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HomeVolume 28Government moves on buffel grass – at last

Government moves on buffel grass – at last

By ERWIN CHLANDA

Declaring buffel grass a weed, as it is in South Australia, will be considered by a technical working group assessing the impacts of, and approaches to, the introduced plant that is causing extensive damage to native flora and providing fuel for massive bushfires.

Environment Minister Lauren Moss this morning announced the formation of the group which will report to the government “later this year”.

We have asked when, and how much money the government has set aside for the campaign against what is widely already recognised as a weed, even if not declared.

The announcement follows a major fire in the West MacDonnell national park and a blaze at south-eastern edge of the Alice Springs municipality, where three dwellings were destroyed, last Friday (photo below).

Minister Moss says: “While buffel grass has provided valuable fodder as well as dust suppression and erosion control in desert areas since the 1960s, there is increasing concern about its role in heightening wildfire intensity, and associated impacts on biodiversity.”

The initiatives to be examined by the group will include strategic fuel reduction programs undertaken by Bushfires NT and Parks and Wildlife and firebreak and road verge management programs.

Meanwhile a Bushfires NT spokeswoman, in response to questions from the Alice Springs News, said yesterday that the Tjoritja / West MacDonnell blaze has burned about 2000 square kilometres.

An extensive blaze occurred in the park in early 2019, destroying vegetation across a half of its area.

The spokeswoman says in a written reply that the fires “are now contained after a concerted effort by Parks and Wildlife and Bushfires NT staff and volunteers over the weekend, with support from NTFRS.

“Park Rangers and Bushfires NT staff will continue to monitor the fire grounds over the next few days to ensure they are fully secured.

“The vast majority of the Larapinta Trail was unaffected by the fires.

“Sections 1 to 3 and Sections 10 to 12 have been re-opened as of Sunday, March 26.

“Rangers are currently assessing Sections 4 to 9 to confirm they are safe for public access.

“While it is expected that some parts of Section 4 and Section 7 were fire-affected, it is expected that the entire trail will be open for public use from Saturday April 1 as planned. Some minor maintenance work may continue after that date.”

Bushfires NT did not provide the requested details about the number of hectares where precautionary burning had taken place in the West and East MacDonnells in the last 12 months: “Multiple aerial incendiary and ground burns were conducted at strategic locations across the Central Australian parks estate during 2022, several of which are proving to be very valuable in minimising the impact of the currently active fires.”

Details were also missing in the reply to this question: In how many hectares did buffel eradication take place in the last 12 months?

Bushfires NT replied: “Parks and Wildlife implements an annual program of strategic pest plant and animal control and fire management which seeks to protect the highest value natural and cultural assets on the parks estate.

“Buffel control forms a significant component of this program in Central Australia.”

PHOTO at top by Tahnee Passmore-Barns: Ancient gumtree in the Todd River this morning, brought down by fire. In the background, the riverbank choked with tinder-dry buffel grass. This is the area where the blaze in the south-eastern corner of the municipality is believed to have started last week.

14 COMMENTS

  1. Buffel needs a national approach because of the vested interests. In a recent trip through rural Queensland I was astounded to see buffel grass seed for sale in one of the rural papers.
    I managed it reasonably successfully on my own block until the rain came recently, by observing its behaviour.
    The wind blown seed was being caught by the Wichetty bush, dropped to the ground where it germinated and smothered the acacia seedlings. That’s where I started the control.
    I suspect that this is what has happened elsewhere. It has got to me in recent years that intense research has not gone into promoting the native legume species and developing strains of Rhizobia and Michoriza to suit, as a more suitable ground protection measure, and a more productive pasture resource for the pastoral industry as it is a nitrogen fixing legume.
    This was the path that Queensland took years ago with native stylo species and phaseolus, with outstanding success for the pastoral industry, but like in so many other areas of food science research here the NT govt has never been really interested in arid lands pastoral research.
    Hence we got Kilgariff, and it should also have been Max Emery and his native foods.
    The pastoral research station behind the jail is not even signposted! The same reasoning applies to feral animal control.
    Foxes are protected in law in Britain and to get them out for the tallyho type of sport. They lay trails of fox urine to gather them in. I have seen the same thing applied in SA years ago when fox skins were worth a lot of money.
    The same methods can be used on feral pigs, (I have been charged by a rangy boar and a large billy goat) goats, camels, (had to shoot several) deer and even horses but the mating science has never been followed up or utilised.
    The French perfume industry have used it for years, but ignored here. It’s the same mindset from government re buffel, where they don’t look at the science but just follow the mob. Literally.

