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GRASSROOTS INPUT TO ENVIRONMENTAL DEBATES

Identifying trends in our landscapes

In August 2002 Dr Elaine Ingham ( www.soilfoodweb.com ) first visited the Kimberley (Australia) as a result of a local demand for leading edge knowledge about soil biology.

Dr Ingham certainly left us much to ponder over. With 37 other local and interstate participants I attended her well presented two-day course.

We were presented with a tool that may well help us remove bureaucratic speculation from broader land management issues: Soilfoodweb testing. This powerful technology at the other end of the spectrum from GIS technology enables us to scientifically substantiate trends picked up visually or by GIS thereby enhancing the scientific validity of ground-truthing.

I suspect that the loss of large trees, the increased bare ground and the eroding soils that we land managers observe in many areas in this region, amount to "structural collapse" as a consequence of loss of remaining life and structure in our soils. As there is little measurable production in many of these vast and rugged water catchment areas we currently rely on the opinions of individuals. If what I suspect proves to really be the case, we need more data (to establish/confirm trends) urgently. It is equally important to have data and monitoring mechanisms in place that enable us to tell if/when our commercial "profits" are at the expense of long-term production potential. It seems the monitoring tool that Soil-foodweb Inc offers, would give us sufficient data to remove much of the current speculation that dominates in rangeland debates. A further consideration is that such data offers managers the proof of their ability to enhance, mine or destroy biodiversity.

On Kachana we consider the initiation of soil-foodweb testing to be an important step to better identify trend indicators. Those of us out in the field making day to day decisions which affect the land need to get a better understanding of the (largely invisible) chain of reactions caused by management actions. We need more scientifically valid data to compliment other results of our management.

We also reason that solid soil-foodweb data, to compliment the visible results we have been getting on Kachana, as a consequence of our management, will assist us in attracting further attention from local and overseas learning institutions.

Early October 2002 we had Patrick (a Student from the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Zurich http://www.ethz.ch) take and send in five composite samples for testing: Three from our Millennium Project, one from Cockatoo Creek (a reclaimed former wetland) and one from Karl's Vlei (a wetland forest area that we are restoring). (The latter two areas have a "no fire" history of over eleven years which is a rarity in this region, given that most of our country burns every 3 to 7 years as a result of: negligently lit fires or arson; lightning strikes; planned wet season or aerial burns to reduce fuel loads; experimental fires.) All five results despite a remarkable spectrum of variation indicate basically dysfunctional and unhealthy soil-foodwebs. (We are ten years down the track of advocating biological enhancement, but we obviously still have a very long way to go and a lot more to learn…)

Given that in a 700 mm (or higher) rainfall area situated in our latitude, there should be biological activity in the soils around the clock every day of the year. We figured that the most telling data would be obtained when seasonal conditions are least conducive to plant growth, so we chose the end of the dry season. September/October after the cool winter period when activity should be beginning to accelerate, but also when it can become extremely hot, and violent storms can do the most damage. A further practical consideration that favours monitoring in this instance is that we obtain data to compliment the above ground biological monitoring which also takes place at this time.

Our monitoring results are made available on request or at our Annual Kachana Landscape Management Workshops which take place in the first week of September each year.

Information on the September workshop of 2002

Information on future Kachana workshops

by Chris Henggeler, November 2002