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High rainfall in the desert – more weeds, pests and fires 24.1.17

Whilst the recent high rainfall in Central Australia is a blessing with flowing rivers and lush green landscapes, there’s another side to the rains that have serious consequences – the increase in weeds, pests and fires.

Climate change predictions see a hotter, wetter Central Australia with more extreme weather events. The challenges of managing weeds, pests and fires will be an ongoing problem that will require significant strategies and resources. 

Buffel grass is recognised by the Australian Government as a key threat to native biodiversity in Australia’s arid heartland. As an aggressive colonizer it rapidly transforms landscapes causing significant losses of native flora and fauna and negatively impacts on Indigenous cultural practices, including the availability of bush tucker.

Buffel Grass is a declared weed in South Australia, however is a favoured pasture grass for pastoralists in the NT. Recent rains have seen buffel grass explode across the desert regions.

“When people look out and see landscapes of green they often don’t realise they are looking at buffel grass which is transforming our desert landscapes,” said Jimmy Cocking, Director of the Arid Lands Environment Centre. “Buffel grass is extremely flammable and when conditions dry out we will have a significant bushfire load. Native plants and trees don’t often stand a chance with these high intensity fires.” 

“In December the western deserts had 400% of the monthly mean rainfall. January looks like it will be more. Drenched deserts means burning deserts in the next 6-12 months. There needs to be national investment in the region to ensure the resilience of these landscapes and not the scale of burning like was experienced in 2011.”

“We need investment in more Indigenous rangers and Indigenous Protected Areas for the long term to manage environmental issues like these. We also need collaboration between pastoralists, indigenous land managers and government agencies to reduce fuel loads and develop a coordinated approach.” 

“Beyond weeds and fires, these big rainfall events also bring pests and disease. We’ve got explosions in grasshoppers, snakes, scorpions, rats and mosquito numbers. We’ve had warnings about deadly mud disease (melioidosis) and Murray Valley Encephalitis as a result of the high rainfall. In a hotter wetter climate there are going to impacts we need to be prepared to manage,” said Mr Cocking. 

“Through the Ten Deserts Initiative the Arid Lands Environment Centre (ALEC) is facilitating collaboration with land managers across our arid zone to strategise around managing threats of buffel grass and fire. ALEC is advocating for stronger action on climate change by the NT Government, and on increasing the resilience of our local communities to climate impacts.”

“ALEC’s is also organising a Biodiversity Matters Buffel Busters Tour on Saturday February 18th which will be looking at local buffel management initiatives,” said Jimmy Cocking. “The great thing about Central Australia is the number of organisations and community members who are working to make a difference in land management and we urge community members to get involved and support these critical initiatives.”

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