Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Livestock in Riparian Zones - Reality vs Greenspin

How a picture can tell a thousand lies.

A green blogger recently provided a link to a NSW Catchment Management Authority web site as “evidence” of the degraded condition of “our” environment due to grazing of stock in riparian zones. But in reality, the site provides a very good example of how a few pictures and sloppy captioning can tell a thousand lies. See;
The introductory text said;
“Inappropriate livestock grazing is one of the most significant causes of degradation to the land-water interface in Australia. Livestock have long been part of the Australian landscape. Cattle, sheep, horses, goats and pigs arrived with the first settlers in the 1780s and moved with them across NSW into the Central West. Settlements sprang up along river systems supported by clean water and fertile floodplain soils. Since that time, livestock have caused damage to the most sensitive part of the landscape – our riparian lands.”

This picture was captioned;
"The access of livestock to waterways has many detrimental impacts on riverbank stability and water quality. (NSW DPI)"

True, we see cattle by a creek and some exposed soil which would lead most urban punters to conclude that this picture is representative of the entire length of the creek on that farm and representative of all grazed creek banks on all farms.

But we can be quite certain, given the proven MO of CMA’s and their staff, that the picture shows worse than average impacts. A random inspection of the first, second and third order farm streams that account for most of the riparian interface in the landscape is unlikely to provide a single example of conditions like those shown. It is also highly improbable that anything like those conditions would be replicated over the entire length of that particular stream. Indeed, there may be only one or two such examples on the entire property.

It is also quite certain that the conditions produced in the photo represent the sum of all cattle damage over a period of more than 100 years. Once the landform modification has been made by the stock to match their normal level of traffic, the rate of change (called degradation) will reduce to a minimum. Most of the modification shown in the photo would have been done in the first decade after settlement.

Stock can produce physical modifications to a small portion of a riparian zone when they are first introduced to a landscape or when a major increase in animal traffic at a particular point takes place. If the stocking rate has essentially remained the same and the number of access points is not reduced in a way that increases traffic on the remaining access points then there is minimal on-going impact. But the CMA text merely indicates that this “significant” damage has taken place “since that time” (ie implying it is on a continuous basis, in the past and in future). It converts an historical event as evidence of a future threat.

And it begs the question, do we regard a road culvert as evidence of land degradation? Or do we regard it as a piece of infrastructure that is a normal and necessary part of the prevailing use of the land as a road? Clearly, we view it as the latter. So why do we regard customary tracks (roads) made by cattle for their own continuing use as anything different to our own road culverts?

Both involve an initial excavation that exposes soil and both then involve only minimal soil disturbance for many decades after. And just like our road system, the more traffic cattle tracks have, the greater the visual impact. Do we begrudge Elephants or Caribou their right to shape creek crossings? No, only domestic stock.

To its credit, the site does include some helpful tools for minimising on-going soil movement. And just as for our own road culverts, this involves paving the most prone parts of the road with rock and concrete. The irony is that this simple, logical solution can only be carried out with the approval of DPI and the additional cost and effort that involves. And it is also fairly obvious that any approval for such works would only come with very significant and expensive conditions like fencing off the entire riparian zone and installing unnecessary watering points and piping.

Don’t get me wrong, additional watering points away from streams and dams make very good sense as they spread the grazing intensity more evenly over the entire area. But when faced with baseless, ideologically driven demands to render existing in-stream watering points redundant as a condition of approval for your voluntary good works, most farmers, justifiably, opt to let the authorities continue abusing themselves.

This photo was captioned;
"Sheep are said to have a greater impact than cattle in the riparian zone. (NSW DPI)"

It shows a fairly normal steep bank of a deep riverine cross section. Yes, there are sheep in the picture but one is left to wonder what, exactly, is the impact of those, or the past century of previous sheep, on the steepness of the river bank? Sure, they graze on the grass and may also graze on any tree seedlings that might germinate there. But the chances of such stems surviving the first flood event are quite low as they are more rigid than grass and much more likely to get tangled with passing debris.

Are we to seriously believe that without the sheep this river bank would be steeper? No.
Is there any evidence that the bank is not maintaining its form? No.
Would the bank structure be any different if there were trees atop the bank? No
In fact, if trees were present we would probably observe exposed roots as evidence that additional erosion had taken place. The area of exposed soil would be greater because the grasses would be competing for moisture with the trees and this would present a more erodible face to flood waters with greater potential for snags.

