CDU ecologist Ellen Ryan-Colton, who has been researching the cultural and environmental effects of the introduced buffel grass in the APY Lands of northern South Australia, will participate in a UN-sponsored global assessment on invasive alien species and control.
The river bed of the Todd is more stable than many assume. I have two photos taken from exactly the same vantage point on Meyers Hill (originally called Nannygoat Hill). The first was by John Flynn in 1926. I took the second this year. In my photo there is a prominent "island" covered in buffel grass on the eastern side of the riverbed. This island is also observable in Flynn's photograph, although it was devoid of vegetation at the time. ALEX NELSON comments.
At left: John Flynn's photograph, held by the National Library of Australia.
Many Landcare groups around Australia focus on tree planting but in Alice Springs the chief concern of this small band of volunteers is tree protecting, by controlling weeds and preventing wildfires. Leading their David versus Goliath efforts has won a nomination to the National Landcare Awards for Tim Collins, chair of Alice Springs Landcare. He is one of 88 finalists.
Alice Springs Landcare came together because they could see the local landscape changing 'before our very eyes", says Mr Collins. You drive or walk around town and "you see the gaps", he says: where once there was a magnificent river red gum, now there's a blackened stump or an old giant lying there, shattered on the ground. And few young trees are growing to take their place.
The problem can be sheeted home to lack of adequate fire management and the rise of buffel grass which fuels wildfires, says Mr Collins. KIERAN FINNANE reports.
Pictured: Alice Springs Landcare chair Tim Collins removing slashed Buffel Grass in the Todd River as part of Green Corps training in 2011. Unemployed youth were trained in the use of machinery to create firebreaks, and the protection of trees from inadvertent damage. Photo by Tanya Howard.
Citizen action is part of the answer to management of the Todd River.
The current state of the river corridor is "our problem, the community's problem", says Ken Johnson, who has lived close to the river for 15 years. Over the last two years he has adopted the section of east bank between the Wills Terrace causeway and the Stott Terrace bridge and made it his business to control particularly buffel grass but also the couch along that stretch. The work has paved the way for the return of a wide variety of native grasses and shrubs such as plum bush and the birdlife that comes with them.
When he started, buffel grass was growing waist-high through this area and so thickly that it had pushed almost everything else either out of sight or out altogether. At the right time – in a vigorous growing phase – he sprayed both it and the couch, being careful not to spray anything else. He achieved a good kill rate of the invasive grasses and since then it has been a matter of following up to check for new seedlings, which he usually disposes of with his shovel. KIERAN FINNANE reports.
Pictured: Ken Johnson on the east bank of the Todd, amongst the native plum bush that has returned since he cleared the area of buffel grass. The Stott Terrace bridge is in the background.
People are arrested for deliberately throwing matches and setting fire to the landscape but who bears responsibility for allowing fire-promoting conditions to become entrenched? The Todd River corridor is a conservation zone and the Alice Springs Town Council has responsibility for its management. The Aboriginal Areas Protection Authority has given council a certificate permitting it to carry out "fire abatement management works".
To the casual observer it would appear that precious little has been done in this regard and many a mature tree in the river has borne the brunt of our neglect. With last summer's heavy rains, couch and buffel grass increased their stranglehold on the river and as they hayed off they provided the perfect conditions for fire vandals, mostly unchecked right up to the base of the trees.
The Alice Springs News Online asked council if it had undertaken, prior to the warmer weather, fuel reduction in the river corridors, including the Charles. We also asked whether council is going to undertake future fuel reduction as the burnt out areas in the river corridors regenerate and hay off.
Director of Technical Services, Greg Buxton, replied: "Earlier in the year Council made a decision to implement a mowing blitz across the municipality in response to large amounts of growth brought on by unprecedented rain events during 2010/2011. This proactive initiative was successfully implemented and coupled with Council's ongoing weed and growth program, which does include the Charles and Todd River beds, control of growth has been a priority for our teams. Alice Springs Town Council is working diligently to control growth and will continue to work proactively on this matter."
Our photographs show otherwise. Taken by vigilant naturalist Alex Nelson they clearly illustrate the priorities of council, which are to create parkland-type areas along some sections of the river banks, and to control growth along the walking and cycle path. Protecting the mature river gums – some of them hundreds of years old – clearly has low to nil priority. Pictured: Top – As we prepared our report the Town Council was at work in the river, seeming to do its best to preserve couch and buffel grass around the base of a mature tree. Above right – Keeping the edges of the walking and cycle path mown takes priority over the protection of trees. As the long grasses hay off the stand in the distance, surrounded by a sea of thick grass, will be in danger. Photos by ALEX NELSON. KIERAN FINNANE reports.
It doesn't take much for buffel grass and couch to get going again even after a fire has been through. Our photo shows a devastated burnt tree in the Todd River – there are many along the town stretch of the river – with buffel and couch regrowing (and setting seed) following recent light rain. How soon will we – and surviving trees – lose the fire-break benefit of recent burns, whether controlled or otherwise?
The Alice Springs News Online asked the Department of Resources about what rate of grass regeneration we can expect in the large areas of burnt country in and around Alice Springs, given that a weak La Nina event is predicted for the summer.
Rain, in fact hail, helped fire crews last night when they were battling a deliberately lit fire at the inter-section of the Plenty and Stuart Highways, a 45 minute drive north of Alice Springs.
It was but the latest in the "absurd number" of deliberately lit fires along the roadsides of a widespread area of Central Australia, says Neil Phillips, Acting Senior Fire Officer for Bushfires NT.
While helpful last night, the rain may pose a problem further down the track. KIERAN FINNANE reports.
Posted Oct 4, 2011:Interesting story on the ABC about concerns in South Australia about buffel grass invading from the NT. The introduced grass species is a major contributor to the seriousness of the current bushfires. Today rain is providing relief. Search the Alice Springs News Online archive for articles about buffel grass.
Pictured: Fire alongside Stuart Highway. Archive photo.