Upfront Outback

Upfront Outback

Welcome to Upfront Outback

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Landline coup

Winton landholder, John Ogg (Ayrshire Downs) being interviewed by Landline’s Courtney Wilson.

After years of raising awareness of the production and environmental threat of Prickly Acacia, and our efforts to thwart it, we finally caught the attention of Landline with the story of our amazingly successful Prickly Acacia eradication program.  After filming around Longreach in early December, the story finally aired on the 23rd.  If you missed it, you can catch it on iView here.

Congratulations to all involved in the DCQ Prickly Acacia eradication program, as well as those instrumental in taking it into the lounge rooms of millions of Australians.  And a huge thank you to the ABC and its Landline crew for telling our story.

 

Go jab: no spray

Peter Riikonen of BioHerbicides Australia, demonstrating the Di-Bak applicator.

More than a dozen landholders and Lake Eyre Basin Indigenous Rangers recently gave 5,000 Parkinsona trees the jab on Keen-Gea, Ulva and Tiree to help protect high value environmental areas of the neighbouring Moorrinya National Park and Forest Den National Park further downstream.

The six kilometres of Bullock and Wowra creeks were treated with dissolvable Di-Bak capsules containing a cocktail of three endemic soil fungi, one that thrives in hot, dry conditions with one that likes it hot and moist, and another that’s happiest when it’s cool and dry.

The Di-Bak Parkinsonia capsule and its semi-automated application gun, developed by Bioherbicides Australia, was the end result of more than 12 years of research sparked by a natural dieback episode in Parkinsonia on Newcastle Waters Station in the Northern Territory.

Once the Di-Bak capsule is inserted and sealed in with a plastic plug, plant sap dissolves the case and releases the pathogen to travel to the root system from where it spreads through the soil to surrounding plants, killing them from below.

Project supervisor, Pete Spence, said it was great to see this practical tool come out of trials DCQ ran with The University of Queensland in 2010.  “It’s not the be all and end all, but it’s cheaper and easier than spraying, and clean to use,” he said.

He said that while it was slow acting, the fungus was very efficient and safe, and has no effect on native plants.  “It can take a while, maybe six to 12 months, to start to kill, but it’s already spreading through the root system to kill other Parkinsonia plants, including new seedlings.

“The best part is, with their applicator, even old blokes like me can probably treat 500 trees in a day because you’re not getting up and down all the time.”

 

 Hobbling hogs


Dr Jim Mitchell with a simple panel trap (image courtesy FeralFix).

If you’re a landholder and seeing an increase in feral pigs lately, then you aren’t alone.  In response to reported increases in feral pig numbers in many parts, we’re providing three feral pig control workshops with international authority, Dr Jim Mitchell of FeralFix.  Jim specialises in the development and implementation of feral pig management and control techniques, and draws on 32 years’ experience in practical field work and feral animal research to give you the latest insights to successful baiting, trapping and shooting at a four hour workshop covering pig behaviour and habits, making and siting traps, running a successful baiting campaign, as well as legislation and obligations.

Jim is the author of numerous best practice feral pig management handbooks as well as scientific papers and reports.  His highly informative feral pig control workshops are widely known and appreciated, as is his practical, hands-on approach.

Workshops will be held in early May at Aramac (9th), Boulia (11th) and Winton (12th).  Places will fill fast so call DCQ on 4658 0600 for more info and to register, or do it online here . These workshops are funded by the Queensland Feral Pest Initiative and the Australian Government.

And to complement these workshops, we’ve married the experiences from our own control programs with Dr Jim Mitchell’s expertise and knowledge to produce a 42 page booklet, Feral Pig Control in the Desert Channels Region.  This is a must have manual on how to maximise the success of your feral pig control efforts.  You can get it at the workshop closest to you, or by calling 4658 0600 or email info@dcq.org.au.

 

Westward ho!


Huge Prickly Acacia tree we treated on O’Briens Creek; it would have produced millions of seeds in its lifetime.

