The First Kachana Landscape Management Workshop 2002
04th, 05th and 06th September
written by Patrick von Däniken (), student in forest sciences at the “Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich” (http://www.ethz.ch) and conducting his three month practical stage on Kachana.
This report is a summary of topics discussed at the “First Annual Kachana Landscape Workshop”. The texts in inverted commas are direct quotes of participants. I do not report chronologically since some topics came up several times during the workshop and I wanted to keep them together. The different topics are listed below in an alphabetical order. Since my mother tongue is not English, I sometimes had problems following the discussions and it's possible that I sometimes misunderstood quotes. I therefore apologize for anything that I’ve written in a wrong sense and I am open to any additions, corrections or questions to this report.
1st Annual Kachana Landscape Workshop
The climate in the workshop group was very good. A lot of different characters with different ideas participated. The group worked very well together and everyone’s word was accepted. The discussions were very constructive. Everyone enjoyed the three days as a very good insight and detailed observation to the work that is done on Kachana by the Kachana Pastoral Company and Kimberley Specialists, who combined help and involvement where needed by them.
“Thank you for the ten years of hard work that we can celebrate now.”
A Central European View
(more: speech held by Patrick von Däniken)
“It is very important that we begin to look at the environmental systems as a whole. We do not have to look for problems, there are too many, we have to find solutions. These solutions will only be found if we start to search for them together. It doesn’t bring us further to point out all the mistakes our neighbour does; we have to do the job on our side as good as possible.”
(more: Soil talk held by Kester Baines)
“There are benefits in modern industrial agriculture, but at what costs and with what consequences? Costs can be wind erosion, water erosion, deforestation, salinity, desertification, loss of biodiversity, decline and loss of soil structure and living soil organisms, compaction by heavy machinery, contamination of food, mechanisation, shrinking of gene pool, allergic reactions on genetically modified food, polluting the air, etc.”
“Can we produce all of our food organically on a global scale?”
Human beings make most decisions in their own self-interest. Often this happens at the expense of nature.
In an ecosystem, we have producers, consumers and reducers. The producers are green plants. They build up organic matter using solar energy, minerals and water. The consumers cannot use the solar energy themselves. They feed on plants, or on other consumers. The reducers live off dead plants, dead animals or excrements. They help to bring the matter back to a stage, which green plants can use again as a supply.
Edge Effect with mosaic grazing
The edge effect is very important to favour biodiversity in any environment. With a lot of different environments, the diversity is higher.
Chris uses “mosaic grazing” on Kachana to help create edge effect at a macro environmental level (high animal densities can be used create high levels of edge effect at a micro environmental level). Chris can work with his cattle as a management tool in different densities to get many different effects on different patches. Like that, many different stages of the succession can occur at the same time and species can remain in their niches without becoming extinct.
“We have to show our children, what we’ve learnt to extend their horizon.”
“I need to convince myself to be able to pass on the message and to teach others.”
But: “How can I be convinced if something has never existed for me?”
“Teachers don’t teach enough environmental facts in towns. They do have little idea of natural processes.” Field weeks and excursions should be a main part of education.
“Educate the adults first, then the children.”
“Let the kids get out in the land to explore their natural environments. It’s an opportunity to bring out students and children to learn.”
“Teach our children and grandchildren to do as we’ve learnt it.”
“Let’s find effective ways to educate younger people of this world to carry it forward.”
Environmental Literacy is: “The ability to read what is going on in a particular environment in an ecological context, rather than from a human or personal perspective.”
“Let’s explore and observe our environments. We have to watch what is happening. Like that we are able to understand things better.”
“What is the land showing us?”
Many Australians react very sensitively to the term “exotic species”. However since the whole continent of Australia is separated from the rest of the world on an island, this reaction is quite comprehensible. We can even understand this reaction better, if we look at species that once have been brought to Australia and reproduced themselves like weeds and displaced or perhaps even replaced a lot of Australia’s native fauna and flora.
