GRASSROOTS INPUT TO ENVIRONMENTAL DEBATES
ORD BONAPARTE PROGRAM
The following correspondence in relation to the Ord Bonaparte Program indicates our concerns and views.
1) Letter to the Kimberley Echo
Is the tail going to wag the dog?
One local land manager reflects on the Ord Bonaparte Program
As bureaucratic power brokers are poised to inject some seven to twenty million Dollars into researching Ord Bonaparte environments, one may easily be tempted to overlook the basics.
The reason most of us live here is because we are aware of and believe in the “natural capital” (land, water, sunshine and the associated life supporting potential) of the region.
Our diversity of skills, culture and age we call “social capital”. In the long term any sort of management is doomed without it. Fortunately we have a lot of it.
“Financial capital” (Dollar$) is the fuel we use to drive commercial activity. We live in a busy little community and many of us brought some Dollars with us when we came. Many Dollars flow as a result of products exported or services rendered. At the TAIL end of the list we find a certain percentage of Dollars supplied by the Australian taxpayer -yes, public funds. We can all take guesses at the real figures. (My guess is that it is a strong TAIL.) Whatever the sum involved, we need to be accountable for the expenditure.
There is little doubt that the OBP is backed by good intent and that it will benefit local commercial activity. We do however need to take a close look at the current format in relation to what we expect as a community.
Could our energy and taxpayer funds be put to more effective use? Will we end up with useful, practical and accessible management information for the operators in this region or will we be fuelling the collection of more data for academics and bureaucrats?
2) Letter to CSIRO
Sentiments with regard to. the "PROPOSED ORD - BONAPARTE PROGRAM" (this includes "ORD STAGE TWO")
- The word “program” conjures up something with set parameters and a defined objective. As a peace time aircraft pilot, part of the challenge of arriving at my destination is to avoid conflict with other traffic. Communicating who I am, where I am and where I am heading to, goes a long way towards avoiding conflict.
I therefore welcome that after two years, more stake holders at the operational end of things will be enlightened as to what the “program” is all about. The three questions that I hope will be answered to the satisfaction of locals, are:
- WHO is the driving force and what is being driven?
- WHERE ARE you at now? (status quo)
- WHERE DO YOU INTEND HEADING?
- At a regional level I believe, that if we are to have a worthwhile future at all, we must begin to change our major form of export from soil (take a look at the colour of the Ord), carbon (fire) and air polluting gases (fire) to a working knowledge of sound resource management.
- At a national level, I feel we could use all that Australia is currently capable of producing to build an Australia that is healthy, self reliant and does not represent a military vacuum.
- Although I strongly encourage and advocate watching and learning from others, I firmly believe in local solutions, driven by locals.
- In his paper delivered last year, Mr. G. Brennan (AGWEST) points out, "It can be deducted that science and technology needs of the farmers in this(his) study have been adequately met with existing programs and that current needs are in the psychological domain." I believe he implies that the weakest link is a lack of TRUST. Bureaucrats and policy makers should not underestimate the importance of social capital. (As with biological capital it may be a hard one to wrap the mind around if one does not understand the context and meaning.)
- From a land and resource manager perspective what appears to be lacking, is fundamental environmental literacy. This ranges from the strategy and legislative level right down to the grass roots operational level. (There appear to be some fundamental flaws in most policies and publications dealing with rangeland Australia. This is confirmed by results out in the field.)
- It is only when the first three questions are addressed to a reasonable level of stakeholder satisfaction that we can even begin to tackle the challenge of HOW TO get there.
- Do we want stakeholder involvement or do we need stakeholder commitment? (Remember the partnership in the B&B business where the chicken wants to supply the eggs and asks the pig to supply the bacon!)
3) Letter to CSIRO
SUMMARY: After a very frustrating 24 hours my personal impression of the ORD - BONAPARTE PROGRAM R&D PLAN 2000 – 2005 (I was only given the condensed version, but that was enough): I see a “top down” approach that is entirely reactive and that indicates a lack of fundamental environmental literacy. The whole thing is cloaked in political correctness.