  2. A pathetic response.
    Fuel reduction programs and road verge management will do little and be very expensive.
    But they won’t be opposed by pastoralists.
    A biological control is needed, at this stage there is no alternative.

  3. Of course, grass fires are a part of the natural environment in Central Australia.
    I wouldn’t have any sympathy for anybody that did not maintain the mandatory 4M fire break around their rural property and structures.
    I would suggest increasing it to 15M if there is buffel grass (same as is mandatory required in the top end if gamba grass present).
    Just common sense really if you want to protect life and property.

  4. To be factual, Peter Toyne, as a Minister in the Martin Government, initiated a similar inquiry in the early 2000s. I never did get a clear story on what happened to it, but I can’t help thinking that it was doomed for failure for a number of reasons. I don’t think the groundwork was ever completed.

  5. Potentially a small step in the right direction taken by the NT Government in establishing this workgroup.
    However, this group MUST NOT “build on” the NT government’s existing work (including the “initiatives” listed above) on buffel grass. This has been characterised by ignorance, inertia, apathy, and complicity.
    The “technical” working group (which, it is understood, will include pastoral lease holders) must also include Aboriginal land managers, Aboriginal custodians who hold unique knowledge of Country under threat from buffel grass invasion, members of the Uluru-Kata Tjuta joint board of management, scientists, representatives of community groups such as Alice Springs Landcare, Arid Lands Environment Centre, members of the public, particularly those who have demonstrated concern regarding the buffel grass invasion.
    It is imperative that the technical working group focusses on reducing the impacts of buffel on ecosystems, biodiversity, culture and bush livelihoods at scale, and not merely on the protection of a few priority assets such as national park buildings and tourism hotspots.
    Any listing below class b is not acceptable.

  6. @ Douglas: Buffel fires are not part of the natural environment in central Australia.
    In time, buffel transforms the natural environment to a monoculture. A complex and beautiful ecosystem is degraded and eventually destroyed.
    The findings of the working group with respect to solutions are predictable because the NT Government does not want to upset pastoralists.
    Fire breaks will be ineffective and how do you reduce the load on vast buffel landscapes?

  7. I suggest publish map areas that are still free or almost free of buffel in Central Australia. And focus effort on keeping them that way. The horse has bolted in so many areas, including what we’re considering as prime biodiversity conservation assets.

  8. The working group needs to be completely independent of vested interests in the advice it provides.
    It must work collaboratively with science and knowledge providers and base buffel management on the best available science.
    Scientific information must be a critical part of evidence-based decision making and reporting. The knowledge base can be supported by a wide range of science and knowledge providers including research institutions, government agencies, environmental groups, universities, Traditional Owners, industry and Aboriginal communities.
    It should report publicly with yearly Outlook Reports, and identify priority needs.

  9. Pie in the sky. The horse has well and truly bolted, as did the rabbits, toads, cactus.
    No amount of shooting, squashing, digging will eradicate this monster.
    Wait, not long now till there’s nothing but this import still growing. Then hit it with agent orange. Problem solved.

  10. The first step to fix a problem is to accept that you have one.
    The second step is to NOT say it can’t be done.
    A critical step in fixing this problem (as I explained in detail in the Readers’ Comments Section of the March 4 buffel article, is to differentiate between the few cultivars of buffel that may be useful in the pastoral industry, and the plethora of hybrids that developed “in the field”, resulting in the super weed that that is causing the problem we now have, and which IS a very real threat to the pastoral industry.

  11. Eradication is not possible and should not be stated as the aim of any plan.
    We need a scientifically based method of feasibly controlling buffel grass so that it becomes a component of our ecosystems without dominating them.

  12. To pastoralists, buffel is not a weed and for most of the rest of us is it certainly is. This is not a recipe for consensus in the new working party.
    But as long as the group sticks to remediation such as firebreaks and fuel reduction there could be agreement.
    But the only effective measure, which is biological, will be strongly opposed by pastoralists because they will bear the cost of controlling the agent as they already do in Queensland.
    That’s why a strong scientific input is needed to inform the group and government what will work and what will not.

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