Nevertheless, introducing exotic species can be a very helpful tool, too. As long as we are aware of what we are doing and the effects downstream are being observed, exotic species can be a very good aid to rebuild soil or to stabilize degraded landscapes.
Back in 1992, Chris introduced some vigorous pasture-species with the help of the Agriculture Department. Now the Agriculture Department has changed its policy about exotic species. Some of them are now considered to be weeds. In Chris’ case, he is lucky, that some of the plants were actually donated by the Agriculture Department. So the Agriculture Department is now in a position where it needs to observe what happens with the spread of these exotic species.
“It would be an interesting project for the Agriculture Department to support a monitoring on the species that were brought in with their help.”
“The difference between native and exotic species is time.”
“Land management should be concerned about introduced species unpredictable consequences downstream (there are a lot of unknown factors).”
Wild cattle have a tendency to create overgrazing, therefor Chris excludes them from the model areas. (When he moves his cattle through Kachana, he creates a lot of areas, where green grass grows with the first rainfall. This green grass is often grazed by wild cattle what occurs in overgrazing, because the wild cattle often linger in places like that.)
Once it's feasible Chris will bring the wild cattle into his herd. Wild cows and calves are easier to get into the herd, you just need enough helpers. There is a problem with bringing in wild bulls. With a wild bull you got the option, whether the herd accepts him as a leader bull or you can castrate him, so he is a very good worker as an ox or you shoot him and make use of his meat.
Donkeys were brought in from Asia. Nowadays they are looked at as a plague because they reproduce themselves very quickly and like that they graze the areas of big pastoral companies. These wild donkeys trim all the new grass, as soon as it shoots out of the soil after the first rainfall. Like that this grass doesn’t get a rest and single species could get extinct. The government shoots wild donkeys because of these reasons.
“To shoot or not to shoot wild donkeys?” (2002 Donkey Issue.pdf)
Food for Thought
Speech held by Kester Baines
(more: Health talk held by Kester Baines)
“We all want a healthy system.”
“We want healthy landscapes, healthy animals and healthy humans.”
“Making decisions you always have to ask yourself three questions: What does it take, what does it make and what does it waste.”
“Everyone is linked to the land and the health of the land. Make land productive and healthy to sustain future children. Make that land a better place for our children.”
“Nature is not about mass-production.”
Holistic Management and Holistic Decision Making
The project Kachana is an attempt to put the “Holistic Management” process into practise.
The principles of holistic decision making and holistic goals should be reinforced and compared to the purpose of life.
Allan Savory used to be a wildlife biologist, farmer and politician. In the year 1984 he co-founded the centre for Holistic Management in Albuquerque, New Mexiko with his wife, Jody Butterfield, a former journalist specializing in agriculture and the environment.
“Allan Savory has developed a revolutionary new approach to decision-making and management. Holistic Management considers humans, their economies, and the environment as inseparable. At the heart of the approach lies a simple testing process that enables people to make decisions that simultaneously consider financial, social, and environmental realities, both short- and long-term. His Book “Holistic Management” is an essential handbook for anyone involved with land management and stewardship and a valuable guide for all those seeking to make better decisions within their businesses, communitites, or in any aspect of their personal lives.” (Short description on the back of the book: Holistic Management: A New Framework for Decision Making, Allan Savory with Jody Butterfield, Island Press, 1999, ISBN 1-55963-487-1 (cloth), ISBN 1-55963-488-X (paper))
Quotes out of the preface of the book “Holistic Management” by Allan Savory:
“Even in the wildest areas the land was deteriorating, in fact turning to desert, rendering it ever less able to support life of any kind. I was determined to find a way to reverse this process.”
“What I learned from my experiences was that the remorseless spread of deserts and the human impoverishment that always resulted were related to management, but more fundamentally to the way people were making management decisions, whether or not those people lived or worked on the land.”
“The greatest strength of the new decision-making framework is that it leads us to see that we serve our own interests best when we account for the environmental, as well as the social and financial, consequences of our decisions.”