However I see the intent behind the agenda to be well meant and useful. Any tactical errors pointed out at the meeting with regard to how the subject matter was arrived at, information disseminated, etc. were acknowledged and people present were given a fair hearing and an opportunity to give input.
I see a tremendous opportunity to tap into what adds up to hundreds of years of local knowledge and experience and to create useful management information of what at present is stored data. Also there is the potential to draw up sound development guidelines. It would be a pity if the opportunity were not also used to create real (I mean REAL) incentives for those at the operational end to develop innovation.
In principle I support the “program”, but I still harbour great reservations.
My primary concern is that there seems to be a close to general lack of understanding of the four fundamental eco-system processes. I am not happy with the definition of “sustainability”. The words “biodiversity” and “health” (in the context of environments) were not even mentioned. I believe that the “program” is flawed at this basic level. These basics are covered from page 101 to page164 in the book “HOLISTIC MANAGEMENT- A NEW FRAMEWORK FOR DECISION MAKING” by Allan Savory. They are also very well presented at the schools that are conducted by RCS.
My other concern is that despite all good intentions, debate and collaboration I see no process in place that will allow us to handle effectively the complexity of the situation. There is a quantum leap between “taking an holistic approach” and “managing holistically”.
With regard to “R&D”, Hugh Barnet raised a very good point that came up during one of the workshop sessions: Do we need to look at the balance of “R” and “D”?
Also Greg Brennan made me aware of a recent publication that takes a new and different look at why the format of “R&D” may need to change. I do not think we need to be reinventing any wheels. Most of what we need in the immediate future is available in the region already. I hope we as a region have the spirit it takes to access, facilitate, coordinate, communicate etc…
It was most encouraging to see that one thing we locals have in common is that we want to have a say in our future. I am thankful for having had the opportunity to give some input.
4) Letter to CSIRO
PROJECT SUGGESTION (RANGELANDS)
ORD - BONAPARTE PROGRAM R&D PLAN 2000 – 2005
Project nature: Partnership between tax-payer funded and private research
As a pastoral tenant of 77 500 ha in the upper catchment areas of the Wilson, Dunham, Pentecost, Chamberlain and Salmond our primary responsibility is resource management. We are not impressed by the current state of health of any of these catchments.
A rangeland stock-take in 1992 implied that the situation on Kachana in general was no different to surrounding areas of similar land-type.
We viewed with concern the annual shifting of silt-load in our rivers and the visible effects of wildfire on existing flora and fauna. Resource stabilization became and still is our primary objective at this point in time.
While the management history of 1992 to 1996 reflects a lot of stabbing in the dark, our progress 1996 to 2000, in areas, which we have been able to manage with a greater degree of effectiveness, shows some very encouraging results in the rebuilding of biodiversity.
Our company philosophy accepts that biological, then social foundations underpin the financial performance of any long term ecological pursuit.
The building of biological infrastructure (life in our soils) in some of our model areas has been in progress for over five years. The working knowledge is available and most of the relevant data can be retrieved.
Our model areas incorporate typical brittle, non-brittle and riparian areas. Each year we begin work on additional areas.
We invite expressions of interest to develop a partnership between land managers, educators, researchers, in the collation and dissemination of useful management information.
To this end we are prepared to make available a location for the physical infrastructure required for an effective interactive learning site.
It would be envisaged that the responsibility for the operational level of management of the resource continues to rest with Kachana Pastoral Company and that the responsibility for the physical infrastructure remains with the party responsible for the research and the dissemination of relevant management information.
A statement of purpose would need to consider the benefit of local and other communities;
- By inviting researchers and students to investigate and to participate in the monitoring and evaluation of existing landscape revitalization projects to make more efficient use of tax-payer funds.
- By facilitating more effective communication of a working knowledge relating to the defining of, and managing for environmental health.
The sort of goal envisaged would need to include:
- An atmosphere of trust and meaningful activity
- Clearly defined projects and objectives that aim to deliver useful and accessible management information. A formal contract to safeguard stakeholders. Open lines of communication internally and externally.