Our field team has just given the Prickly Acacia infestations along O’Briens Creek, north west of Winton, a quadruple whammy.  As well as using traditional basal spraying, mechanical control and residual chemical applied from both ground and air, they’ve been using new misting methods on a large scale.  A combination of DCQ, contractor and local landholder misters, has seen them treat 16,000 hectares along the creek and around dams, as well as scattered, light paddock infestations.

This work was funded by the Queensland Feral Pest Initiative and is part of a sequential westward expansion of DCQ control works aimed at stopping all seed from entering the Diamantina River.  It expands on the 2014-2015 work by eradicating a major seed source on this Diamantina River feeder creek.

Keen landholders landholders constructed access tracks and will undertake ongoing follow-up control work using misters to reduce costs, time and effort.  And to keep an eye on Prickly Acacia mortality and grass regeneration, three monitoring sites were established along the 18 kilometres of creek treated.

 

Chance to be heard

The national enquiry into that scourge of northwest Queensland, Prickly Acacia, will be travelling around the region in June and will hold public hearings on 19th June at Hughenden’s Digger’s Entertainment Centre, and 20th June in the Barcaldine Civic Centre at 2:00 pm.  This is a unique opportunity for landholders to have their voices on this pressing issue heard by decision makers.  If you would like to make a statement to the enquiry, you need to register your interest by calling 1800 504 022.  In attendance will be State MPs Joe Kelly (ALP), Lachlan Millar (LNP), Robbie Katter (KAP), Julieanne Gilbert (ALP), Patrick Weir (LNP) and Jim Madden (ALP).

 

On show at show

We’ll be on show at three of our vast region’s shows this year, Blackall (May 6th), Longreach (May 20th), Muttaburra (June 3) and Winton (June 9 & 10), so if you’re in the area, make sure you pop in.  We’ll have our big red display trailer accompanied by Pete Spence (Field Supervisor) to talk drones and weeds, and Doug Allpass (Regional Landcare Facilitator) for all things Landcare.

 

Soil and trees

Dr David Phelps extolling the importance of pasture in fixing carbon in the soil.

If you’re interested in soil carbon and gidyea encroachment, and what they mean for your grazing enterprise, you’ll want to be at our Soil Carbon and Gidyea Encroachment Workshop in the Ken Wilson Pavilion at the Barcaldine Showgrounds on Tuesday 30th May.

Carbon guru, John Gavin, will have the good oil on the carbon economy, the role of the Emission Reduction Fund, and insights on how to put together a project, while Steven Bray will have all the inside information on soil carbon and what it means to your enterprise.  To top it off, David Phelps will wax lyrical on managing gidyea for pasture productivity, including fire and grazing practices, and Peter Spence will expound on the virtues of the DCQ weed program along with non-mechanical control options.

This is a day you won’t want to miss, so contact Doug Allpass on 4658 0600 to reserve your spot, or for more information.

 

Places we dream of

Leanne Kohler meeting with Senator Barry O’Sullivan.

In her recent presentation to the Senate’s Remote Piloted Aircraft Systems Enquiry, Leanne Kohler, our CEO, said drone technology was on the cusp of taking property management to places we can only dream of.

In front of nearly 200 people in Dalby, including the politicians running the enquiry, and the Civil Aviation Safety Authority, Leanne proposed that any changes to drone operation enabled industry to develop opportunities.  “We want continued innovation and continued reductions in the cost of introducing this technology while providing to the community confidence in their safe use,” she said.

Leanne, along with Simon Wiggins of our industry partner, PBE Services, was invited to address the enquiry and presented the DCQ story of drone use in Prickly Acacia control, especially the fact that it’s been a game-changing technology for chemical application.  She told the enquiry that drone application of residual chemicals in difficult terrain and sensitive areas, without causing environmental damage, has been instrumental in reducing costs and breaking a 20 year cycle of lost investment in weed control.

“Interest is at an all time high and we believe that with considered changes to the Civil Aviation Regulation the rangelands can continue to benefit from this great technology,” she said.

Word of DCQ’s work with drones had preceded them to the enquiry, with many people they hadn’t met approaching them to talk about our “groundbreaking” work.