“Although our fate as a civilisation is tied to the land and its health, and although millions of ordinary people in making their living from the land control that fate to a large degree, unless these people have the support of the hundreds of millions of others who depend on their efforts, they cannot succeed.”
“Interest Group Liberalism”
(more: speech held by Patrick von Däniken)
“It is very important, to have a holistic approach. However, the most difficult thing is how to put it into action. We are situated at a stage of the “interest group liberalism”, in which the aim is to find a compromise. Like that, we are content as soon as a compromise has been found, no matter whether the solution contributes to solving the former problem. This “interest group liberalism” distinguishes itself, that everyone talks about words like process, stakeholder, participation, working in groups, etc. But at the same time the view for problems gets out of sight. For real turnarounds, we need something like leadership. Unfortunately, we do not have leadership in all processes, that’s where we have to think about a change in management. And that of course has a lot to do with learning capability.”
“Looking at Kachana, I can see that Chris has a good working management and he took the leadership to get Kachana back to a healthier environment than it used to be…”
“We have a good eloquent Rhodesian Swiss cattle herder talking the English language.”
“Looking at the project Kachana shows us, that we can reach, what we want. The results encourage keep at it.”
“Changes have happened in the landscapes on Kachana and I really respect the work that has been done. It is important to support people that manage land.”
“It is very important to be fair minded and to look at things other people do.”
“Where are the pastoralists to come here and listen?”
“There are compromises to do a job in the ticking time.”
“I like to come out here and encourage myself. I want to show people what happens in the land management. It is an educational message that should be passed on to overseas tourists.”
“I enjoyed three days holiday out bush. In Kununurra I don’t see what is happening out here!”
“People are scared by the huge tasks out here; it’s easier to put it away, than to observe it!”
“A challenge is to understand what resources are capable of and how to get resources to a higher level of productivity.”
“To be able to recognize that principles we’ve seen can be applied in a lot of other situations (draw parallels).”
“Stop and assemble different perspectives (not only rangelands).”
“It takes someone to drive it with consistence.”
“How do we spread awareness amongst the wider community?”
“3rd parties do have to do the advertisement.”
Do what you can
where you are
with what you’ve got
(more: Health talk held by Kester Baines)
Kester Baines has a speech about the history of diseases, medicaments and toxics. He tells all the stories about the big inventions in medicine (e.g. Penicillin). It’s very interesting to see parallels between an unhealthy body and an unhealthy soil.
About classical medicine he says: “They know a lot about diseases, but they don’t know much about health.” Two of his main principles are: “First of all: Don’t do any harm,” and “one size doesn’t fit all”.
“In Conventional Medicine they often prescribe drugs that can have quite a lot of consequences on the body - wanted and unwanted consequences!”
“Homeopathy has an approach to look at diseases more holistically. Not only are the symptoms of diseases treated, but the roots of the illnesses are looked at, too.”
A slope is divided in three parts. One part Chris manages intensively with cattle and he keeps out the fire. On the second part, he also keeps out the fire, but only manages it extensively with cattle and will eventually exclude the use of livestock. The third part is only managed with fire; he doesn’t do anything with the cattle there.
This project is a very good opportunity for academics and governmental people to get involved with monitoring and funding. Like that the different management tools can be compared, which is very interesting for everyone involved.
Monitoring is a good tool to find out, where we are heading and where we are going compared to some years ago?
Photo Monitoring is one part but there are also other monitoring-possibilities that would result in data over several years, which could be compared to each other.
