GRASSROOTS INPUT TO ENVIRONMENTAL DEBATES
Grass roots input to Pastoral Industry Forum, Carnarvon May 2002
BACKGROUND: Since 1985 we have gathered a reasonable amount of local knowledge in the water catchments of the following river systems: Dunham, Wilson, Pentecost, King, Chamberlain, Salmond, Durack, Hann and Train. Our lease was granted at a time when the state of health of Kachana could not sustainably support beef-export.
1992 we requested the Ag Department to perform a “rangeland stock-take”. This was prior to commencement of our on the ground management. Monitoring of the effects of our management is ongoing. Several university projects are in the pipeline to scientifically evaluate existing results.
We are happy with our progress in the rebuilding of biological foundations. We do not yet export beef. At this stage of development we use animals to revitalise the landscapes and to reduce erosion and the effects of wild-fire.
Ten years of holistically orientated management and associated monitoring have served to highlight a few things:
- These now prevalently "brittle" areas have seen a continued decline in health in unmanaged or underutilised areas.
- Despite a run of high rainfall years, bare ground at a soil-surface level is on the increase in many areas. This trend is made visible by the sanding up of pools in rivers, the appearance of sand dunes in some areas and increased run-off and flooding. (Country that was well grassed up and had good litter distribution on the surface responded very differently during recent high-rainfall events.)
- Much existing legislation and departmental activity in the region merely pays lip service to the issue of land-health and managers seem to be subjected to an escalation of bureaucratic restrictions.
- Political correctness, fundamentally flawed legislation and fear for job security do little to give incentive for innovation. Rather this makes for an environment where opinions are often withheld.
- The implications of current "Native Title" legislation dampen investor confidence.
- Government debt and taxpayer earnings fund a socially and ecologically irresponsible situation.
- A rise in beef prices in recent times leave scope for optimism.
- If our community and its political leaders wake up to the fact that natural law cannot be overruled by bureaucratic legislation and that those on the land are best positioned to look after the land then we could more effectively tackle a whole range of important challenges.
THE STATUS QUO: WE ANNUALLY EXPEND MORE ENERGY THAN WE EARN
As a Nation: biomass exhaustion into the atmosphere, the erosion of remaining biodiversity, nutrient exports and local consumption (probably in that order) account for an unsustainable situation that only effective landscape management could bring under control. The Kimberley is no exception in this issue that goes beyond the commercial or financial viability of current pastoral enterprises.
“Political Correctness” and a lack of environmental literacy at leadership levels currently prevent an accurate analysis. Environmental literacy has to do with being able to "read", from an eco-system function point of view, what is going on in an environment on a day to day basis. (Being environmentally knowledgeable has little to do with being environmentally literate.) Primary producers, through no fault of their own, now find themselves faced with unprecedented challenges.
We could go a long way if we were to distinguish between “primary production” (and other forms of land-use) and actual “landscape management”. Only the latter could ensure effective increases in our annual capture and retention of solar energy at the rate required to sway the balance in the current equation. The vital knowledge required to do this is limited, but it is available.
We focus on the landscape level because, not only are healthy landscapes required to sustain industry and commerce; healthy landscapes also ensure fresh air, clean water, recreation, conservation and all the other values we may associate with “quality of life”.
Land managers should not find themselves placed in a predicament of escalating bureaucracy, legislative hurdles and fiscal constraint while attempting to address the issue of learning how to nurture our landscapes back to health and higher productivity.
When looking at those responsible for the management of our Nation’s resources, I am hesitant to lay any blame at personal levels. We all feel trapped by a system that is programmed to polarise:
Members working in the public sector get penalised for “wrong decisions”
They do not get called to accountability for “lack of decisions”. They are encouraged to research details. However their rewards bear little relationship to the results they achieve.
- Members in the private sector very often find innovation too costly or emotionally draining. They get eliminated if they make “no decisions”, but they get financial reward for politically correct extraction.
It may help if we heed the wisdom of wildlife scientist and internationally recognised authority on eco-system function, Allan Savory: “Poor land inevitably leads to poverty, social breakdown, rising flood, drought, invasion by noxious plants, mounting blaming, victimisation and eventually rising conflict, genocide and war till civilisations fall as history has repeatedly taught us.”
Given the success stories around Australia and other parts of the planet, land managers need real incentives to experiment, to further their learning, to become innovative and to compare notes with each other. They should not be expected to reinvent the wheel all on their own. Nor should they be expected to fund out of their own pocket such a service to the whole Nation. These costs include expenses in learning, training, travel and down-time for the attendance of meetings, conferences, seminars and field-days.
The value of practical knowledge and experience needs to be recognised as being equal to (or in some cases even higher than) unproven academic wisdom, and honoured accordingly. Scientists and departmental staff need to help evaluate existing desirable results. Lest we wish to repeat the history of past civilisations, knowledge gained from these results then needs to be implemented successfully at landscape levels.
Good governance would assist such implementation rather than hinder it with red tape. We strongly encourage those individuals who wield power to evaluate how much of their feed back is actually related to what is happening on the ground (eco-system function and natural laws and principles) and how much of it is academic trivia designed by bureaucracy, industry pressures and lobby groups. We urge those in a position to influence policy and legislation to take serious their responsibility as citizens and to ensure that current and future legislation is not based on flawed ecological understanding. We recommend to the socially responsible citizen to read Dr David Suzuki's latest book “Good news for a change”.
We Australians are confronted with a national dilemma in the shape of an energy crisis: As a Nation we annually expend more energy than we earn. Scientific analysis indicates that this process originated when the first humans arrived on this continent many thousands of years ago.
The media has an increasingly vital and exciting role to play in the process of alerting the public and our leaders to the importance of environmental literacy.
Our leaders, scientists and bureaucrats have the challenge of setting holistically sound guide lines and then to conceive and put in place effective monitoring mechanisms.
Those on the ground should be empowered to get on with the job of rebuilding Australia's biological production base without operational interference.
We all have a vested interest in the health of our landscapes.