- A diversity of model areas that are healthy and desirable in the context of particular management objectives that can continue to serve as learning sites. Biological assets that can be justified in their own right. Useful practical and academic knowledge that is readily accessible to the public. Physical infrastructure that can be appropriately relocated or disposed of when it has served its purpose.
In the context of the ORD - BONAPARTE PROGRAM, we (Kachana Pastoral Company) wish to float the above described project proposal. We have outlined a concept to ascertain tentative endorsement of the idea before spending more energy on the issue.
Tentative endorsement of a few “would be participants” (stakeholders) would require a more detailed evaluation of the merit of a project of such nature.
List of Demonstrations
- Biological monitoring of the effects of existing and nominated management practices
- Adjacent demonstration areas on the same land type of varying practices.
- 500 meter wide strip with a focus on pastoral productivity using fire
- 500 meter wide strip with a focus on pastoral productivity excluding fire
- 500 meter wide strip with a focus on enhancing native species using fire
- 500 meter wide strip with a focus on enhancing native species using stock at high densities to substitute fire.
- Accordingly monitor the dynamics of soil biota, flora and fauna.
- Monitoring the effects of a total no fishing zone on 5 to 10 km along the Chamberlain River
This list is just an indication of what we consider could be / needs to be done. (Please add to it.)
List of the parties who could gain from such a partnership and therefore may be interested in additional sponsoring:
- CALM - KAPA
- AGWEST - CSIRO
- DOEP - DME
- Select schools, colleges or universities - Local government
- Water and Rivers - Fisheries
- Dept of Energy
- Please add on if more come to mind
We look forward to your comment on the above submission.
5) Comment on OBP subprogram
ORD BONAPARTE PROGRAM
Subprogram 2: Rangeland systems
We have on previous occasion voiced our concerns with regard to the format of the ORD BONAPARTE PROGRAM. We still have major reservations in this regard. Herewith our comment to the draft1 20 June 2000:
The format and wording of the ORD BONAPARTE PROGRAM and project proposals to my eye appear to justify the big nod; I just wonder if we are putting tax-payer funds to the most effective use?
The words “assessment of” and “conservation of” with relation to “biodiversity”, in my opinion are meaningless, if we do not first define:
- the expectations we as a community have of a particular environment
- what the criteria of “health” are in relation to an environment functioning to meet those expectations
- what the word "biodiversity" is supposed to encompass in the context of a particular environment
In the documentation that I have come across so far, I have not once sighted a "job description" for a land manager. What do society, power-brokers or whoever actually expect of a land manager ( from farmer to National Park ranger) in a given scenario? Without that sort of direction I do not believe that we can focus on the compiling of useful management information.
The wording of documentation that I have come across so far, indicates very narrow and conventional rangeland paradigms that seem to align with the type of paradigms responsible for the monumental environmental disasters evolving in southern parts of the country. If we take our blinkers off we may notice the similarities with what is happening on a larger scale in other countries in the world.
There are other paradigms as well, I feel we need to be open to them. In intensive Agriculture situations Dr Elaine Ingham ( http://www.soilfoodweb.com/ ) and Dr Arden Anderson are presenting some revolutionary concepts that five years ago only had the backing of functional science (it worked), now we are getting more and more "scientific” proof. The same applies to work conducted by Allan Savory in "brittle" rangeland environments close to 40 years ago ( http://www.HolisticManagement.org ).
We are finding some very encouraging results on the ground in various parts of Australia. Building on that sort of knowledge and experience has the potential to make the ORD BONAPARTE PROGRAM a project that could break significant new ground. I urge the proponent minds behind the current format of the ORD BONAPARTE PROGRAM to be prepared to recast some of their paradigms and to perhaps contact people like Dr Christine Jones. (See paper “Grazing management for healthy soils” presented at the National Grasslands Conference, Mudgee NSW, March 2000)
In browsing through the proposed project plans that have landed on my desk I see a lot of "FTSE's" and fractions thereof. There is no doubt in my mind that without the communication and technical skills available to departmental bureaucracies the ORD BONAPARTE PROGRAM would be a non-event. I wonder though how much a program such as this can achieve without the practical experience and skills of the people on the ground who are faced with the day to day realities of making ends meet? I feel that if no value is placed on the "social capital" that these people are expected to contribute to the program, OBP is doomed to become one more irrelevant bureaucratic exercise (the likes of which I have been criticising over the past year).