 

Applying the flame to HEAT

Where their roots can access plentiful moisture, such as around the Edgbaston springs, Prickly Acacia forms choking thickets and safe havens for feral animals.

In possibly the most integrated, multi-faceted project ever run in the Desert Channels region, important environmental areas containing critical ecosystems and habitats are having the heat of on-ground action applied to create additional protection.

Desert Channels Queensland’s HEAT (High-value Environmental Area Targets) program has been cranking up in a measured and stepped process since its inception in 2014, first by developing a collaborative investment plan, then rolling out on-ground activities to expand protective buffer zones around the identified, key targets.

The foundational work of the program saw the establishment of a steering committee representing the key stakeholders involved in either directly managing, or whose activities impact, National Parks and conservation areas in the region.  Representatives of DCQ, Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service, Bush Heritage Australia, landholders, local government, Indigenous community, science and research met on a regular basis to develop the Desert Channels Region Collaborative Investment Plan for Threatened or Endangered Species and High-value Environmental Area Targets.

While the finalised HEAT investment plan was released in September 2016, in its formative stages, it was already providing guidance to investment decisions and on-ground activity.  Some high-value environmental area target (HEAT) areas were easily and immediately identifiable; consequently, weed control work around the unique Edgbaston Springs was an early activity of the program, as was feral pig control in the same area.

Because of the sparse population and the absence from many parts of the region of any industry apart from grazing, the major threats to the protected area estate and other identified high value environmental areas are weeds and feral animals.  As a consequence, DCQ has integrated all its programs so that they support and add value to each other.

For example, feral pig control activities prevent the downstream spread of this category three pest to sensitive wetlands of the lower Channel Country, as well as the RAMSAR listed Coongie Lakes of northeastern South Australia.  Likewise, DCQ’s flagship Prickly Acacia eradication program builds on buffer zones created around identified high value environmental areas by core HEAT activities.

Feral animals are not only restricted to mammals.  The introduced Mosquito Fish (Gambusia holbrooki) is perhaps an even greater threat to the endemic Edgbaston Springs fish, the critically endangered Red-finned Blue-eye (Scaturiginichthys vermeilipinnis), than either the rooting activity of feral pigs or the encroachment of Prickly Acacia (Vachellia nilotica) and Parkinsonia (Parkinsonia aculeata) weed trees on the fish’s spring habitat.

The Red-finned Blue-eye is Australia’s most endangered fish and, along with its fellow inhabitant of the shallow artesian springs of the Edgbaston group, the Edgbaston Goby (Chlamydogobius squamigenus), is highly susceptible to competition and habitat degradation or loss.  Unfortunately, the Red-finned Blue-eye has disappeared from every spring where Gambusia have invaded; however, the Edgbaston Goby hasn’t, and it may be the male’s habit of guarding the eggs that is allowing it to persist in the face of the Gambusia invasion.

In 2014 and 2015, to get a greater understanding of the threat posed by Gambusia, DCQ’s HEAT program surveyed 570 kilometres of bore drains in the vicinity of the Edgbaston Springs for the presence of the feral piscean invader.  As expected, Gambusia was found at most sites (23 out of 25 bore drains); what was not expected by fish ecologist Dr Adam Kerezsy, was the discovery of an established population of Edgbaston goby on David and Liz Wehls’ property, Ravenswood.

The bore drain on Ravenswood is more than 20 kilometres as the crow flies from the only known habitat of the Goby in the shallow waters of the Edgbaston Spring complex, which it shares with Red-finned Blue-eye, as well as a range of endemic aquatic plants.

Whatever the Wehls have been doing, these little fish find it to their liking.  The management of the bore drain created a surrogate spring where Queensland’s second most endangered fish established a range extension that is a welcome insurance against a disaster in the spring complex.

The discovery was a surprise to David Wehl. “These drains have been flowing for close on 120 years I guess, at different times they’ve been cleaned out, different things have been done to them – they’ve changed course – and I was a bit surprised to see them here,” he said.

