GRASSROOTS INPUT TO ENVIRONMENTAL DEBATES
Smoke signals emanating from the bush
This is taken from correspondence with a senior person of CALM: May 2002:
Disclaimer: 'Communicating' is still not one of my strong points, so please accept this rather lengthy open and honest statement in the spirit in which it is intended: To improve relationships between those working at the grass-roots, and those working behind desks at administrative and political leadership levels. It is another attempt to bring focus to our common need to effectively address Australia's energy crisis.
(This dialogue began with what seems to have been a misunderstanding on my part: I incorrectly suspected CALM of hindering research on Kachana. I stand corrected and I apologise to CALM and in particular to the individual involved. I now hope the incident will help contribute to more desirable outcomes. I use this opportunity to hopefully enhance a local debate that in its importance outranks personal egos and retirement plans, inter & intra department frictions, or party politics and the interests of minority groups.
As long as we embrace democracy, any issue regarding the management of natural resources or the expenditure of taxpayer earnings are "public property", therefore the debate of such issues needs to be inclusive rather than exclusive.
To avoid distraction I have omitted some names. Much of this is taken from a letter directed to a particular senior person in CALM. It could however be directed at many other individuals in similar positions.
From that letter:
...judging by the feed-back which was/is very slow in coming forth, you were not the only one who "misinterpreted" Allan Savory's message (root cause of current desertification, the reversal of desertification, soil-building, enhancing rainfall effectiveness, managing our resources holistically and empowering the people who directly depend on them do get on with the job, and a whole lot more in too short a time frame....). The event in May 2001 was staged at great expense to private individuals. http://www.abc.net.au/landline/stories/s308791.htm; find the report here.
It is crucial therefore that the people who account for the placement and expenditure of our tax earnings not be "similarly misguided". I thank you therefore again for the clarification in your previous e-mail and see this as an opportunity for further clarification of issues/views/stances.
I thank anybody who forwards this to others who attended the El Questro Forum May 2001 or to those who make time to look at the bigger picture.
With reference to previous correspondence, Kachana Pastoral Company input at the Pastoral Industry Forum in Carnarvon WA and Kachana Pastoral Company input to the Water & Rivers Commission, herewith the back-drop to the challenges we face in the Kimberley as I see it:
- We live on a planet where over six billion humans are in effect isolated from many ecological realities in their day to day decision making.
- Nations setting the pace seem to favour a materialistic (predominantly western) mindset. An opportunistic mindset that evolved over centuries in "non brittle" environments (environments where "nature" was capable of compensating for negligent human activity in a relatively short period of time.. a season to perhaps a few decades at worst); A mindset that was ultimately moulded by technological success at the expense of those impacted by colonial expansion. Now under the (often well meant) guise of "globalisation", humans attempt to consolidate this "success" by attempting to override natural law with politically correct legislation and trade agreements.
- Financial debt (by consumers and businesses) and wishful thinking now prop up an escalation of commercial activity. This "growth in GDP" is being fuelled by the demand and consumption of things not required for biological survival. (This is the process that power brokers, with the assistance of our elected leaders and public servants, currently attempt to convert to "sustainable development" at tax-payer expense. I do not think that Australia is an exception. Pardon the cynicism, but I have been in a position to watch development in Australia for over twenty years.)
- In addition to the recognised accrual of financial debt we have the accrual of hidden costs. In the human tradition of 'environmental opportunism' these costs were born in the short-term (socially) by those dispossessed/displaced and in the long-term (ecologically) by Mother Nature (this seemed to work while reserves lasted or were being replenished at an adequate rate)...
The net result of these and other related trends are summarised/substantiated far better by the likes of Paul Hawken ("The Ecology of Commerce" ISBN 0-88730-704-3) or Dr David Suzuki ("Good News for a Change" ISBN 1-86508-579-0).