As in the "issues paper" of the "Ord Land and Water" group I sense a determination to look for and collect "base line data". Coming from my paradigm where we are dealing with steadily deteriorating environments (all of which appear to have been significantly modified by human influence over millennia), I cannot see how such a quest can be of relevance. (This topic was elaborated on in a paper kindly published in "SAVANNA LINKS" page 8; issue 13; Jan-Mar 2000.) It is a little like looking for “base line data” in a child that has been hit by a truck and is now in a critical but stable condition in the intensive care unit... Sure we need to measure the pulse rate, blood pressure, etc. to assess the status-quo, but whether the patient is Mozart or Mohamed Ali, our referencing needs to take place towards a desirable perception of health. While the patient is not being asked and the doctors, the nursing staff, and caring relatives cannot agree on what "health" means for that particular patient, collecting more data is futile at best.
Could a geographically small project like the ORD BONAPARTE PROGRAM have the potential to help teach people who live and work removed from biological and ecological realities enough about nature, that they can begin to fathom that:
- Nature, Rangelands, Environments etc. cannot be looked at meaningfully in isolation?
- That the whole of our ecosystem is greater than the sum of its parts?
- That we are not dealing with dead physical objects that can be studied at a "model" level?
- That we are dealing with a "living organism" (so to speak) that is in constant state of dynamics?
- That we, as a species were designed to be a part of what we are supposed to be managing?
- That because of the proactive potential in the nature of human beings and because of the ecological downward spiral that we as a species have initiated, the future cannot be predicted with the benefit of hindsight?
One gets the impression not only from the pile of paper produced to date in conjunction with the ORD BONAPARTE PROGRAM, but also from feedback that I have been getting from EPA (Ord II), CSIRO, CALM, AGWEST and Ord Land and Water, that we have very varied and inadequate levels of environmental literacy. I must recommend that any decision makers in the ORD BONAPARTE PROGRAM need to be at least up to date with the fundamental principles of "reading" an environment. I do not hesitate to recommend that our department people should be schooled on these issues at tax-payers' expense. (Holistic Management & Educators Australasia and RCS both offer these basics. They are the only two I know of in Australia, but there may be others...) An initial outlay of funds in this direction may well serve to stretch the balance a whole lot further, while at the same time improving the overall effectiveness, not only of the ORD BONAPARTE PROGRAM, but also of our bureaucracies and ultimately the people that bear the onus of supplying the bacon (i.e. the operators on the ground).
Project specific comment at face value:
2.1 Characterisation and Assessment of Rangeland Resources
- The “Socio-economic characterisation” can be interpreted to equate to a psychoanalysis of the community (past and present).
- “Biophysical characterisation and GIS”: Once we get the basics right, this information could be helpful.
- I feel that any "Biodiversity assessment" needs to be within the context of strictly defined landscape goals or production objectives pertaining to a particular environment. This in my opinion needs to be done in the context of the sustainability of the overall impact/influence of the local community. (Given that: sustainability = a desirable balance of: ecologically sound practices, social acceptability and financial viability and that: biodiversity = a diversity of species + a diversity of genetics and age within each group of the species + the way in which the populations of each species are spread around and the mass or numbers involved.)
"Rangeland monitoring" needs to account for biological activity from soil biota to mega fauna and needs to be of practical relevance, (not just watching what happens). "Condition" of a rangeland in most of the literature produced by the departments (that I have come across so far) to me has more to do with "looks". Is a good looking girl in a disco the same as a healthy girl? "Condition" assessments must allow for "health". (E.g. when I treat an area with a stock density of over 500 head/ha for eight hours the "condition" changes dramatically in that same time frame. The "health" however can deteriorate, remain the same, or improve.) My opinion of the futile pursuit of "baseline data" is expressed above.
