use?
    Is the removal permanent or temporary – given this plant spreads seeds?

  23. Alex Nelson, good points on birds that can eat buffel seeds.
    Given that buffel destroys trees in the long term, galahs and other bird species would be deprived of their nesting habitats.
    Re the ants – I’ve noticed that buffel infested country is depleted of native ants but good to hear that termites can eat it.
    Also promising is the Buffel Seed-head Caterpillar you mention.
    Any chance some could be released in the Honeymoon Gap area?

  24. @ Peter (Posted June 29, 2016 at 12:30 pm): Oh, don’t tempt me, Peter, wouldn’t I just like to trial the release of these insects.
    Given the reluctance of relevant government bodies to confront this issue, it’s probably a matter of time when someone will take matters into their own hands.

  25. Apart from political rants, no-one has answered my questions or suggested ways to totally eradicate this grass.
    But I suppose the answer is the one we all know anyway it cannot be eradicated. Not ever, not by Bess Price, not by the generations of politicians who will follow her.
    And think of this, in one generation, we will have forgotten what it was like without buffel. Isn’t that the ways things really go, like it or not?

  26. Unfortunately the horse bolted years ago – and so did the ecological integrity of our national parks. It is all good though because Steve tells us the Chinese tourists can’t tell the difference!

  27. Marcus: It is unlikely that buffel grass could ever be totally eradicated, even if we wanted too.
    It is too widespread for that, and we have the complication that our graziers find it useful, as erosion control in sacrifice areas, and as feed.
    In the Sonora Desert in the American South-West buffel is also a problem, but it seems to be more limited in area and eradication is being attempted by hand, thanks to volunteers from nearby large cities.
    Some of our rural block owners have eliminated buffel from their properties, a lot of hard work, but all of them say it is well worth it to see the native plants and fauna come back.
    In our national parks it is beyond that – a few corkwoods and ironwoods along the Simpsons Gap bike path had the buffel removed then kept at bay by spraying there or four years ago, but that is a drop in the bucket.
    At an Ecofair, a few years ago, Peter Latz, well known flora expert, with years of local experience, told us that buffel was a huge threat to biodiversity in much of Central Australia, and the only way to limit it was through biological means – that is by the CSIRO, or their ilk, conducting research to find a way of repeating the success we had with the introduced castoblastis moth knocking over prickly pear in the interwar years last century.
    The research would have to be extensive though, we don’t want a repeat of the cane toad disaster.
    That’s why Governments need to allocate money, research and trials take time and they cost.
    And then we would have the problem of the graziers. Even if we can negotiate with them, we would have to consider the billions of people who will starve as a result of the reduction in buffel in Central Australia – or this just in Steve Brown’s fertile imagination?

  28. @ Ian: As a school teacher I though you might have been able to a least dignify your profession with a semi intelligent comment.
    While I expect the blind unthinking comments from those who are so embarrassed by their own comment they won’t put their names to them, I must say I would have expected better from you.
    Buffel is a grass, a grass that is used across this country as pasture for all kinds of livestock.
    If we were to take the enormous risk of introducing a biological control there is every chance we would be shooting ourselves in the foot again with the huge risk of cross over into other grass species.
    Why is this dangerous? It’s dangerous because we are not talking about a few buffel plants in Central Australia, we are talking about a pasture plants that feed livestock across this country and the world.
    If this country can’t produce enough protein to export because it loses its pasture, not only does that affect our food supply, in very short order it affects world food security.
    I suggest you research that, Ian, and try to extrapolate out the fact that the problem isn’t just the buffel in front of you.
    I’m somewhat bemused that your answer to the issue seems to be to get the very same people who introduced it to fix it by introducing something else, bit like the old lady who swallowed the fly.
    What comes next, I wonder?
    The real answer, Ian, from people who have made a living from the land who actually know first-hand what the issues are as opposed to those that read a book or watched TV while living off the wealth produced by the former.
    The real answer, Ian, is management, wherever possible without using fire!
    The answer is grazing just as it is everywhere else in the country where grass isn’t viewed with such fright.
    You might be interested to know that nearly all Australian farmlands, particularly the more intensive, use improved pastures which are not native species”.
    There are many books published on the subject. I suggest you do a little study. The reason today’s world supports such a vast population is because of farming – our ability to manipulate nature to suit our needs.
    Without that manipulation we cannot support the present population. So, Ian, if we give up our farming are you volunteering to go without? I wonder.

  29. Hi everyone,
    I have always enjoyed reading various articles on this site. You have done well Erwin.
    This topic above seems to be a regular topic and I keep finding it hard not to comment.
    Steve, I am very confused where you come up with all your information. It seems like you speak for the whole pastoral industry when it comes to buffel. I will give you a tip, there are 74 pastoral stations plus CLC managed in Central Australia. I have nearly visited them all. They don’t all share your view.
    In the past you have laughed at Peter Latz’s studies and comments by so called greenies, but reading and studying natural resource management their information is spot on. You need to take your hat of and look at the whole picture. Tourism, endangering native flora and fauna, soils and yes severe fires are caused or contributed by buffel.
    My last comment is you mention not to use fire. How do you come to this point? Burning off is a key tool to be used in management for many people and from a property owner I thought you would understand this. Properties, infrastructure and life have all been saved by controlling fuel loads using fire.
    I am more than happy to discuss this with you but I think you need to really understand the environment and not just assume since you and your family have been here for 100s of years you are experienced in the topic. Hope all is well.

