Why the land needs people
From time to time in the bush we hear calls from environmentalists for the remote areas we live in to be locked up. For the waters to be closed down, the fences pulled down, the domestic stock removed and therefore most of the people to move away. These comments come from people who assume that human beings are only likely to destroy the natural environment they live in and that everything should be left to go back to "nature".
This idea is mistaken. Australia has not been "left to nature" since Aborigines arrived here. Using fire as their main tool Aborigines shaped the natural environment of Australia. They adapted to the land and the land adapted to them until neither could survive with-out the other. The situation is the same today. The land needs people.
The land needs people to control weeds
Since Europeans came to Australia many non-native species of plants have also been making their way here. Some have been very helpful, most have been neither good nor bad but some others threaten to cover vast areas wiping out whole ecosystems and establishing themselves as near monocultures. Two examples of these plants are Prickly Acacia and Parthenium. Prickly Acacia is a tree that is taking over large areas of the Mitchell Grass downs in Queensland and drastically reducing the diversity of life in those areas. Parthenium is a weed like plant that takes over grazing lands out competing native forbs and grasses. Parthenium also has nasty effects on human health. It irritates eyes and causes a reaction similar to bad hayfever. In some people it can eventually threaten their sight. Parthenium is a serious problem in central Queensland. Landholders continually have to fight to contain and destroy these weeds.
(See Weeds Site on the links page for information on these and other weeds that are threatening Australia).
The land needs people to control feral animal numbers
Native wildlife in Australia suffer competition from many introduced animals. Having people on the land means that feral animals have some checks on their numbers. Some examples are:
Goats - feral goats run wild in central Australia. They ignore fences and travel to wherever the best feed is. Because goat meat is readily saleable, landholders and local townspeople hunt goats and keep their numbers down. Feral goat numbers are lower now than they have been in the past.
Cats - feral cats live on many native Australian birds, reptiles and small mammals. There is no sale for or bounty on feral cats but many landholders and local roo-shooters shoot cats when they see them in spite of the cost in ammunition.
Rabbits - rabbits eat grasses and compete for the food of stock and native animals. In conjunction with the diseases Rabbit Calicivirus and Myxomytosis, landholders help to keep rabbit populations down by ripping burrows and shooting.etc.
Pigs - feral pigs are scavengers and can spread diseases to other animals and humans They can breed up very quickly and have an impact on plant and animal populations. Landholders and pig shooters keep the numbers in check due to a sale for "game" pig meat.
Wild Donkeys, camels and horses are other animals that can breed up to large enough numbers to cause severe overgrazing of plants and reduce the health of habitat for native animals.
With-out people on the land, native animals would have more competition from feral animals and their habitat would be in worse condition.
The land needs people to manage fire for the good of the land
Fire can have different effects on land and animals depending on how it is used. Fire is used by humans to return old dead plant material to the soil so that plants can regrow vigorously. It is also used to help prevent trees and shrubs from overtaking grasslands. As a general rule it is better to burn small patches at a time so that animals have unburnt areas available to retreat to, to get away from the fires and so there will be unburnt areas to use for food and shelter while the burnt areas are recovering. If the land is left unmanaged the only fires would be wild fires caused by lightning. Wild fires are likely to burn much hotter and over larger areas and can destroy many times more native animals (as well as fences, houses etc) than when humans have been regularly patch burning. (See "Fire" page on this site).
The land needs people to control timber thickening
As explained on the "Tree Pulling"
and "Tree Increase in Australia"
pages there is a constant tug-of-war going on in the rangelands of Australia between trees and shrubs on one hand and grasslands on the other. The balance between the two was maintained in the past by Aborigines' use of fire (and perhaps with the help of native animals which lived on the reshooting tree leaves after a fire). Today landholders (some of them still Aboriginal) can still use fire but they can also use other tools such as bulldozers to maintain the balance between trees and grass. With-out that balance many Australian plants and animals could not survive.
The land needs people to prevent over-resting of the land
As explained on the "Grazing and Animal Impact"
page and the "Fire"
page perenial grasses that are not burned or grazed at least once a year can become choked by their own old leaves. They can even die from being rested too long. Over time, resting land (ie not grazing plants and the soil surface remaining undisturbed ), can actually create deserts. (We are gathering photos and information to illustrate the negative effect over-rest. Keep checking this site for updates.)
The land needs people to manage grazing and fire to keep the plants and soil healthy.