Provided we get the basics right, this project could be most beneficial to all involved.
2.2 Understanding and predicting the impacts of land use on rangeland resources and socio-economics
- With reference to the above and not having been given budget figures for this particular project, my guess is that either the attendance of a Holistic Management course or a GfP school for all participants in this project would be a more effective use of public funds.
- Assuming that: sustainability = a desirable balance of: ecologically sound practices, social acceptability and financial viability, the usefulness of "Exploring management and policy options for improved sustainability" can be compared to "Exploring management and policy options for improved pregnancy". In my opinion a practice is either sustainable or not. This does not mean that every action must always be "sustainable". We may find that the road to sustaining civilisation and life on this planet may call for occasional compromise of one of the three components in the interim.
I would like to draw your attention to a recent presentation at a sustainable business conference: “Achieving the Triple Bottom Line—Really” by Allan Savory
Provided we get effective communication between the grass roots and the bureaucracies involved, this project could be modified so as to be beneficial to policy makers and land managers. I do however feel that an interactive learning site as proposed by Kachana Pastoral Company could service such an objective while encompassing most of the aims that you describe.
2.3 Multiple land use options for rangelands of the Ord-Bonaparte region
- This sounds like a very ambitious project and I feel it addresses vital issues that the community at large appears to be ignoring.
- I do however get the impression that the current perspective is one of a "dollar extraction paradigm". I do not have a problem with that, as long as the awareness is there that real wealth hinges on the effective management for and of biodiversity (given that: biodiversity = a diversity of species + a diversity of genetics and age within each group of the species + the way in which the populations of each species are spread around and the mass or numbers involved).
- In our choice of words, I feel we need to distinguish between "land use" and "practices" (= "the application of tools" in the pursuit of whatever objective). Grazing or fire could hardly be considered forms of land use just as getting a massage or lying on the beach could hardly be considered to be "work". Would it not be more meaningful to view "land use" in context with expectations and perceptions (ecological value, current community value perception and financial extraction potential) associated with a set of practices (be they driven by individuals, industry, the community, bureaucracies, multi-nationals or whoever)?
I feel we need to place a sense of urgency in the formulating of landscape goals that enable us to manage all rangeland (not only where extraction occurs) in a manner in which "health" is built and "biodiversity increases". I find it arrogant, if not negligent to assume that just because we (as a society) do not have the financial motivation to manage the country in such a way at the moment, we remain party to the loss of resources at the current rate at the expense of future generations. I believe we must allow for the probability that we do not have a clue what this country is capable of when the four fundamental eco-system processes are functioning at higher levels of effectiveness.
The term "multiple" must by definition remain open ended in the context of land use. Personally I prefer the term "multifunctional" as that implies interdependence and complexity which (as in nature) can lend to stability and synergy whereas "multiple" in my understanding implies a choice of many. The ridiculous permit system of the most recent land act is an expression of this line of thinking.
- Using the word "conservation" in the context of vastly modified or deteriorating environments, is something we need to be more careful about.
- "Regional biodiversity": One gets the impression that "diversity of species” is the only facet of “biodiversity” that rates a mention. These days the word "Biodiversity" is thrown around like the word "sustainability" or the phrase "in seasonally adjusted terms". Without embracing the concept of "health", the word "biodiversity" is meaningless. ("Health" amongst other attributes would have to include the capability of performing with a reasonable level of consistency the tasks required as well as the capacity to show resilience in occasional adverse conditions; simply managing for a diversity of species alone is much like managing a zoo, i.e. catering for a consumer demand based on emotions.)
- I have not seen any figures, so I do not know how much is to be spent on researching "rangeland function". I feel that facet of the project is like flogging a dead horse. It would surprise me if the very basics of "environmental literacy" do not cover that quite adequately.
Provided we get the basics right, this project would have to be the most promising of the three I’ve seen, as it deals more with the people side of things.
I certainly agree with Mr Geoff Warriner that time invested with the actual land managers (preferably in the paddock) is the way to go.