Edgbaston Goby (image courtesy Adam Kerezsy)

“I think it will change the way we use this little paddock anyway; we certainly will look after this a bit for them.

David Wehl’s reaction is typical of landholders in the region: when they are given the additional information and knowledge about habitat requirements and threatening processes, they are more than happy to change their management practices, where possible, to accommodate endangered species.

Also discovered during the feral fish survey were two populations of endemic spring vegetation, Myriophyllum artesium and Eriocaulon carsonii … another welcome range extension demonstrating that plant species endemic to springs may also colonise artificial waters.

Through 2015, the HEAT program undertook a number of additional projects, in conjunction with committed landholders: six riparian kilometres of integrated weed control was combined with land management measures to build the resilience of riparian habitat on Karoola and Venture Downs, upstream of Diamantina National Park; and 490 hectares of integrated weed control was combined with five riparian kilometres of integrated weed control and land management measures to improve Julia Creek Dunnart (Sminthopsis douglasi) habitat on the lower reaches of Wokingham Creek at Ayrshire Hills Reserve, Bernfels and Ayrshire Downs.

To assist landholders in measuring the vegetation response to these and other management actions they undertake, the HEAT program developed a vegetation assessment guide, Monitoring Made Easy.  Based on the Vegetation Assessment Guide, Commonwealth of Australia 2013, this guide was tailored to the Desert Channels region and presented an uncomplicated, ‘step by step’ for carrying out standard, national, vegetation condition assessments, including standard photo monitoring.  It takes landholders through how to establish a vegetation condition monitoring site, including setting up transects and plots, recording vegetation cover and taking repeatable photographs.

Using Monitoring Made Easy, monitoring sites were established at both Bernfels and Ayrshire Downs to assess the recovery of Julia Creek Dunnart habitat.

In September 2016, the finalised Desert Channels Region Collaborative Investment Plan for Threatened or Endangered Species and High-value Environmental Area Targets was launched at the Sesbania field day north of Winton.  It identified, with maps, the 11 high priority targets within the Desert Channels region for urgent action to counter threats to their vulnerable flora and fauna.  Nine of these high priority target areas are based on geographic hotspots, and two on individual species, the Night Parrot (Pezoporus occidentalis) and Waddi Tree (Acacia peuce).

Feedback from landholders on the document was that they liked the clear and uncomplicated way in which the threats were explained.  They also found the conservation objectives and required actions were clearly listed and prioritised and, most importantly for some, the stakeholders best able to undertake activities when funding is available were identified.

One of these hotspots is the greater Bladensburg area.  Bladensburg National Park conserves 84,900 hectares of Mitchell Grass Downs and Channel Country, and is home to diverse flora and fauna across its rocky escarpments, flat-topped plateaus, residual sandstone ranges, cracking black soil grasslands and gum-lined river flats.

Treating seed-bearing Prickly Acacia trees upstream of Bladensburg National Park.

The northern Mitchell Grass Downs country that extends into Bladensburg National Park is the habitat of the Julia Creek Dunnart which is threatened by feral cat predation and the incursion of weed species like Prickly Acacia.  In an effort to protect downstream areas of the National Park from dense weed infestations and their attendant feral animal populations, and to improve local Julia Creek Dunnart habitat, DCQ undertook Prickly Acacia and Parkinsonia control work on neighbouring properties.

This involved collaboration with three properties, Mountain View, Mount Landsborough and the Australian Age of Dinosaurs, to deliver integrated weed control and land management measures to build the resilience of 10 kilometres of riparian habitat.  The eradication of high density infestations will enable an increase in ground cover, reduction in erosion, a removal of feral animal refugia, and a consequent improvement in conditions suitable for the Julia Creek Dunnart.

With Bladensburg National Park staff carrying out their own control programs for Prickly Acacia and Parkinsonia in the Mistake Creek catchment within the park, this DCQ HEAT activity dovetailed nicely, adding value and protecting the investment of both undertakings.

