Invasive buffel grass declared a weed in the Northern Territory

Invasive buffel grass declared a weed in the Northern Territory

In short

The NT government has declared buffel grass a weed and pledged to stop its spread.

The controversial grass is popular with many pastoralists, but it is of significant concern to environmental and Indigenous groups.

What’s next? 

A weed management plan will now be formalised to tackle buffel grass in Central Australia.

The Northern Territory government has today declared buffel a weed, pledging to tackle the spread of the controversial grass in Central Australia.

But while some stakeholders say it’s a “day to celebrate”, others argue it’s been a “farce of a process” which has sidelined the local pastoral industry.

The grass species is highly valued by some NT pastoralists, as it provides fast-growing cattle fodder and can help reduce dust and soil erosion.

But environmental and Indigenous groups have long warned it exacerbates grass fires, reduces biodiversity and impacts Aboriginal cultural practices.

Environmental groups say the invasive grass poses significant fire risks.(Flickr: Forest and Kim Starr, CC BY 2.0)

Today’s announcement will see a weed management plan formalised for buffel in Central Australia, with $750,000 earmarked in the NT budget to strategically manage the invasive grass.

The NT government says this declaration was guided by advice from its technical working group and a buffel advisory committee, formed in March.

The management plan will be developed in consultation with the community, and completed by the end of the year.

Adrian Tomlinson, from the Arid Lands Environment Centre, says the declaration is “a great step for nature”. (ABC Alice Springs: Samantha Jonscher)

Mixed reactions to announcement

Adrian Tomlinson, from the Arid Lands Environment Centre, said today’s declaration was “decades in the making”.

“This is a great step for nature, for culture and the many industries that rely on healthy country,” he said.

Mr Tomlinson said when developing its management plan, the committee would be looking at South Australia, which declared buffel grass a weed nine years ago.

“It’s not too late,” he said.

“This is about stopping [buffel] going along pathways like road and rail corridors. But also it’s about building the capacity and starting where we are.”

NT Cattlemen’s Association chief executive Will Evans says there’s been no real clarity about what the declaration means.(Supplied)

NT Cattlemen’s Association chief executive Will Evans told NT Country Hour the declaration has been a “farce of a process”.

He said the association has been calling for the committee to delay its vote on a weed declaration, to allow time for further clarity.

“We’ve engaged on this matter in good faith for more than a year now, tried to work constructively to reach an outcome that would be beneficial to everybody,” he said.

“And that’s really been waylaid or sidelined in the interest of political expediency.”

Mr Evans said he had been given little detail on how the declaration would impact the pastoral sector, with only “vague assurances” they would be excluded.

He argued there were better ways to manage buffel than a weed declaration.

“[We’ve been] trying to communicate with the government and saying, ‘don’t saddle yourself with an absolute debt burden that is going to cost millions of dollars,” he said.

“They’ve rejected all of that.”

Arrernte woman Rayleen Brown says this declaration has been a long time coming.(Supplied: Rayleen Brown)

Arrernte woman Rayleen Brown works in the tourism and bush foods industry, and welcomed today’s announcement.

She says she has noticed buffel grass “creeping in” throughout the years and threatening native plants and animals.

“It affects things like the bush tomatoes being harvested, the acacia and wattleseed, because of the high heat of these buffel grass fires,” she said.

“Our native grasses in Central Australia are patchy, but the buffel is so dense that even the native seeds are destroyed because of the high heat of the fires. It’s dangerous.”

Buffel grass has spread throughout Central Australia since it was introduced decades ago.(Supplied: Adrian Tomlinson)

Buffel yet to be classified

Weeds can be declared under three classes in the Northern Territory.

Class A stipulates the weed must be eradicated; class B declares its growth and spread will be prevented; while class C says it must not be introduced into the NT.

The NT government confirmed today it had not yet classified buffel grass, as the options for its management “crossed all classifications”.

NT Chief Minister Eva Lawler says the government is yet to classify buffel.(ABC News: Michael Franchi)

“That’s the next stage — that’s the work that needs to be done now and to engage all parties around that,” NT Chief Minister Eva Lawler said.

The government’s buffel grass management strategy said it was “a very high impact weed, but with a low feasibility of control”, and outlined objectives for managing buffel on different land tenures. 

On pastoral leases, landholders should “reduce/prevent [buffel grass] spread off-site”, while on conservation land, establishment of buffel should be prevented and its spread controlled. 

The “strategically timed grazing” of cattle on buffel grass could be an effective method of control, according to the strategy.

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