Chris Henggeler with the assistance of the Agriculture Department started photo monitoring on Kachana back in 1992. They picked fifteen monitoring sites, from which they took a photo every year. Like that we can compare the taken photos and see the changes, which have occurred. At each monitoring site we asked ten questions to get people to take a closer look at what was actually going on. These questions were:
- Is the water cycle improving? (Y/N)
- Is the mineral cycle improving? (Y/N)
- Is more energy entering the equation? (Y/N)
- a) Is community dynamics improving visibly? (Y/N)
b) Is community dynamics improving in the soils? (Y/N)
- Are we building soil? (Y/N)
- Are we losing soil? (Y/N)
- Is there a net loss of soil? (Y/N)
- Do we have a problem? (Y/N)
- Is there a problem affecting this area off site? (Y/N)
- Which of the four fundamental eco-system processes should we address first? (1,2,3 or 4)
For the four fundamental eco-system processes see also: http://www.holisticmanagement.org/ahm_four.cfm
These questions allow us to start looking deeper at the things from different perspectives. The answers to these questions are not so important, because there is no right or wrong. These questions help us to find out, whether we understand the problems or not. And they help to start the discussions. Especially on the photo-monitoring-sites, where Chris has records dating back ten years we can ask these questions and compare what we see now to ten years ago.
All in all it is impressive, what has happened in the last ten years. On most of the monitoring sites huge visible changes have happened. Where there were red or grey capped patches ten years ago, we can observe a lot of different grasses, other plants and soil formation.
Brian Marshall demonstrated and explained the biological monitoring advocated by the “Holistic Management” movement (http://www.holisticmanagement.com/ahm_bio.cfm). On a yearly basis they record specific soil and surface information. Data from different years can be compared.
A monitoring that looks at perennial grasses instead of annual grasses is already quite a good indicator. But for better and more comprehensive results, we also have to observe, what is happening in the soils!
It is an opportunity to do monitoring on a yearly basis with external helpers. More data would be available with a biological monitoring (http://www.holisticmanagement.com/ahm_bio.cfm) or with “Soil Foodweb – Analysis” (http://www.soilfoodweb.com/phpweb). Chris advocates both so that we learn to better understand above ground indicators.
Practitioners and Theorists
Students and theorists have to get practical experience as well as conducting research assignments all over the world. Like that they get an insight to the work, that is done and they get to see problems from the practical point of view. The idea of this is to stop academics from rocketing off with irrelevant theoretical theories and to equip graduates with some understanding of practical realities and challenges.
We not only have to think across different factions but also work close together with the people working in the field. Like that we are able to create a network between practitioners and theorists. Students and theorists can begin to study issues that really have to be solved and help the practitioners to have their work done easier instead of putting them new rocks into their way. On the other hand the practitioners can communicate, what problems occur in their work to be solved and have some of their solutions analyzed.
There are already programs that combine forestry and agriculture together. We call the new areas “Forest-Pastures”. On these areas there are cattle moving on pastures with trees on it. Like that farmers can produce milk or meat with cattle and at the same time the trees can be used for wood production. As long as the production happens in a sustainable way we can rebuild multifunctional stable soils and help to recover landscapes.
The little rainforest-patch on Kachana is very fascinating. It is like an island in a sea of savannah woodland and only about four hectares big. This little forest doesn’t probably conform to the popular image of vast, lush, tropical forests, but it has a quite closed canopy and many of the plants in it are rainforest species which cannot survive the fire regimes of the surrounding savannah woodland. We can hear a lot of birds in that forest and there are a lot of animal excrements on the floor. Unfortunately there are not a lot of rainforests left in the Kimberley and if the fire isn’t held out of these patches, they will soon be gone, too.
Unlike the highly visible birds and plants, some of the most interesting inhabitants are hard to find, particularly in the dry because they retreat underground. These are earthworms and land snails. Many are unable to move between patches, many of which have their own endemic species.
Savanna Woodlands / Rangelands
Savanna woodlands (also called Rangelands) cover much of Kachana and of the whole Kimberley. Many well-known animals of the region like cockatoos, lorikeets, bustards, agile wallabies, large goannas and frill-necked lizards find their habitats here. Eucalypts, including many bloodwoods usually dominate the tree stratum but there are many other tree and tall shrub genera including Acacia, Terminalia, gardenia, Erythrophleum, Planchona gyrocarpus, Brachychiton and Melaleuca. Two notable species are the boab (Adansonia gregorii), which is endemic to the Kimberley and the adjacent VRD in the Northern Territory and the cypress pine (Callitris intratropica) which is the only indigenous conifer in the region.
