The following media release was distributed by a group called the NSW Regional Community Survival
Group* after TV personality Don Burke was interviewed by radio personality Alan Jones in Sydney yesterday:
“Australia’s pioneer lifestyle presenter and Chair of the Australian Environment Foundation, Don Burke, has called upon the Iemma Government to make further changes to native vegetation laws so that farmers in western NSW can control infestations of invasive scrub.
“Premier Iemma must act fast to stop the destructive invasion of native scrub before it is too late for the environment
and farmland of western NSW,” said Don.
“Recent changes to native vegetation regulations announced by the NSW Government are a step in the right direction, but they still don’t provide farmers with enough flexibility to rehabilitate land degraded by invasive scrub.
“Hundreds of farming families will be forced off their land if this problem is not fixed: who then will be left to care for the environment of western NSW?” Don said.
Invasive scrub (also called woody weeds) are native shrubs that have increased greatly in density over the last 130 years, invading the formerly open grassy woodlands of western NSW from the Queensland border to the Riverina in southern NSW.
Scrub infestations now cover up to 12 million hectares of western NSW – an area twice the size of Tasmania – with another 6 million hectares vulnerable to invasion when the drought breaks. It is estimated that up to 1,000 farms are fighting the problem.
“I was invited by farmers from Nyngan and Cobar to view first-hand the destructive impacts of invasive scrub on the landscape of western NSW. What I saw was not a natural feature of the environment.
“I was shocked to see how near ‘monocultures’ of scrub had out-competed native grasses for moisture and nutrients, leaving the soil prone to severe wind and water erosion.
“Vast tracts of land are now an ecological desert, exacerbating current drought conditions,” said Don.
Don said that for thousands of years, Aboriginals used fire to suppress outbreaks of scrub.
“Original infestations of scrub can be traced to a lack of bushfires after the land was first settled and coincided with periods of above average rainfall in the 1860s and 1870s. High rainfall seasons in the 1950s, 70s, 80s and 1990s resulted in further outbreaks. Overgrazing in the distant past – including by rabbits – also contributed to the invasion of scrub,” explained Don.
“With the introduction of tighter land clearing laws in 1996, farmers in western NSW have been ‘straight jacketed’ ever since in their efforts to stop the insidious spread of native scrub. With native grasses virtually obliterated in the last ten years, the country will no longer carry a fire, so it can’t naturally thin dense areas of scrub.
“Clearing and short term cropping are now the only effective tools to remove scrub and suppress regrowth, giving
native grasses a chance to rejuvenate,” said Don.
“Farmers want to restore the landscape to its natural state of open woodlands and grasslands, but political pressure from radical greens has put a bureaucratic handbrake on land restoration.
“In return, farmers are prepared to set aside a minimum of 15 per cent of their land for the preservation of native
woodlands. Combined with rehabilitated native grasslands, this will lead to an average cover of 50 to 60 per cent of
native vegetation on farms in western NSW.
“After making statements about the vital role that farmers play in protecting the environment, I’m calling on moderate
green groups such as the Australian Conservation Foundation to support farming families in their efforts to rehabilitate the degraded landscape of western NSW,” ended Don.
* The NSW Regional Community Survival Group was established about a year ago to draw attention to the problem of invasive woody weeds in western NSW. Some of the groups members were interview by the Sunday Program as part of its feature on ‘The Great Land Clearing Myth’.