Fiddling while buffel is burning

By ERWIN CHLANDA

 

Beautiful, isn’t it, looking south into the valley from the Larapinta trail, just east of Simpson’s Gap, in the late afternoon light.

 

Trouble is, under these shrubs and trees lurks thick, dense buffel grass, square kilometers of it, healthy and in seed, a tinderbox in the making.

 

Territory authorities are not losing any sleep about this – in sharp contrast to our southern neighbour which has a “state-wide strategic approach to minimising the impacts of buffel grass”.

 

As it dries out in the approaching summer, buffel will ignite, as it has done countless times before, from lightning or arsonists. Its ferocious blaze will destroy native grasses as well as tree and shrub seedlings, continuing to colonise the best parts of the West MacDonnell National Park, the backbone of Alice Springs’ tourism industry.

 

Instead of the splendid native flora, visitors will come to see a monoculture of an introduced species brought in decades ago by CSIRO – then unaware of its impacts –  to control dust and as cattle fodder.

 

While the NT Government, like all its predecessors, is doing absolutely zero about this, South Australia is stepping up its containment effort. A team is currently surveying the spread in the APY Lands south of the border.

 

In the Strategic Plan 2012-2017, SA Minister for Sustainability, Environment and Conservation, Paul Caica, doesn’t mince his words: “The task to reduce the threat of buffel grass across the State is considerable, requiring a collaborative approach to manage infestations and contain its spread,” he says.

 

“This will rely on cooperation between land managers, Traditional Owners, and all members of the broader community involved in this important environmental management issue.”

 

The strategy report says: “Buffel grass (Cenchrus ciliaris) has been listed among species of ‘extensive continental distribution’ that are ‘capable of destroying’ Australian ecosystems (Humphries et al. 1991).

 

“Buffel grass is arguably the single greatest invasive species threat to biodiversity across the entire Australian arid zone, and without active management it will continue to invade a wide range of native habitats to the extent that it would replace many native species in those habitats.

 

“Buffel grass is noted for its impact on threatened species in the APY Threatened Species Recovery Plan, and in the Rare and Threatened Flora Management Plan for the APY Lands.

 

“Buffel grass is rated as ‘very high’ on the weed control list for rangelands in the Weed Management Plan for the northern and Western Region of the Department for Planning, Transport and Infrastructure.”

 

The Alice Springs News Online is seeking comment from NT Parks Minister Bess Price and will report further on the SA survey in the “Pit Lands”.

 

PHOTOS (from top): The glorious view from the Larapinta Trail just east of Simpson’s Gap: bottom left of the photo shows buffel grass. • A sign at Minnipa on the Eyre Highway in South Australia. • Buffel, likely to have been introduced from the NT, on the western edge of the Stuart Highway about 20 kms south of the SA-NT border. • Buffel in head.

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2 Comments (starting with the most recent)

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  1. Ian Sharp
    Posted May 22, 2014 at 10:27 am

    Good on you for raising this issue Erwin. Peter Latz is a local authority on this, been spruiking the message for years.
    And the Landcare group has been taking action in and around Alice Springs, people can get involved in their working bees.
    I know some individuals who do a bit too, like Mark Gooley up Kurrajong avenue, and Ken Johnson along the Todd. I did a bit of buffel busting under corkwoods on the Simpsons Gap bike path, used a mattock to remove the tussocks, then spraying Roundup to knock back regrowth. This saved a few trees from damage during the big fire that swept through the park mid 2011. Keen to get back to town and see how much regrowth there has been under these trees.
    Of course such small scale efforts, however satisfying, have no effect on the massive spread of buffel over huge areas.
    The only hope there appears to be the development by the CSIRO of some form of biological control. I think the time has come to take this seriously, despite the claims of some cattlemen that buffel is vital fodder for their stock.

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  2. Interested
    Posted May 22, 2014 at 6:01 am

    Timely article, our future is a vast buffel plain with few trees and frequent hard to control fires. Tourists will not come to see buffel grasslands.
    There is no biological control and no evidence that buffel can be eradicated in the long term by any other means.
    But the ecological jewels of our region can be protected, and this must happen before they are infested with the weed.
    The current lack of attention to this task is short sighted and will be deeply regretted in the future.
    Areas like King’s Canyon are prime locations worth millions to our economy and buffel must be eradicated before it is too late.
    I recently visited the ecological wonderland of Kathleen Creek near Kings Canyon and the invasion by buffel is all too obvious, as is the lack of attempts to stop it.

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