The understory is dominated by grasses but the species and life-forms vary from site to site. Hummock grasses including Spinifex (Triodia sp.) grow in the harshest environments like rocky hillsides and arid sandy soils. Perennial tussock grasses, though still common and widespread on better soils, have been replaced at many sites by annual grasses as a consequence of heavy grazing and changed fire regimes. This may be one reason that some granivorous birds, especially finches, have declined generally. However, the irrigated agricultural landscape around Kununurra (in particular for sugarcane production) promotes the rank grasses needed by star finchs for breeding and is now one of the bird's most important strongholds in the tropical savannas.
The speed of deterioration in these Savanna Woodlands is an eye-opener; it creates a sense of urgency. We learnt that areas are getting worse quicker than we thought, so what can we do about it?
We should take care of these Savanna Woodlands and we can think about whether it is possible to take them on a higher level of productivity.
Rangeland Management Tools
“There are 420'000 km2 in The Kimberley and not many land managers.”
Rangeland Management Tool: 8 horses with about 8 horsepower
“They are only about eight-horse power, but they got a very big effect on the soils.”
“The patches behind the horses always have to be fenced. Otherwise, the horses would overgraze these patches.”
That shows, that time is doing the damage and not the number of animals.
Chris created a corridor for the horses to the water. On this corridor tall grasses of about two meters have totally been trampled down, which is a very good method to create a firebreak.
Rangeland Management Tool: cattle herd with about 100 horsepower
Chris doesn’t use helicopters or motorbikes to chase his herd. He trained his herd to follow his calls or he moves them with “Bud Williams’ Pressure-Release-Technique” (http://www.stockmanship.com/). Like that the cattle stay a lot calmer and get used to the presence of humans, too. On long runs Chris sometimes moves his herd with horses.
“They don’t eat everything, most of the grass is trampled down to the ground.”
Rangeland Management Tool: Fire
“Of course there will still be paperbark trees and eucalypts if fires will go on sweeping through this land but if the land will be burnt continuously, a lot of perennial grasses and species like the cypress pine (Callitris intratropica) will probably become extinct. This pine is the one and only native conifer of the region!”
“On Kachana there is still an intact forest of cypress pines. This forest could only survive because Chris successfully kept out fire since fifteen years. On areas outside that forest there were no young pines any more. Annual grasses took over in the ground layer and the seedlings of the remaining old pines would have no chance to get enough light and water on the soil to grow. If we have areas like this burnt constantly every year or every second year, we will lose the cypress pine and soon other species of this region, too. Trees like the “eucalypts” and a lot of single annual grasses will survive but will also be under pressure due to fire and soil erosion.”
Grass makes good fuel and so fire is common in the savannas. After a fire spinifex (Triodia sp.), which is slow growing, usually takes several years to accumulate sufficient fuel to carry another one. However, other grasses can carry fires annually. Extensive, hot, late-season fires are a feature of the Kimberley savanna and in some years up to 30 per cent of the country burns.
This fire regime is very different to that imposed by Aboriginal people before European settlement and the consequences are poorly understood. Most perennial shrubs and trees re-sprout after being burnt but there are indications of change in the flora. For instance, cypress pine was once common and widespread. Today, many stands are degenerating. Fire has killed mature trees and is preventing seed recruitment for others. Furthermore, hot, late fires seem to promote some species such as annual sorghum that create excellent fuels. Fires in tall annual sorghum may extend scorch heights further into tree canopies.
One group of savanna shrubs and trees is particularly susceptible to fire if burnt too frequently. These species are killed by fire and depend on seed for regeneration. If the interval between consecutive fires is shorter than the time required by seedlings to mature and replace the seed store, they will be eliminated by fire. The Cypress Pine is an example, but most are shrubs. Many acacias are also affected. These species are generally scarce or absent from frequently burnt landscapes but they can be seen wherever rocky terrain (e.g. screes, gorges and rugged sandstone hills) ensures that there are areas, which escape being burnt by most fires. The Cypress Pine was common and widely spread. Nowadays many locations are degenerating. Fire has killed mature trees and prevents the seed growth of others. Moreover, late fires seem to provide some species like the annual Sorghum, which creates excellent fuel. Fire in high annual Sorghum can extend the flame heights to the treetops.
