15 November 2023 Mparntwe Alice Springs
Thirty-nine organisations from across Central Australia and nationally have signed an open letter calling on NT Minister for the Environment Kate Worden to declare buffel grass a Class A/B weed. Fire prone buffel grass has spread over vast areas of the central desert with devastating effects on landscape, health, economy and culture. The letter will be tabled at the final meeting of the Buffel Grass Technical Working Group.
The open letter signatories represent a wide range of the NT economy including health, tourism, education, leading Aboriginal organisations, arts, land management, environmental advocacy and media sectors. The vast majority of organisations are based across the arid lands.
“Buffel grass is killing our Country. We don’t see our bush foods anymore, the habitats for our native animals are threatened. Buffel is making fires hotter and destroying our grasses, shrubs and trees. Recently we watched bushfires jump big roads because it was travelling so hot and fast. It’s killing everything” said Sonya Braybon, Senior Ranger, Tjuwanpa Women’s Rangers, Ntaria/Hermannsburg Western Arrernte Country
“Buffel grass is devastating our unique desert ecosystems and it breaks my heart and it breaks the hearts of the people travelling with me. It’s embarrassing when guests on my trips ask me what’s being done about it, and I have to tell them it’s not even been declared a weed yet in the Northern Territory - a place which I’m otherwise very proud to call home.” said Anna Dakin, Art Tours Australia
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.
“The array of signatories clearly shows that the community expects our Environment Minister to make a strong weed declaration on buffel grass. We have seen how buffel grass impacts the landscape and the economy. We expect that the Minister will work with us in facing this threat. Let’s take this first key step” said Adrian Tomlinson, Arid Lands Environment Centre CEO
Buffel grass must be properly managed. The pathway to this is declaring buffel grass a Class A/B weed under the Weeds Management Act 2001. This is the greatest opportunity in the Territory’s history to promote action on buffel grass, a devastating threat to the arid lands.
The scale of the buffel grass invasion needs action at both Territory and Commonwealth levels. The cost of inaction far outweighs the cost of managing this issue.
Alex Vaughan, ALEC Policy Officer, 0427 573 178
Current context, November 2023
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. As recently seen with constant fires around Mparntwe Alice Springs since August 2023.
Buffel grass is still not a weed in the Northern Territory and continues to be grown on pastoral properties. This is under review and the Buffel Technical Working Group is due to hand its findings to Minister Kate Worden on 30th November 2023.
The Buffel Technical Working Group was formed in May 2023 in response to the growing fire risks in the central desert - as fires devastated landscapes and threatened homes and assets this year. The Buffel Grass Technical Working Group has their final meeting on Thursday 16th November 2023.
In 2014, the Federal Government’s Threatened Species Scientific Committee recommended states and territories to declare buffel grass a weed. In 2015, South Australia declared buffel grass a weed. In 2023, it is the Northern Territory Government’s moment to declare buffel grass a weed. There are different classes of weed within the weed management act. The open letter calls for buffel grass to be declared a class A/B similar to the approach taken across all of South Australia.
Class definitions under the Weed Management Act 2001
Class A - (a) is necessary to eradicate the plant - for areas of critical ecological and cultural importance and areas that are not already heavily invaded
Class B - (b) is necessary to prevent the growing and spreading of the plant - for all other land tenures in the NT
Opportunities - A weed declaration is a key step towards better management, and may support:
- The establishment of a Buffel Grass Weed Advisory Committee and the development of a Territory Buffel Grass Weed Management Plan
- Mapping the distribution of buffel grass
- Banning the sale, trade and planting of seed across the Territory
- Research into slowing its spread and conserving areas not currently impacted and investigating opportunities to restore affected locations.
- Unlocking millions of dollars of new funding opportunities.