By the beginning of the new millennium it had become patently obvious to the observant lay person that issues like global-climate and landscape management (biomass burning, water management, carbon sequestering, etc.) transcend regional or national boundaries. Some of us have personally experienced that in many cases human migration simply foreshadows refuge seeking by displaced persons. Tim Flannery (coming from a largely 'finite biological resource-base' paradigm) formulates a powerful argument why Aboriginal Australia 200 years ago could not sustain the political and life-style refugees that have since arrived on these shores. Allan Savory (coming from a 'renewable biological resource-base' paradigm) presents an even more powerful and very practical argument why modern humans, where-ever they went on this planet, triggered off unprecedented 'change', resulting over time in vastly modified environments. Archaeological findings even seem to indicate that we may not be the first human population of the Kimberley to be faced with diminished yield of our resource-base. Empirical evidence that I have observed over the last 17 years would seem to suggest the same.
When I placed my bets over fifteen years ago, it was done so on strength of results that I had witnessed on other parts of the planet and the belief that sunshine, soil and water are the three building blocks of agricultural productivity. History teaches us that any and every sustainable human economy that is to include commerce rests on agriculture. I distinguish between finance, commerce and economics. When agriculture fails civilisation fails.
If we focus on the actual message of Allan Savory (rather than on his style of communicating and/or his personal philosophy) many of us who are actually putting to the test at practical levels the process of decision-making that he advocates, find that our management is greatly assisted. I do not claim that this process offers us perfect vision. Holistic Management (R) is however a quantum leap ahead of anything else I have come across to date in relation to management situations where differing views arise and apparent conflicts of interest would otherwise result in endless waffle or waste of public and private funds. (But this has more to do with emotional and psychological domains where I am out of my depth. I am also out of touch with where Human Resource Gurus are up to.)
I therefore wish to emphasise that whilst I both acknowledge and support the above, Allan Savory's most spectacular break-through in my eyes occurred at the environmental literacy level many years ago:
- putting into a workable land-management context four "key insights" (pages 13 - 49 in his new book or pages 23 to 52 in the old one):
- Importance of the holistic perspective/approach (a concept that is embraced in the wisdom of many cultures, but one that could not hold the lime light when the acclamation of technological success began to deafen science in recent centuries);
- The concept of "brittleness" (this may be a paradigm that one day may lose relevance, but at the moment it is proving to be very useful in land management situations all over the world);
- Predator-prey relationships in the evolution and maintenance of grassland communities (both scientific and empirical proof abounds on other continents and we appear to be collecting a little here in Australia:
- “Over-grazing” has little to do with actual animal numbers, but everything to do with how herbivores behave in ecologically dysfunctional situations. (Scientific and empirical proof abound on all continents.)
- A simple way to relate to what is taking place in any environment based on subjectively interpreting four fundamental eco-system processes. This process enables anybody who is moderately environmentally literate to begin "reading" what is taking place in an environment on a day to day basis, it does not require PhDs or any great deal of knowledge, it simply requires training and practice to improve the skill.
More than that Allan Savory despite of (because of ???) all the controversy that surrounds him has been ( and still seems to be) a catalyst for positive change at grass-roots levels.
But how do we scientifically evaluate all of this? I do not know. What I do know is that it makes good sense to scientifically evaluate one particular thesis of Holistic Management ®:
Can the manipulation of the three 'building blocks' (mentioned earlier) if managed holistically compensate for loss/lack of "inherent" soil-fertility (loss/lack of "desirable minerals and nutrients")?
Is this the stumbling block for those engaged in the "range profession"? I do not know.
Did animals on their own do a better job of looking after the planet before "Homo-Sapiens" interfered?
Do we have so much faith in our achievements as a species over the last two hundred years that we need not explore how nature might have maintained a balance that supported much higher levels of biodiversity? What we learn of greater species diversity and population numbers of large organisms that existed until very recent times now sounds more like science fiction.
Looking at the booklet “WHAT IS HEALTHY COUNTRY?” one could be forgiven for thinking that key points about “health” have either been missed or are not adequately understood. (I never did get a response to my input...)
Even if we were to disbelieve those who claim that this region supported forest before the first humans arrived, why is it that we now find desertifying environments in a 700 mm (or higher) rainfall region? If the answer is "higher annual evaporation rates than annual precipitation", why are we witnessing an increase in biodiversity and changing micro-climates in areas that we manage for more effective use of available water and sunshine?