Rangeland Management Tool: “Rest”
“Rest is the exclusion of large herbivores and/or the recovery periods for plants and micro organisms.”
Nevertheless my opinion is that a frequently burnt area is not rested. The fire keeps a landscape in stress. If a landscape is rested, it will tend to go to a higher level of succession. This is definitely not happening on frequently burnt areas.
Government funded research would make sense on sites like “Spinifex Hill”, the “Millennium Project” and the rainforest patch in Karl’s Vlei. The research could be done by students from Australia and from abroad combined with a practical stage, where the students gain practical experience in field work.
Allan Savory is the driving force behind the now close to forty year old international Holistic Management Movement. His life is dedicated to assisting and promoting practical and effective ways of reversing desertification. Much of what he learned comes from Africa, the continent which arguably resisted the longest to the modern human impact on fundamental eco-system function.
“Spinifex Hill”: One part has been managed with cattle at least once a year, a second part has been managed with cattle at least twice a year and the third part has not been managed with cattle at all. In all three patches, fire is been held out. It is very interesting to see the difference between these three patches with the different management. On the whole hill, where the fire has been kept out, patches of other grasses than Spinifex appear, whereas on other Savanna landscapes, where fire sweeps through frequently, there is not much more than Spinifex. If we compare the patch with no cattle management to the two other patches, there are a lot more young trees. Like that, Chris can guide different patches to grassland or forest with using cattle or not.
On the areas, where Chris works with the cattle and holds out bush fires, there is less Spinifex to be seen but more other perennial grasses.
“Spinifex is very well adapted to the landscapes and the rough environmental conditions in the rangelands of the Kimberleys.”
“Is Spinifex a climax plant or a pioneer plant in the rangelands of the Kimberleys? (There are types of Spinifex that are pioneer plants on sand dunes...)”
“If we keep out the fire, Spinifex is not a climax state.”
“Spinifex is like a scab on a wounded soil. If you want healthy scabs, keep ripping them off.”
“Spinifex is very well adapted to the rough conditions in the Kimberley’s rangeland.”
“This workshop was a good learning experience.”
“Spread the word more.”
Learning about other perspectives is a good thing about workshops.
“Being here, I can see things getting better all the time. I hope to have more workshops to show people what’s happening.”
“This workshop was a fantastic opportunity to have a look around and see the results of ten years of hard work.”
At the end of the workshop the following two questions have been asked:
At Kachana we are trying to practice landscape management. Is the concept of landscape management (rather than land management or landcare) one we should be trying to spread? What will be the lasting impressions / key learnings you will take away from this workshop? What is your take home message?
If so, what can we do to help increase the awareness and understanding in the community, of what may be involved in landscape management. You have seen what we have done on Kachana using animals as a management tool. Should the potential for using animals as a land management tool in the Kimberley be more widely and rigorously investigated? If so, how can we increase community awareness and support to explore this potential? What is your action plan?
“Encourage and motivate people to come out and explore what is happening on the ground.”
“Go home and live that, what I’ve learnt out here and advertise it.”
“I found new energy and inspiration by this experience.”
“Touch base and find out where we’re heading to.”
“You got to convince yourself or at least you have to say what isn’t true for you. Like that you can make your decisions.”
“Land managers should build one big union.”
“Go outside your box and look at it.”
“The dominance race is the extinctive race.”
“Aviate, navigate, communicate.”
“Every now and then you need an extremist.”
“Not to lose the drive.”
“Symbioses are very important in nature!
“I believe what I see. But in reality often people see what they believe.”
We have to take care of our environment, if we want to go on living on a healthy planet. Looking at problems in landscapes, animals or humans, we have to find the weakest link (a chain only holds as long as its weakest link holds).