The third photo is just as misleading. We are told; “This creek was severely polluted with sediment and animal waste laden run-off. The rapid increase in nutrient levels caused a massive toxic blue-green algae bloom, rendering the creek water unusable for stock or domestic consumption.”
But what they do not tell us is that this is a temporary condition that starts at the beginning of a dry season and will only last until the pool dries up later in the season. More importantly, they do not mention that most high faecal E. coli counts and algal blooms are the result of self reproduction in the warm stagnant water. As was found to be the case with Canberra’s Lake Burley Griffin, most algae in a bloom is of a secondary or “regrowth” nature.

The severity of an algal bloom or the ultimate concentration of faecal E . coli, is not a function of the initial volume of coli being supplied to the pools in runoff. Rather, the longer the dry season, the warmer the temperature, the shallower the pools and the less frequent the intermittent runoff events take place, the greater the exponential rate of bacterial and algal growth becomes.
Algae reproduce faster and more often in favourable conditions, get used to it, folks.

The official CMA summary is in black type, below. It does not present a true and fair view so we have added a few comments in green to get closer to the truth about the impacts of grazing on riparian zones;

The real impacts of riparian grazing

isolated, once-off loss of vegetation cover in the first few years exposure to grazing
once-off soil compaction at a few specific points and initial erosion
once-off bank instability followed by long term stability of the modified landforms
isolated instances of reduced water quality
no evidence of reduced property values from the presence of stock modifications
enhanced germination of native tree species in hoof depressions etc

localised instances of poor water quality (increased turbidity, nutrients and salinity)
very localised loss of in-stream habitat
isolated, once-off changes to river channel shape of minor consequence
minor silting of rivers and creeks compared to that produced by unsealed roads
enhanced natural regeneration of native trees along previously cleared creek banks

Clearly, a picture can, indeed, tell a thousand lies. And government and green pictures seem to tell the most lies of all.

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Tuesday, September 08, 2009

New State for North Qld - 69% support

In a glaring indictment of Premier Bligh's metrocentric governance, a Brisbane radio poll has shown overwhelming support for a new state for North Queensland. Brisbane talkback radio 4BC ran the poll on 4th September 2009 and at 2.00pm Thursday 10th September, support for the new state option was running at 69% in favour to 30% against. See http://www.4bc.com.au/

Radio 4BC online staff advised that "this is by far the largest response they have had for a poll in a long time". Responses also included a lot of text messages suggesting that the metropolitan SE corner of the state should be given back to NSW with the border of the "real Queensland" placed just above Noosa.

This poll demonstrates how more and more voters, including those in SEQ, now recognise that the government they elected is over extended just in dealing with urban SEQ issues, let alone those of the rest of Queensland. The government's bungling of regional issues, especially regional health services, has produced the extraordinary situation where half of all new settlers in the SE corner of the state now come from regional Queensland, not from interstate. This was not the case in the past when regional drift to the South East was less pronounced and was offset by interstate and overseas migrants who settled in the regions. This new settlement pattern can no longer be characterised as healthy or sustainable growth. It is clearly "cancerous growth", at the expense of more balanced regional growth.

Many take the view that this is a logical consequence of an urban electoral majority, electing an urban centred government to deliver the narrow centralised, governance that conforms to their limited urban perspective. The remaining 1/3rd of the states 4 million people must now put up with this "one-size-fits-all" approach and wear the associated costs. They are constantly reminded of the need to avoid "duplication" of services but no-one ever mentions the futile waste involved when an MP from Cooktown, Townsville or Mt Isa has to travel all the way to Brisbane and sit through endless parliamentary debate about the Tugun Bypass (on the NSW Border) or Brisbane's second Gateway Bridge. Don't tell me there is no better use for their time.

SEQ residents are starting to understand that it is the very rapid pace of population growth that is driving the congestion based decline in their quality of life and the explosion in government debt. If only 200,000 new settlers in the state had been diverted to a new state capital region in the north over the past two decades then the second gateway bridge and a whole raft of other expensive infrastructure would not be needed for another five years. And the cost of providing services and infrastructure to those 200,000 diverted settlers in the new capital would be a small fraction of the compounded costs involved when they are added to an existing metropolitan region. From the moment governments start considering hugely expensive tunnels as the only alternative to traffic grid lock it is clear that serious diseconomies of scale have set in. The point when costs no longer increase by addition is long past. From here on they will only multiply, and compound exponentially.

