We sounded a false note of optimism last week when the Alice Springs News Online reported that the Town Council had got the message about tree protection in the Todd and Charles Rivers. Work by trusties from the gaol, observed by readers knocking down buffel grass in the Todd, was no more than usual, occurring "most Thursdays" according to council's Director of Technical Services, Greg Buxton.
We would be wrong to think that the elected members are particularly stirred by the evidence of destruction of trees in the Todd and the persistence of the conditions that threaten them. With the exception of a brief comment by Alderman Jane Clark, no-one spoke of the trees at council's meeting last night. That there was discussion at all about the state of river came down to concern about flooding. KIERAN FINNANE reports.
Pictured: Trees ablaze in the Todd, opposite the Crowne Plaza hotel, on November 8, 2011. Alice News reader Dy Kelaart took this shot, commenting: "Fire crews were in attendace as bystanders with the many obsevers watching in disbelief as fire engulfed the beautiful old river gums. An amazing spectical, shame about the majestic trees!" Senior Station Fire Officer in Alice Springs, John Kleeman, says fire crews would definitely have tried to put out the fires as "this is our job". The Alice News visited the site yesterday. Many of the trees in the mid-channel island have survived, although one (at right) has been utterly destroyed. Meanwhile, the buffel grass all around is greening up. If unchecked, by spraying or slashing, when it dries out it will again create the tinderbox conditions that fed this fire.
As we 'speak' there are crews of trusties from the gaol in and along the Todd River, slashing the grasses around the base of mature trees. It seems that the message has gotten through that the community wants these trees protected from fire and urgent action is required. But there are other river management issues to consider.
"With trees you can talk of death by fire, but you can also talk of death by mowing."
The debate around protection of trees in the Todd from fire has expanded to broader river management issues. For instance, why, in the stretch of the Todd between Schwarz Crescent and Wills Terrace, does there appear to be practically no regermination of the river gums? On the eastern bank of the river the natural vegetation has been utterly transformed by the planting of exotic species, mowing and irrigating. The view across the river is all but unimpeded. There are a few surviving giants in the riverbed and nothing else. If they were to be destroyed by fire, would we have succeeded in sterilising the river?
The Alice Springs News Online asked Sunil Dhanji, former project officer for Greening Australia's Todd and Charles Rivers Biodiversity Project, what he thought might be going on.
Mowing is important for knocking down bulk fuel, he said, but the crew need to identify and avoid germinants (new growth). Doing this has to be built into the crew's work program; the crew needs to understand what they are doing and why. Getting this kind of management happening depends on having a vision of what you hope to preserve and promote in the landscape. KIERAN FINNANE reports.
Pictured: A tamed river , utterly transformed by the planting of exotic species, mowing and irrigating. Are we rendering it sterile? This is the east bank of the Todd between Schwarz Crescent and Wills Terrace. Photo by MIKE GILLAM.
Gone are the days when landowners had to rely on "sniffing the breeze" in fire season – yet this year nearly half of Central Australia burned.
The North Australian Fire Information website (NAFI) has completely changed what's possible, according to Lyndee Severin from Curtin Springs Station. In the narrow window of opportunity for preventive burning at Curtin Springs this year, using NAFI's live fire maps meant they could adjust their plans "on a half day basis". Mrs Severin spoke with feeling at Tuesday's fire management seminar at the Desert Knowledge Precinct, featuring a presentation by fire scientist, Grant Allan. Mrs Severin said as pastoralists they were well aware of the fire threat represented by the massive build up of vegetation following above average rains: "We absolutely knew what was goign to happen."
Mr Allan's core message was that fire is an essential component of the Central Australian landscape and has to be used as a management tool consistently. Leaving control burning until there is a large build-up of fuel can be leaving it until too late, he said.
This year almost 40% of the southern half of the NT has burned. A large proportion of that was caused by wildfire in the months August to October, as well as by control burns getting out of hand, despite the best of intentions. Maps showing the intense and relentless progress of the fires over a large swathe of country, from the Simpson in the south-east to the Tanami in the north-west, brought a shocked gasp from the seminar audience.
KIERAN FINNANE reports.
Pictured: Top – The Centre burns. Photo byOLIVER ECLIPSE. Above left – Pastoralists Ashley and Lyndee Severin at the seminar. Right – Fire scientist Grant Allan .
"Nor is there evidence to suggest that school attendance correlates with increased performance or improved levels of numeracy and literacy.”
Gems like this from Sarah Marland, Amnesty International’s Campaign Co-ordinator on Indigenous Rights, continue the dumping on Australia in the wake of the one-eyed "fact finding mission" by the organization's Secretary General Salil Shetty at Utopia last month.
All this raises the question: If Amnesty can be so absurdly wrong on issues about which we have first-hand knowledge, how much can we trust their pronouncements about issues we don't? OPINION by ERWIN CHLANDA. Pictured: Mr Shetty at Mosquito Bore, Utopia, last month. Photo courtesy Amnesty International and Chloe Geraghty.
Nice little earner: Aboriginal owners of private land get, at taxpayers’ expense, essential services – schools, clinics, police stations, and so on. Most would not argue with this. But now they will also get rent, from the taxpayer, for the land on which those services are set up. Indigenous Development Minister, Malarndirri McCarthy (pictured), calls this an "historic decision [which] lays the foundation for a proper working relationship between Land Councils, Aboriginal traditional owners and the Northern Territory Government".
Meanwhile Senator Nigel Scullion says Intervention Mark II is a sign of the failure of Mark I, Shadow Child Protection Minister Robyn Lambley alleges a bid to hide child abuse and Shadow Tourism Minister Willem Westra van Holthe
claims the government is doing not enough to reverse the fall in tourist numbers.