Just like I do not like my chances of learning much about 'behaviour' from a comatose body, I suspect we learn more about 'landscapes' by study with reference to the naturally proscribed functions than we do by thorough investigation of dysfunctional situations. The practical approach we have adopted has delivered results that each year surpassed my expectations. I am thankful for the support of individuals within the Ag department who assisted by documenting the visual change in early years. However as we learn that landscape "health" is not a function of landscape "condition" but that the opposite is true, so, as of about 1997 photo-monitoring has lost a lot of its relevance in our situation. Whereas I have little doubt that "range condition" may continue to be a useful tool to gauge the suitability for specific industry purposes, this sort of data is inadequate in ascertaining scientifically sound analysis of prevailing trends.
For over two years now Kachana Pastoral Company has been pushing for biological monitoring to be conducted in order to scientifically evaluate trends we witness in country subjected to the management of fundamentally differing interest groups:
- Country managed by CALM,
- Country managed to serve the desires of aboriginal interest groups,
- Country managed to serve the demands of the pastoral industry,
- Country managed to produce export crops and
- Country that is being "left to nature". (I view the latter to be an abdication of management responsibility of environments which over time had become addicted to human input; A crime of environmental vandalism that equates to walking away from the scene of an accident; only on a much larger scale.)
Despite PGA backing, these requests were ignored to the extent that nobody even as much as inquired about what a pastoral tenant may mean by the term "biological monitoring". May 2001, at great expense to our operation and with the help of other private support we helped arrange for Allan Savory (an internationally accepted authority on eco-system function) to address locals. To my knowledge our report was not even printed in the Department of Agriculture WA (Pastoral and Ag) Memos. Apart from comments on Landline ABC-TV ( http://www.abc.net.au/landline/stories/s308791.htm ) department personnel present did not come up with a report even though there was at least one formal request that I know of.
Kachana Pastoral Company is successfully using "introduced species" (also known to some as "exotic plants and animals" and more recently as "environmental weeds and feral animals") to stabilise creek-banks and to reduce loss of soil
Some plants we use originate from a local Ag Dept research station, others were to our knowledge bread by the CSIRO to withstand Northern Australian conditions and others were introduced to Australia when local species failed to yield to the demand of primary production. Now these plants seem to do much more than we had originally hoped for: they capture more energy than the locals, they bring up nutrients while building biomass in the soil and they provide seeds to feed local bird and insect populations. We now produce vegetation faster than we can grow out our herd, and from what we can judge local herbivores are on the increase as are bird, reptile, insect and other populations obvious to the eye.
We cannot expect our senior department people to swing their opinions with the ideas of each itinerant "snake oil salesman". But if so "...much (of what Allan Savory advocates) flies in the face of conventional rangeland wisdom ..." and land managers all over the world including myself claim that the "snake oil" works why are there no funds being directed to scientifically analyse this "snake oil" in local situations? Let us attempt to at least find out why it actually seems to work better than recommended conventional remedies and practices advocated by our departments.
It is in this setting that we encourage scientifically sound third party research into our results. This invitation was originally extended to CALM and AGWEST long before you arrived in the area. Unfortunately due to fiscal restraint the offer has not yet been taken up. Both agencies have however been very supportive in other areas at times and now thanks to the assistance of Kimberley Specialists we have students from over four different universities looking at conducting independent (but coordinated) research. (Until you informed me I was not aware of CALM's support in this; so THANKS again!) This is a move that we really welcome as it will not only help to keep us "honest", but it will give us sound management information to assist future decision making.
We must not forget that while we express and continue to debate differing opinions, our resources continue to decline and the lively hood of future generations is at stake. This is hardly a matter of perceptions. There are more things at stake than individual comfort zones, careers and current business opportunities. (Recent flooding may have helped bring this message home
I still feel our generation has the choice to either compound the effects of ignorant mismanagement of the past (which was largely performed in innocence) or to choose to contribute to searching for more acceptable outcomes.
I thank you for your supportive stance in this matter. May I use this opportunity to request you and any others that may have read this to assist us in promoting our "Landscape Management Workshop" early September each year? We will be visiting 15 photo-monitoring sites that were installed with the assistance of the Ag Department end of the dry season 1992.
To better reference local trends in future we also intend to commence "soil-foodweb" monitoring this year in conjunction with Uni-Student Projects (www.soilfoodweb.com). Any support in this will be appreciated. On this note we recommend to people in this region to attend Dr Elaine Ingham's course which is planned to take place in Kununurra 21st and/or 22nd August 2002.
