Welcome to Upfront Outback
Weeds worse than wild dogs
According to the Queensland Government, weeds are costing the State’s agricultural economy, almost ten times what wild dogs are, and that’s not taking into account the cost of weeds to the wider environment, estimated by the Australian Government to be the same as for agriculture.
With Prickly Acacia costing $50 million annually in control and lost production, the Queensland Government’s recent $1 million over 2 years for DCQ to tackle further Prickly Acacia control is gratefully accepted, and a welcome boost for our landholders.
Our revolutionary Prickly Acacia eradication program has delivered cost-effective treatment of the previously untreatable, major seed producing areas along water courses. By harnessing new technologies and refining application techniques developed over the past four years, the DCQ program has given heart to western graziers that this pest can be beaten.
We have coupled drone technology, satellite imagery, regulatory tools and improved techniques, with plain hard work, to deliver a 92% reduction in control costs, eightfold increase in efficiencies, and a 99.96% kill rate.
The real excitement is the eightfold increase in grass cover, threefold increase in grass species, and a massive 17-fold increase in grass biomass that we’ve measured at our monitoring sites.
This new funding will allow us to expand our program in the Barcaldine, Aramac to Torrens Creek area, helping producers get rid of Prickly Acacia, which reduces operating costs and increases production.
Feeding mind and body
The Audreystone Field Day is not only a great opportunity to get an essential dose of ideas, knowledge and inspiration, it will also serve up a decent lunch bracketed by hearty bush smokos.
Running from eight to five on Wednesday, 21st March at Audreystone, Barcaldine, the day will feature presentations on:
- gidyea encroachment control
- poison pills for prickle trees
- weed science and cost effective control
- Biosecurity – protecting your property and community from weeds
- feed budgeting – maximising returns while managing grass
- total grazing management – impact of stock and kangaroos
- Prickly Acacia Alliance – working together to tackle prickly acacia
- degraded area recovery – bringing those areas back
- land condition assessment – measuring the impacts of your decisions
- rural finance – snapshot of taxation do’s and don’ts
And when you’re not wrapping your head around knowledge and ideas, get inspired by displays of:
- remote controlled pig trap
- electronic monitoring
- Skattergun to apply tebuthiuron for weed control
- spreader for managing weeds along fence lines
- Di-Bak capsule applicator
- weed survey drone
- quad bikes
- Bush Heritage Australia
- Royal Flying Doctor Service
- Desert Uplands
Bookings are essential, so secure your spot by phoning DCQ on 4658 0600 or, after hours, call Doug Allpass on 0427 427 090. Or, if you prefer, you can book here.
To get to Audreystone, head north from Barcaldine, toward Aramac, for two and a half kilometres, then turn left (west) on the Saltern Creek Road for about 13 kilometres… the Audreystone turnoff is on your left – look for the DCQ Field Day sign.
As mentioned above, smokos and lunch will be provided, but please bring your own chair. Oh… and some coin for the coffee van.
While DCQ has built a reputation of cost-effective control of Prickly Acacia across the grazing lands of the Mitchell Grass Downs, its commercial arm, DC Solutions, has been quietly delivering a similar service on the State-controlled and National Highway Network roads of the region on behalf of the Department of Transport and Main Roads.
Over the past five years, Main Roads engaged DC Solutions to eradicate Prickly Acacia from the road reserves and associated borrow pits that had become havens for pest plants. The Department’s dedication to ensuring their road reserves would not be a source of reinfestation of surrounding grazing lands will see DC Solutions doing some more follow-up work this year.
This philosophy cuts both ways: Main Roads also treats a buffer zone outside the road boundary, with landholder consent, to prevent any reinfestation of the road corridor.
The DCQ program with landholders and the Main Roads initiative are complementing each other and linking up to deliver landscape-scale change. With another decade of vigilance for germinations, followed by another of scrutiny, the scourge of Prickly Acacia can be removed from the landscape.
There is good reason we harp on the necessity of robust data. Without it, there would not be the modern medicine we rely on, or the space flight that inspires us. Observation produces data; data informs decisions… robust data informs good decisions.
Given we have 510,000 square kilometres to cover, and a staff of only a dozen, getting robust data on current weed and feral animal distribution is a challenge, which is why we developed our Fulcrum app. By harnessing the hundreds of landholders, shire rural lands officers and interested travellers, we can better cover our vast area.
When armed with our Fulcrum app on their smartphones or tablets, observers can enter data which is stored internally until the device has a service connection, whereupon the information is uploaded to our online database. It is then available to decision makers in weed and feral animal control, ensuring they have the latest data with which to plan their activities.
