Kangaroos (and other herbivores) are eating away at national parks across Australia



Grazing from kangaroos affects vulnerable native species.
Tom Hunt, Author provided

Patrick O’Connor, University of Adelaide; Stuart Collard, University of Adelaide, and Thomas Prowse, University of Adelaide

Protected land, including national parks, are a cornerstone of conservation. Once an area is legally protected, it is tempting to assume that it is shielded from further degradation.

However, our research, published in the journal Global Ecology and Conservation, has found Australia’s national parks are under serious threat of overgrazing. Significantly, native kangaroos are major contributors to the problem.

In some places we looked at, the effect of overgrazing in protected areas was just as pronounced as on private land with no legal protection at all.

In the public debate over culling and otherwise managing kangaroo populations, attention is typically divided between their economic impact on people versus welfare concerns. But there’s a third unwilling participant in this dilemma: the thousands of other native species affected when native grazer populations grow out of control.

Native birds like the diamond firetail are threatened when abundant grazing animals eat the plants the birds depend on.
Tom Hunt

Protected from what?

National parks and other protected areas can be safeguarded in a variety of legal ways. Activities such as grazing of domestic stock, building, cropping and some recreational activities (hunting, fishing, dogs) are usually restricted in protected areas. However, previous research has found protected areas continue to face intense pressure from agriculture, urbanisation, mining, road construction, and climate change.

Less conspicuously, the loss of predators from many Australian ecosystems has let herbivore populations grow wildly. Overgrazing, or grazing that leads to changes in habitat, is now a key threat to biodiversity.

Overgrazing by herbivores affects native species such as the diamond firetail, which is declining in southeastern Australia due to loss of habitat and the replacement of native grasses with exotic species after overgrazing and fire. Overgrazing has also been shown to reduce the abundance and diversity of ground-dwelling reptiles.

In the face of a global extinction crisis, we need good evidence that national parks and reserves are serving their purpose.




Read more:
The alpine grazing debate was never about science


To determine whether protected areas are being overgrazed, we assessed grazing impact on native vegetation at 1,192 sites across the entire agricultural region of South Australia. We looked at more than 600 plant species in woodlands, forests, shrublands, and grasslands.

The data were collected by monitoring programs, some of which included citizen scientists, aimed at tracking change in the condition of native vegetation.

Researchers looked at hundreds of sites across Southern Australia to check how grazing animals were affecting the environment.
Tom Hunt

We found that grazing pressure was already high on unprotected land when we began monitoring around 2005, and grazing impact has grown since then. On protected land, three things are happening as a consequence of inadequate management of grazing by native and introduced animals:

  1. grazing impact in protected areas has substantially increased,

  2. protected areas in some regions now show equally severe effects from grazing as seen on private land without any conservation protections, and

  3. the character of our landscapes, including national parks, is set to change as the next generation of edible seedlings is lost from protected and unprotected ecosystems.

The increased severity of grazing in protected areas paints a dire picture. This threat adds to the rising pressure on protected areas for recreational access (and other uses).

The grass is not greener

It’s well accepted that introduced species such as deer, goats, horses, camels and rabbits badly affect Australia’s native vegetation. There are a variety of control measures to keep their populations in check, including culls and strong incentives for control on farmland. Control of feral animals is normally less contentious than control of endemic species like kangaroos, because we feel a custodial responsibility for native species.

But the numbers of native kangaroos and wallabies has also increased dramatically since 2011 as populations across Australia responded to an increase in feed at the end of the Millennium drought and reduced culling in settled areas due to changes in regulation and growing opposition to culls on animal welfare grounds.




Read more:
Plants are going extinct up to 350 times faster than the historical norm


Managing kangaroo populations, on the other hand, is a polarising issue. Arguments about culling kangaroos can be bitter and personal, and create perceptions of an urban-rural divide.

However, a few species – even if they are native – should not be allowed to compromise the existence of other native plants and animals, especially not where we have dedicated the land to holistic protection of biodiversity.