  30. Steve’s family haven’t actually been here for 100s of years. They are very new arrivals so, as Steve is so keen to demonstrate, they know very little about this country.
    Also, Ian, as a school teacher you will have noticed that they have difficulty thinking rationally and rarely contribute anything useful or informative to a discussion. They are however quite amusing, and so we eagerly await their ridiculous rantings.

  31. I’m suspecting Erwin writes up an article on buffel every so often well knowing the same old protagonists will fire up, especially if Steve gets himself into gear and fires up, as he has again on this occasion.
    He seems to be shouldering the burden of defending buffel in our parks all by himself lately.
    And the strain is showing, so best to call it quits for now. I think, we are covering much of the same old ground. One thing I do give Steve credit for, he puts his name to his opinions, no matter how ill informed they are.

  32. Ian we need to keep covering the same old ground until the governments take some action.
    It is an absolute disgrace that not a cent is being spent on investigating biological controls for the Buffel weed, a declared pest weed in SA.
    This invasive species is robbing us and our children of our Central Australian heritage – the unique natural environment we live in.
    Soon or later someone will become desperate enough to introduce the Buffel Seed-head Caterpillar without proper investigation of the risks.
    Might even do it myself – crowd funding possibility?

  33. Jacob, I appreciate your zeal but can’t support the idea, even in jest, of introducing a biological control without proper scientific investigation and trials.
    Buffel is a useful tropical forage for many cattle producers in Australia and it would be downright nasty to put their production at risk – and likely counterproductive.
    According to the Tropical Forages website, buffel is an extremely variable species, and many different cultivars have been developed around the globe. There are biological threats to it, including the seed caterpillar and a fungus known as buffel grass blight.
    What I would like to see developed is an agent that could attack buffel grass in our parks, but not on our cattle stations. That would involve first researching the different strains of the grass that exist in Central Australia to see if there is potential for developing a control agent that can achieve this aim.
    If not, is there a pasture grass that could replace buffel on the stations, but not be such a threat to our parks.
    That would open up possibilities as well, but all this involves serious scientific research and trials. And therefore money, government spending.
    How to get governments to prioritize this is another question … a few of us bleating on this website, and feeling superior at Steve’s expense is not achieving much.
    What the next step is I am not sure, I am disheartened to read that CSIRO are retrenching locally-based scientists.
    I am also always disheartened to see pictures and comments on Facebook after every local wet episode about how green the country is looking … when most of the pics posted are of buffel.
    Perhaps the campaign needs to start with more local environmental awareness of the problem? Latzie at the Ecofairs, for instance, is preaching to the converted, and so far those converts don’t seem to be making much headway on majority opinion – hard for me to judge now that I am retired and living down south.
    When I was teaching Year 12 Geography a few years ago, I did some whole class fieldwork on buffel, we didn’t have to go far, thriving crops of it on the disturbed ground just behind the stand of box trees and salt bush behind Centralian Senior College.
    As a result many of the students did their individual research projects on buffel in locations near their homes, once they could identify buffel and other plants they could see it everywhere.
    But once they finish their schooling here many move interstate and only return to visit family and friends.
    A more permanent contribution is the work of the local Landcare group, they have done some great things on a local scale, the locations I am familiar with are in Braitling and Old Eastside.
    And then there are individuals who have quietly got on and done work in their local area, like Ken Johnson and Mark Gooley, and then rural blockies like Debbie Page out at Snake Gully.
    But we don’t seem to have got through to the wider community, they still seem to see buffel greening up after rain as a good thing. Only when they get on board, recognizing the threat the grass poses to biodiversity, will we get governments to allocate significant resources to deal with the problem.

  34. @ Ian Sharp (Posted July 7, 2016 at 12:29 pm): There has been research on the genetics of buffel grass, Ian, conducted on sites across northern Australia over a decade ago.
    The study revealed that the genetics of buffel grass in areas where it’s been long established cannot be traced back with any certainty to the original strains that were sown in the first place – in short, buffel grasses are evolving into local strains that adapt the species best for the localised environmental conditions wherever it grows.
    Unlike nearly every other introduced problem species, buffel grass has a varied genetic base from all the different strains that have been systematically trialled and sown across Australia, giving it an enormous advantage to evolve and adapt to Australian conditions. There’s no hope whatsoever of distinguishing buffel grasses grown on pastoral leases from those advancing into areas of high conservation value.
    Buffel grass is just one of a suite of exotic plant species that were introduced for improved pasture and/or soil conservation. In the Top End this included Mission Grass, Para Grass and Gamba Grass, all now declared noxious weeds despite their usefulness for grazing.
    In the Centre and other inland regions across Australia for many years Athel Pine was officially recommended and planted for erosion control, wind breaks and shade, but today is classified as one of the worst noxious weed species in the country.
    The history of Athels in Central Australia parallels that of buffel grass but our responses to the environmental threats they pose have diverged markedly – and frankly Athels have far less ability to invade across the landscape than does buffel grass.

  35. Ian Sharp: But what’s easier to control, buffel or the Buffel Seed-head Caterpillar?
    Almost certainly the answer is the Buffel Seed-head Caterpillar.
    So the caterpillar eats feral buffel and the environment dramatically improves and pastoralists spray to control the pest.
    What a nice change.

  36. @ Alex Nelson: Thanks for the information Alex. I wonder if there is a suitable forage crop to replace buffel if we attack it with biological agents, one that is less able to invade our parks?
    @ Jacob: Sounds good, but do we know for sure the caterpillar would do the job we want as well as we want? And given Centralian pastoralists were encouraged to sow buffel and given advice by government departments via Agnotes, would they have grounds to claim compensation? Would Territorians be prepared to pay an environmental levy to fund measures to protect biodiversity?


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