In conclusion I wish to quote the Kimberley regional head of the Ag Department on ABC-TV this time last year: "... There's a lot of risk associated with going on some paths but most importantly you've got to understand if we do get it wrong the effects are going to take an awfully long time to heal and that's my concern...”
Is it possible that we did get it wrong? Is it possible that we still are getting it wrong?
I believe we are as wrong in Australia today as we were in Rhodesia 100 years ago when we began to "civilise" Southern Africa. I am seeing on the ground and from the air all the same signs I saw in Rhodesia 35 years ago.
The unfortunate political reality seems to be that elected representatives do not last long enough these days to be able to satisfactorily address these issues even if they were to take the time to become environmentally literate. It is you people with access to technology & science and us guys with direct access to the latest information (that our environments supply us with on a day to day basis) who need to communicate more effectively. This is however not done by dragging us into the office or to meetings at our personal expense.
While improving satellite technology may have its place in evaluating big picture trends, motivated, active and innovative landcare can only take place at the grass-roots. Producing effective stewards of our resources is every bit as challenging as encouraging functional earthworm and dung beetle populations
I look forward to seeing a few more scientists and department people back out in the field over coming years and to more effective communication and better results.
Have a good day.
PLEASE FIND BELOW POINTS I RESPONDED TO. CERTAIN PORTIONS HAVE BEEN OMITTED TO SAFEGUARD INDIVIDUAL PRIVACY.
Sent: Friday, April 26, 2002 2:50 PM
Subject: RE: INVITATION TO OUR LANDSCAPE MANAGEMENT WORKSHOP
Where do I stand? I assume you are referring to comments I made to ........
1. I support anyone who has conservation of natural resources at heart (rather than as lip service) and particularly anyone who seeks to improve the way we use and manage them. Thus, I have the highest regard for your (KPC's) aims and objectives. Moreover, the way you and your family dedicate your lives to "putting your money where your mouth is" sets an example that few of us live up to. So, NO I don’t have a problem with what you are trying to achieve. I respect it!
2. ........ No I don't have a personality issue with ........ I respect ..... passion for ..... area of interest and ..... efforts to attract (with others) research into the area. As you may know, I have done my best to play a part by providing logistical and practical support to several of the ....... students, loaning my vehicle, equipment etc and providing advice on methodology identifying specimens (including aspects of .......'s study on Kachana). However, in response to a suggestion .....made, I told ...... that, given the core business and responsibilities of my employer, CALM, and the specific nature of the work that I am funded to do, it is impractical and inappropriate for me to work on grazing management at Kachana. (That is not to say that I am disinterested in grazing management. I believe in integrated public and private NRM in the Kimberley and I put a lot of effort into communicating with and understanding the perspectives of pastoral managers etc.)
3. Allan. I concur with his holistic management principles (although many people make management decisions in that way in all sorts of family, community and business contexts without using the term holistic management to describe it). However, I do not subscribe to the wholesale applicability of his grazing management theories in those parts of arid and semi-arid Western Australia that I am familiar with and, in particular, I was concerned by the way in which (I understood him) to promote his grazing management theory as if it were a natural corollary of holistic management principles. I can see no obligate link. If I misinterpreted that message, many other people have been similarly misguided. In my opinion, there were fundamental flaws to his explanation of excessive rest for the erosion of the peaty valley soil and the state of the ridge-top where we awaited the chopper on Kachana. I said so at the time and I have said so since. Moreover I have seen the devastating consequences of overgrazing in Africa and Australia
4. Despite saying all that, I keep an open mind and I am always prepared to admit that I have been wrong. Above all, I welcome experimental testing of hypotheses so that we can all reach conclusions on the basis of fact rather than theory. Thus I respect and welcome your approach. I want to see your work continue and I look forward very much to the outcome.
We are all concerned about the same things. To "do it better", we need to objectively explore options, observe outcomes and adopt the ones that work. Like you, I want to "keep things positive, open and honest whilst dealing at a professional level." Constructive debate is part of that process and I look forward to improved knowledge on which we can found such debate and achieve win-win outcomes. Your work and your forums are important contributions to both.
I trust that you now know where I stand.
Department of Conservation and Land Management
& Tropical Savannas Management CRC