Extinction rates in Australia are extremely high, especially among plants. Research has also found conservation funding is disproportionately aimed at individual species rather than crucial ecosystems. We must address our reluctance to manage threats to biodiversity at the scale on which they operate.

Protected areas must be managed to meet clear biodiversity targets and control overgrazing, including from native species.




Read more:
Fixing Australia’s extinction crisis means thinking bigger than individual species


Welfare concerns for conspicuous native species need to be weighed against the concern for the many other less obvious native plant and animal species. If our national parks and reserves are not managed properly, they will fail to meet the conservation need for which they were established.The Conversation

Patrick O’Connor, Associate Professor, University of Adelaide; Stuart Collard, Research Fellow, The Centre for Global Food and Resources, University of Adelaide, and Thomas Prowse, Postdoctoral research fellow, School of Mathematical Sciences, University of Adelaide

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Labor’s climate and resources spokesmen at odds over future policy


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

Opposition resources spokesman Joel Fitzgibbon has had his proposal to bring Labor’s climate change target into line with the government’s immediately torpedoed by the party’s climate spokesman Mark Butler.

In a speech to the Sydney Institute made public ahead of its Wednesday evening delivery Fitzgibbon suggested the ALP offer “a political and policy settlement” to match the higher end of the government’s 26-28% target for reducing emissions on 2005 levels by 2030.

Labor’s controversial election policy was for an ambitious 45% reduction.

Fitzgibbon said the change he advocated would mean “the focus would then be all about actual outcomes, and the government would finally be held to account and forced to act.

“A political settlement would also restore investment confidence and for the first time in six years, we could have some downward pressure on energy prices,” Fitzgibbon said.

But Butler rejected the proposal saying the government’s target “is fundamentally inconsistent with the Paris agreement and would lead to global warming of 3℃.

“Labor remains committed to implementing the principles of the Paris Agreement, which are to keep global warming well below 2℃ and pursue efforts around 1.5℃,” he said.

“Labor’s commitment to action on climate change is unshakeable. We will have a 2050 target of net zero emissions and medium-term targets which are consistent with the agreement,” Butler said.

Despite dismissing Fitzgibbon’s idea, Butler has acknowledged that Labor’s climate change policy must be up for grabs in the party’s review of all its policies between now and the 2022 election.

But revising the climate policy will be one of its major challenges, because the party is caught between its inner city progressive constituency and its traditional blue collar voters. Its ambivalent position on the planned Adani coal mine cost it votes in Queensland at the election.

Apart from the politics, the 45% target for 2030 would be more unrealistic at the next election because emissions at the moment are increasing, meaning ground is being lost.

Fitzgibbon, who takes a more pro-coal attitude than many of his colleagues, had a big swing against him in his NSW coal seat of Hunter.

He said in his speech that a 28% reduction would be a “meaningful achievement” and could be built on later. He also pointed out bluntly that Labor couldn’t achieve anything if perpetually in opposition.

“If we could get to 28% by 2030, and also demonstrate that we could do so without destroying blue collar jobs or damaging the economy, then we would have a great foundation from which to argue the case for being more ambitious on the road to 2050,” he said.

Shadow treasurer Jim Chalmers, who is from Queensland, refused to be pinned down when pressed on Fitzgibbon’s proposal.

“My view is we can take real action on climate change without abandoning our traditional strengths, including in regional Queensland,” he said.

The Victorian minister for energy, environment and climate change, Lily D’Ambrosio, asked at the Australian Financial Review’s national energy summit about Fitzgibbon’s comments, said she wasn’t much interested in what a federal opposition did.

“We have a very strong and ambitious policy and we took that to the last state election, and we all know the result of that election, so we will continue to implement our policies and get them done,” she said.

Federal energy minister Angus Taylor pointed to the divisions in the opposition but welcomed that there were “people in Labor who are making sensible suggestions about dropping their policies from the last election.

“What we saw happen there was Labor went to the election with policies – 45% emissions reduction target, 50% renewable energy target – where they weren’t able to or willing to detail the costs and impacts of those policies,” he said.The Conversation

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.