If you’re not part of this growing throng of data divas, check out our YouTube tutorial, then give the office a call on 4658 0600 to get your password so you can download the DCQ Fulcrum app and start adding to our data pool. We need all the help we can get to prevail against the production and environmental threats of weeds and feral animals.
Coongie SAM is not an irascible, mustachioed, stetson-wearing, gunslinging cartoon character protecting the environmental integrity of the RAMSAR-listed Coongie Lakes in northeastern South Australia, but it will serve the same purpose.
Funded out of the Lake Eyre Basin Partnership’s $270,000 prizemoney for the 2014 Australian Riverprize and the 2015 International Riverprize, the Coongie Lakes strategic adaptive management (SAM) approach is the prototype of a collaborative management system that will be trialled by DCQ and Territory NRM.
SAM, widely seen as the best long-term approach to managing complex systems with multiple players and objectives, is built on the following key foundation stones:
- shared vision (negotiated, not imposed) for the desired future condition of the region or resource in question;
- structured planning and prioritisation of objectives and actions to ensure the most important NRM issues are addressed first;
- active collaboration (between all stakeholders) in the management process;
- meaningful monitoring, assessment and research must yield clear information on whether management actions are achieving the agreed objectives;
- continual learning where objectives, goals, monitoring results, management actions and outcomes are continually reassessed in the light of new knowledge; and
- transparency in the documentation and clear articulation of management, including a history of the focus, expenditure and success or failure of management actions.
Stay tuned to see where we will be running our SAM trial, as well as the ultimate results.
Boosters, burns and bolt-ons
In the wake of the successful 6th February launch of SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy rocket, there has been much talk of ‘boosters’, ‘burns’ and ‘bolt-ons’, which are all rather apt for our coincidentally named HEAT (High-value Environmental Area Targets) program.
The Falcon Heavy, which launched a Tesla Roadster on a trajectory to Mars, got extra power by having an additional Falcon 9 rocket engine bolted on either side. Similarly, DCQ’s HEAT program has smaller components bolted on to give it the necessary boost to send a payload into orbit. Only, our HEAT payload isn’t an electric car capable of 0 to 100 in under 3 seconds but, rather, a robust, integrated, multi-faceted program delivering environmental outcomes well beyond its finishing date.
And while the Falcon Heavy was funded by private enterprise – and probably a bit of philanthropy – HEAT was bankrolled by the Australian Government… with a (comparative) smidgen of philanthropy around the edges from our public trust, Desert Channels Foundation.
Set to wind up at the end of June, HEAT has put into place a framework and a mindset for how we best manage our high value environmental areas by engaging landholders and integrating external programs and activities to deliver outcomes critical for the long-term health of special habitats and species.
It kicked off in 2013 with 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.
When it was finally launched, at the Sesbania Field Day in September 2016, this investment plan drew accolades from landholders for the clear and uncomplicated way in which the threats were explained, the conservation objectives and required actions clearly listed and prioritised and, most importantly for many, identified the stakeholders best able to undertake activities when funding became available.
The plan identified, with maps, the 11 high priority targets within the Desert Channels region for urgent action to counter threats to their EPBC (Environmental Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act) listed 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).
But well before the launch, the draft of this 10 year investment plan was already providing guidance to investment decisions and on-ground activity in its formative stages. For example, weed control work around the unique Edgbaston Springs had commenced in 2015, as had feral pig control in the same area.
Over the course of the program, our weed and feral pig control programs have synchronised with HEAT to give it that additional boost to achieve outcomes in excess of what it could have done under its own funding.
The sensitive wetlands of the lower Channel Country, and the RAMSAR listed Coongie Lakes of northeastern South Australia were of flagged as under threat from the spread of feral pigs. Our Channel Country Feral Pig Control project has successfully decimated feral pig populations on the Cooper, and engaged and trained landholders in monitoring and control activities which they will continue long after the program fades from memory.
Likewise, DCQ’s flagship Prickly Acacia eradication program has expanded buffer zones created around identified high value environmental areas by core HEAT activities, as well as rehabilitating critical habitat of the Julia Creek Dunnart, an endangered, rat-sized, carnivorous marsupial.
The program has also enthused landholders, reducing their running costs and increasing their productivity. They repeatedly say that the DCQ Prickly Acacia eradication program has shown them that this pest can be beaten. It has given them hope and kindled their commitment to keeping their land weed free, which will build on, and protect, the environmental benefits and investment to date.