There would have been no so-called "water crisis" if effective decentralisation through devolution had already been in place because the existing system would easily have coped with a more balanced pace of growth. The hugely unpopular Traveston Crossing Dam, the expensive folly of the desalination plant, the tunnels, the bridges and the vast expanses of concrete are all monuments to an almost pathological centralism. Each new cohort of 200,000 settlers in the SE corner means another 10% of Moreton Bay is closed for fishing.

But they just don't get it. The dominant aim of government has never been to create an ever bigger, uglier and less liveable metropolis. No mandate has ever been given for this option but it pervades and perverts every major policy. And to give the appearance of addressing the issue the government has implemented a regional plan that manipulates the symptoms while exacerbating the causes.

And to anyone who might still hold doubts as to the viability of one, or two new, states in regional Queensland it is worth reflecting that we already have a working example. There is one region in Australia that is not run by a distant metropolitan elite. It has a population less than 500,000 people. And because most of its people live within 3 hours drive of the seat of government the tax money circulates through the entire economy, not just the capital district. It does not have a doctors shortage because it has its own medical school and the supply of trainees is matched to local needs, not those of a distant city. Its government has full control over its fair share of federal GST funds and they set their own spending priorities rather than make the best of priorities set by a distant elite. And their political parties adopt policies that differ from those of their metropolitan counterparts to better serve the interests of their local community.

We refer to that independent "regional state" as Tasmania. And you would spend a very long time there trying to find some sad, lonely soul who yearns to be governed by supposedly more enlightened folks in Melbourne. True, Tasmania gets some additional federal fiscal subsidy but this is to compensate for the additional costs imposed by Bass Straight. A similar self governing region on the mainland would not need as much budget support because of their existing road and rail links.

And it is also worth noting that the absence of major metropolitan congestion costs in Tasmania’s budget framework ensures that the purchasing power of their tax revenue is higher than in other states. Greater Hobart’s population of 195,000 is only 40% of the state population. The difference in the cost of office space between Hobart and Sydney, or between Townsville and Brisbane, for example, has a major bearing on the capacity to deliver real government services. Add to that the huge advantages of implementing policy down a shorter, leaner chain of command and the oft repeated ‘duplication’ bogeyman slinks away.

Regional states were always intended by our nation's founders. Prior to federation, the British Crown ensured that each region had the right to decide its own self determination as a new colony within the Empire. This was done in the interests of the same "peace, order and good governance" that were enshrined in the objects of the Queensland Constitution. Indeed, it was this very principle that allowed Queensland to obtain self governance over the objections and active sabotage of NSW just 40 years earlier.

Ironically, it was only after the blatant blackmail by Brisbane interests at federation, who threatened to torpedo the new nation itself, that a States veto over the formation of new states within its boundaries was added to the Commonwealth Constitution. This affront to democratic principles was driven by then Qld Governor Griffiths who was clearly acting in breach of his oath to serve all Queenslanders equally, not just Brisbane interests. This “improper exercise of power” by way of “callous disregard for the rights and liberties of regional Queenslanders”, can hardly fall within the meaning of his oath to “well and truly serve”. Prior to this the Crown could disregard the fact that such a clause may be present in the constitution of an existing colony, as it does in the Queensland one.

It is also worth noting that just 48 years later the Commonwealth ratified the UN Charter which also reaffirmed the people of any regions right to determine its own status free of any veto by an existing authority.

This clearly establishes that the major stumbling block to the formation of new states, the veto of the existing metropolitan power, has no moral authority in either historical Westminster principles or under the United Nations covenants. A State Premier who would disregard the legitimate aspirations of a region for their own state within the commonwealth, and exercise a veto power that was obtained under duress, would place themselves among some of the most infamous, ruthless and undemocratic lowlife that history has ever served up.

The interesting question is whether urban Queensland and their first female Premier has the gall and hypocrisy to veto a new state for North Queensland. For in doing so she would commit the political and moral equivalent of denying a battered wife her right to a just, fair and timely divorce. In both cases there was once a time when such vetos were acceptable but, hopefully, we have come a long way since then.

Copyright, Ian Mott 08/09/09