The Australian Age of Dinosaurs provided accommodation and catering facilities for the DCQ field team as a project contribution, the Mount Landsborough and Mountain View landholders provided half the cost of chemical used on their properties, and both Bladensburg National Park and Australian Age of Dinosaurs provided access to the work areas through their properties.

As part of this activity, two biocondition sites were established to assess the vegetation state to establish a baseline condition prior to weed treatment.  The photographs and monitoring data showed that the presence of Prickly Acacia and Parkinsonia was associated with reduced ground cover and species diversity when compared with adjacent areas without weed infestations.  It is expected that ground cover and species diversity will increase following the successful treatment of woody weeds at these sites.

The latest activity under the HEAT program was the treatment of 5,000 stems of Parkinsonia  with the Di-Bak fungus capsules along six kilometres of riparian habitat on Bullock and Wowra creeks.  This area is adjacent to Moorrinya National Park in the upper Thomson River catchment, and was a DCQ collaboration with the landholders on Keen-Gea, Ulva and Tiree, the Lake Eyre Basin Indigenous Rangers and BioHerbicides Australia.  It will be complemented at a later date by similar on-park efforts.

The rehabilitation of these riparian habitats will be measured in line with national vegetation assessment guidelines at two biocondition monitoring sites set up using DCQ’s Monitoring Made Easy landholder handbook.

Along with Prickly Acacia, Parkinsonia is a Weed of National Significance.  It is a prolific seed producer and the pods are water-borne over great distances and, once established, control is difficult and expensive.

The Di-Bak capsules infect selected trees within an infestation with an endemic root fungus that spreads to other trees through the soil, killing them from within.  Unsurprisingly, native trees are immune.  Research into this biological control agent was sparked more than 12 years ago when a natural dieback episode was noticed in Parkinsonia on Newcastle Waters Station in the Northern Territory; it has resulted in a capsule with a mix of three of the most potent of identified fungi.

Prior to the commencement of its HEAT program, DCQ was a central figure in the field testing of the almost 200 endemic fungal cultures associated with natural dieback in Parkinsonia.  Ultimately, the developers tried to cover all bases with the Di-Bak capsules by including a fungus that thrives in hot, dry conditions with one that likes it hot and moist, and another that’s happiest when it’s cool and dry.

As part of the heat program’s efforts to raise awareness and appreciation of our endangered, vulnerable and near threatened species, DCQ developed unique artwork for promotional bags.  This artwork captured three of our region’s signature species: the Julia Creek Dunnart, Bilby and Night Parrot.

Di-Bak pellets and their plastic plugs prior to injection into Parkinsonia trees.

Coincidentally, the HEAT program has run in parallel with the rediscovery of the Night Parrot in the heart of the Desert Channels region.  It was first photographed by naturalist John Young in 2013, the year HEAT began under the Caring for our Country program; Bush Heritage Australia was working protected the only known population, and DCQ was undertaking social research on landholder attitudes to its conservation when HEAT funding changed to the National Landcare Program; and further populations were discovered in 2017 as the HEAT program gets into full swing.

The keys to the success of  DCQ’s HEAT program has been increasing public awareness and knowledge of our very special environment, and collaboration among a range of players such as Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service, landholders,  Lake Eyre Basin Indigenous Rangers, local government and the research community to carry out work that reduces threats to our environment.

It is this increased understanding and appreciation combined with pooling resources and coordinating on ground activities that has seen the DCQ HEAT program deliver the outcomes it has to protect high-value environmental areas.

The vast Desert Channels region encompasses the Queensland section of the Lake Eyre basin, one-third of the state.  Its residents are privileged to be stewards of a unique part of the planet.  From the astonishing landscapes and biodiversity of the Cooper and Diamantina Channel Country, to the niche artesian springs in the upper catchments, the region is home to a host of habitats and organisms found nowhere else in the world.

Species previously unknown to science are still being discovered as researchers delve more deeply into the region’s mysteries.  DCQ’s HEAT program continues to bring together the knowledge of these places and species, and the people and organisations looking after them, to ensure that future generations enjoy a landscape as rich and productive as the one that surrounds us now.