This investment has been boosted by another bolt-on, this time from DCQ’s public trust, Desert Channels Foundation. DCF’s Habitat Protection and Restoration project has seen multi-year investments to augment Prickly Acacia eradication work in prime Julia Creek Dunnart habitat, building on the work of landholders and a range of DCQ projects.
But it isn’t only terrestrial pest issues that are a threat to our natural estate. The now critically endangered Red-finned Blue-eye (Scaturiginichthys vermeilipinnis) has, for eons, flitted about the shallow artesian waters of the Edgbaston springs with the Edgbaston Goby (Chlamydogobius squamigenus), safe in their handful of aquatic islands. That was, until the introduced Mosquito Fish (Gambusia holbrooki) found its way to the outback. It is an even greater threat to these endemic Edgbaston springs fish than either the rooting activity of feral pigs or the encroachment of Prickly Acacia (Vachellia nilotica) and Parkinsonia (Parkinsonia aculeata) weed trees on the spring habitat.
The Red-finned Blue-eye, Australia’s most endangered fish, is highly susceptible to competition and habitat degradation or loss. Unfortunately, it 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.
HEAT’s 2014-15 survey of 570 kilometres of bore drains in the vicinity of the Edgbaston springs led to the discovery of an established population of Edgbaston goby in a bore drain more than 20 kilometres from the only previously known occurrence at Edgbaston. A ruptured bore drain had created a spring-mimicking, shallow wetland gratefully colonised by Queensland’s second most endangered fish. This range extension is a welcome insurance against a disaster in the spring complex at Edgbaston.
Landholder David Wehl said he was happy to alter the management of his paddock and bore drain to look after this exciting new population. His reaction is typical of landholders in the region: when 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 bore drain 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.
Even our field days have been bolted on and boosted… Royal Flying Doctor Service, industry groups, contractors, develop and trainers, as well as other DCQ projects, have been combined to give landholders a feast of new ideas, techniques, good news and information about the region’s natural estate and how we look after it.
For example, a demonstration of the latest biocontrol agent for Parkinsonia was expanded into a training and control day that value-added to the protection of Moorrinya National Park in the upper Thomson River catchment. Instead of a simple demonstration of the application technique, landholders, the Lake Eyre Basin Indigenous Rangers and DCQ staff spent the day getting hands-on practice while treating 5,000 Parkinsonia plants in creek lines adjacent to the Park. A real win-win for all involved, including the local environment.
A question that’s often asked is, how do we know we’re making a difference. Well, we can rely on our gut feeling, intuition, common sense, or simply believe our own hype. Or, we could measure the biocondition of the land before and after the management activities, so we have clear evidence of the vegetation response… improvement, no change or decline – we can then adjust our future management actions in response.
To do this, and to make sure everyone is doing it the same way, the HEAT program developed a vegetation assessment guide, Monitoring Made Easy. It was based on the Vegetation Assessment Guide, Commonwealth of Australia 2013 so the collected data can be aggregated across the country. To make it as small as possible, and easy to use, we tailored it to the Desert Channels region and came up with an easy to follow, 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. And, they find it so easy to use.
HEAT didn’t stop at this design and publishing effort. To raise awareness and appreciation of our endangered, vulnerable and near threatened species, we developed unique artwork for promotional bags. This artwork captured three of our region’s signature species: the Julia Creek Dunnart, Bilby and Night Parrot.
Coincidentally, the HEAT program has parallelled external efforts to ensure the survival of the rediscovered Night Parrot in the heart of the Desert Channels region. While HEAT was funded around the time the Night Parrot was photographed, for the first time, by naturalist John Young, it was when research work on the enigmatic bird was getting into full swing that HEAT was as well. While the HEAT investment plan was being developed, Bush Heritage Australia was negotiating to purchase an area of habitat around the confirmed population and turn it into the Pullen Pullen Nature Reserve, and Desert Channels Foundation was funding a social research project into landholder attitudes to Night Parrot conservation. Then, as HEAT got into full swing in 2017, further populations of the bird were discovered.
The keys to the success of HEAT have 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 HEAT deliver the outcomes it has to protect high-value environmental areas.
So, by ‘bolting on’ or integrating other projects, both DCQ and external, with HEAT, we have been able to maximise the return on investment for all parties, avoid duplication and ensure broader uptake and ownership. With the commitment of engaged and informed landholders and other collaborators, along with the added boost from the integrated projects, the legacy of HEAT will go on and on and on… a bit like Elon Musk’s cherry red Tesla Roadster, currently somewhere on the road to Mars… and beyond… 13,266 kilometres per hour… slightly over the speed limit.