An Uncertain Future

An Uncertain Future

The climate is changing. Even climate change deniers agree that things are changing and, according to some, perhaps for the better.

The enormous amount of scientific support for anthropogenic climate change does not have to be accepted, not everyone takes an evidence-based road to their opinions and beliefs.

Even if we aren’t sure we are descending towards climate armageddon with rising oceans and temperatures and drastic impacts on civilisation, the precautionary principle dictates that we should act.

The precautionary principle means that while you may not be certain of a threat or potential threat, you still take precautions, ‘just in case’.

People closest to the land – farmers, landholders, land managers – and people working close to the ocean, know ‘something’ is going on, that we live in a time of climatic change. The predictable regularity that we, our parents, grandparents and great-grandparents once knew was the foundation for primary production decision making.

We all realise that in geographic time, this has not always been the case. Severe peaks and troughs in global temperature have occurred, as climate change denialists are quick to point out, conveniently forgetting those extremes have always caused mass extinctions.

There is a solid body of evidence suggesting we have had a comparatively smooth climatic ride since the last ice age glaciation retreated around 12,000 years ago.

But what has climate change, real or hypothesised, have to do with natural resource management in a subtropical and tropical state like Queensland? Do land managers need to understand this change?

Undeniably, the answer to these questions is yes! We are seeing the manifestation of change today, oceans are warming and species are experiencing habitat shift to the cooler south, seeking optimum sea temperatures and invading habitat traditionally dominated by other species.

Similarly, change is occurring on land. Changes in habitat bring changes in species, both plant and animal.

This change brings unpredictability. Different temperature profiles mean a change of competitive viability among species and, often, the most competitive species are weeds.

There is much we do not understand about environmental triggers that can turn a relatively benign species into a dominating monoculture.

Take athel pine, a favoured shade for chook houses and cattle yards across much of the top half of Australia for more than a century. Totally benign, quite happy to shelter the fowls, no eco-ambition to venture forth and dominate. Until suddenly, for some reason, athel pine got a bee in its collective bonnet and exploded down the Finke River in the Red Centre. Extruding salt, as is its wont, athel pine changed the landscape along that ancient river, creating a monoculture along the floodplains, and cost landholders millions of dollars in control.

Changes in weather conditions change ecosystems. Benign plants can turn into Genghis Khans of the plant world… we don’t entirely understand the triggers, but we do know it happens.

We have seen prickly acacia, rubber vine and parthenium dominate large tracts of Queensland’s rangelands, costing many millions of dollars in control. And who is on the forefront of this weed control? Land managers and NRM groups. Natural Resource Management groups, their employees and their contractors are out there every day spraying, flying drones, researching, coordinating, innovating, documenting and fighting these menaces to our environment and productivity.

NRM groups and the communities they work with are the border protection agencies of ecosystems throughout the State of Queensland, observing, then controlling when needed.

Change is happening: worse droughts, worse flooding, more severe storms. We are seeing increased firestorms around the globe. This all affects primary production and the State’s GDP. The threat is real – Queensland has seen it all before, from prickly pear to prickly acacia. With ecological change, benign and even beneficial plants can change their nature and become land hungry and takeover huge areas.

This is the strength of having NRM people in the field, talking to landholders, observing and interpreting change, being part of the ongoing coordination of various agencies of which the NRM groups are but one.

NRM groups need to be maintained so they can do this work with confidence and strength.

Candidates in the Queensland election must stand up and be counted and undertake that, if they come to power in whatever form, they will turn around the dwindling funding support of NRM groups across most of the State.

This is a simple but necessary precaution against the drastic effects of climatic change in the future. Queensland needs leadership. And the State needs its NRM groups.