Peak health organisations, firefighters call for buffel grass weed declaration
Mparntwe Alice Springs 11 12 2023
Health services are expecting to be under further pressure as Central Australia faces its worst fire season in over a decade. An Alice Springs doctor has raised the alarm over health impacts due to wildfires, linked to the highly flammable invasive buffel grass (RN The World Today 7.12.23). Aboriginal Medical Services Alliance of the Northern Territory (AMSANT), Central Australian Aboriginal Congress, Purple House and the firefighters’ United Workers Union are amongst 50 organisations across central Australia and nationally calling for a strong weed declaration on buffel grass.
Buffel grass burns at high intensity and promotes fire across the arid lands, leading to severe air pollution. As the greatest invasive species threat to the arid lands, buffel grass has adverse impacts on the social emotional well-being of Territorians, choking river systems and destroying the arid landscape, culture and country. Huge bushfires have burned a significant amount of northern and central Australia in recent months, with the collective area burned larger than many countries, including Spain.
Quotes from John Patterson AMSANT CEO
“Buffel grass is destroying our people’s health, our culture and our country. We have an opportunity to change this.”
“The fires earlier this year are a demonstration of the danger buffel grass poses to our whole community, and particularly those with respiratory conditions like asthma”
“AMSANT urges Minister Worden that buffel be declared a class A/B weed in the NT.”
Quotes from Erina Early Secretary United Workers Union
“NT Fire Fighters are on the front line of more frequent and more intense fires due to the spread of buffel grass, particularly following recent years with above average rainfall. Not only does this pose an increased risk to NTFRS fire fighters as they work long hours in hot conditions responding to grass fires and conducting hazard reduction burns, but also to Territorians whose lives and property have come under threat from such fires. Buffel grass must be managed effectively to reduce risk to Territorians and our NT fire fighters.”
Quotes from Adrian Tomlinson Arid Lands Environment Centre CEO:
“Buffel grass is an existential threat to the arid lands. Like managing any pest or disease, we need to stop the spread.”
“We welcome the Buffel Grass Technical Working Group process, Minister Worden now has the advice in front of her. Weed declaration on buffel grass is long overdue. We look forward to Minister Worden acting on this threat to the health of the Territory, by declaring buffel grass a class A/B weed and setting aside the resources to deal with this scourge.”
Media Liaison: Meret MacDonald 0456 475 810
MEDIA BRIEF CURRENT CONTEXT
Buffel grass has transformed the Central Australian landscape to be more prone to intense wildfires, more often. Intense wildfires fuelled by buffel grass have far-reaching health consequences for all residents and visitors to the NT.
Buffel grass is now considered to be the single greatest invasive threat to arid ecosystems. It out-competes native grasses and is transforming landscapes, leading to more dangerous fires, significant biodiversity loss and loss of Aboriginal culture. See Umuwa Statement 2022.
Buffel grass was originally planted for pasture and dust control from overgrazing in central Australia. It imposes economic costs through the need to manage fire risks and to protect biodiversity assets and infrastructure, loss of economic opportunities for industries such as tourism and the arts and indirect costs such as those borne by the health sector. Some pastoralists are also concerned that productivity of buffel grass dominated pastures can decline in the longer term.
Buffel Grass promotes fire and increases the frequency and intensity of fires.
- In 2014, the Federal Government’s Threatened Species Scientific Commission recommended states and territories to declare buffel grass a weed. In 2015, South Australia declared buffel grass a weed. Buffel grass is not yet classified as a weed in the Northern Territory.
The NTG formed the Buffel Technical Working Group in May 2023 in response to the growing fire risks in the central desert - as fires devastated landscapes and threatened homes and assets.
- NTG formed the buffel grass technical working group to:
- assess the impacts in Central Australia
- analyse the issue of buffel grass and how it's being managed in the Northern Territory
- consider and evaluate existing and alternative management approaches
make recommendations to the Minister for Environment, Climate Change and Water Security about the best management approach or approaches
Minister Worden is currently in the process of weed declaration, what could be the most significant step to propel action on buffel grass in the Territory's history. As of 30th November 2023 Northern Territory Environment Minister Kate Worden has the technical working group’s advice. The NT Weeds Management Act 2001 protects the Territory's economy, community, industry and environment from the adverse impact of weeds.
- 50 organisations from across Central Australia and Nationally have signed an open letter for buffel grass to be declared a weed - due to its threat to environmental, health, cultural, economy and public safety.