Leon Ashby

Q: As one of the initiators of "Landholders for the environment", what was the reason  the group was formed?

Leon: It probably goes back several years when it was obvious pressure was building from green groups to stop or limit landholder practices they saw as harmful to the environment. I was secretary of the Aramac Landcare group and our landcare people could see the misguided judgments these green groups  were making, but very little public comments countering what they said got any sort of hearing.
 Then on January 15th 2000, there was a public meeting called in Aramac to discuss action against two pieces of legislation that  landholders in our community were very distressed about. The issue of the erosion of landholders rights was central to the meeting. 200 people had traveled ( some from up to 500kms away)  to attend and many called for a statewide movement. Two protest marches one with 1,000 people at Winton and another with 2,000 people at Roma followed in subsequent  months, but the legislation was passed and proclaimed which has eroded rights and has made good flexible land management extremely difficult for many.

Q: The group is now Australia wide. How did that come about?

Leon: Towards the end of 2000, there was an inquiry into the cost of "public good" conservation, which had submissions from across Australia. Several Aramac Landcare people including myself, sent in submissions, and we read many of these submissions from the web site they were on. That began the idea of a national approach and we defined the three objectives that  landholders were  in favour of. Sustainable production, sustainable conservation and defending landholders rights.

Q:So what sort of lobby group is "Landholders for the environment"?

Leon: It`s based on the latest and best management knowledge. It is very grass roots and has progressive thinking landcare people in it.  It  will try different approaches, depending on circumstances to get it`s message across. It will use modern technology as much as possible. And it will encourage a variety of  landholders, who are close to the issues, to be the occasional public voice for the group. We might do "in your face" things. We might do "behind the scenes" negotiation things. Basically it`s to get the best long term results for the minimum of effort.

Q: You mentioned different approaches to get the message across. What sort of approaches?

Leon: To start with, we will send press releases via e-mail and use this web site to give out more detailed information on those issues to the media, the public and politicians.  There are several other ideas but I don`t want to give away too much just yet, we will see how much reaction we get when we start in earnest.

Q: You are not asking for membership fees. Why is that?

Leon: At the moment we are all paying whatever costs are incurred ourselves. It`s less hassle just to get going and then see how things go and then adjust from there.
Besides it allows people to get involved for almost nothing,  just their time and e-mail costs.

Q: Does "Landholders for the environment" have regular news e-mails then?

Leon: Yes that`s right. It`s called news & views which keeps people informed on all sorts of related topics. It`s sent out about once a week or so and many people are e-mailing or printing out some of the material  to pass around their community.
If anyone wants to receive it,  just phone us on 0887 389313 or Email barcoorah@mail.com . You can get off the list anytime you like also.

Q: Now for some heavier questions. Why start another group when landholders already have lobby groups to represent them?

Leon: Sure, but probably not as focussed in getting detailed info to landholders or the public and certainly not the very latest research and methodologies and ideas. Don`t get me wrong, there are some very fine people in every farm lobby group, and most are busting their guts on our behalf, going to meetings, talking on the phone, signing up members, dealing with internal politics, sacrificing family time, and all while their own farms struggle. They don`t have much time to do a lot of investigation or reading.  So thats where we fit in. Focussing on environmental issues and Landholders rights and hopefully pushing the limits of environmental and legal debates.

Q: So are you saying there are deficiencies in other farm lobby groups?

Leon: What has happened is that a whole myriad of environmental issues have hit landholders, and all lobby groups are buckling under the strain. Some of the environmental legislation being brought into parliament can be up to 600 pages long, and there can be two or three pieces of legislation  to deal with at once.
 And on top of that, no one person can hold all the possible landholder concerns in their head while reading a piece of legislation to analyze. With the e-mail and the internet we can often source legislation and political press releases and many landholders can then analyze the material in a short time.

Q: Are you then going to be just an extention to other lobby groups?

Leon: No, not at all. We will be fully independent and prepared to criticize any one else on any relevant issue. However we will be trying to get cooperation between not just farmer groups but green groups as well. We also hope to make impressions on all political parties too. I suppose you could say we want to bring debates to a win - win situation where both landholders and the environment wins. Sometimes that will require bloodying someone's nose to get them to realise we mean business, but ultimately if the world wants to be able to feed the 10 to 12 billion people on the earth by 2050, it has no choice but to listen to the innovators at the food production coalface. It won`t be achieved by more and more legislation that ties up peoples hands and takes away any incentive to be innovative, which is what most of Australia`s recent environmental legislation is going to do.

Q:Good luck then

Leon: Thanks


Leon`s Submission to the House of Representatives inquiry into the cost of Public Good conservation

From Leon Ashby - secretary of the Aramac Landcare Group inc.
To the committee looking into the cost of on farm conservation

I would like to address the conservation issues in various ways.
(1) management
(2) decision making processes
(3) responsibilities
(4) costs
(5) historical perspective

As a landholder that is keen to see governments and landholders working together towards a good process I believe everyone should have the big picture thrown at them so that the enormity of the issue is not underestimated, before money is spent

Historically, conservation is a new thing and to be honest l'd say we humans are not that successful at it. We try to conserve one endangered species after another but unless the endangered species has media clout (Koala's or Whales) the time, money and resources needed to do it, is going to become more and more burdensome in the future.
Another aspect to the big picture is that the worlds population is going to double in the next 40-50 years and if we think pressures on species are great now, then the issue is going to need some visionary thinking just to keep pressures where they are. As every person on the earth strives to make a living, and the ultimate basis for any civilisation is ifs food and primary products for industries. Then like never before I believe we need to encourage new techniques for sustainability and efficiency across all sectors of the community. However there are a couple of factors that most may be unaware of, which are

Managing the environment is managing a living organism - it is not able to be Organised into a filing cabinet of neat and tidy processes and

We humans make decisions in mostly single minded fashion e.g. we decide what we want and pursue that and then we focus on the next thing, which means we are not very experienced  at managing multi - effected situations

I suspect that while you are reading this you are not focussing on any more than a few of the hundreds of effects that you are having on the environment at this very moment (breathing , sweating, Microbes in your gut, trees processed for the paper you will use next month, energy generated for your computer, fuel being produced for your car next week, food produced for your consumption, how your wastes are disposed of, viruses you are passing around, bacteria on your clothes,etc etc etc.) . Your existance has hundreds of environmental effects daily.Now if we want to make decisions about helping the environment, then we have to make decisions with myriads of effects simultaneously because every little organism can and often will effect something else in the environrnent.

Our present understanding does not know the possible combinations or permutations of every organisms effects on other organisms (and I doubt if we ever will.)
On top of this, the historical evidence points to constant extinctionism of species no matter if the management was "left to nature" or it a" human effect" is in there as well.

So the environmental world is a constantly changing thing with constant human interference coming on top of that and now some people want to conserve the environment as though it can be Isolated from humanity and it will not change by itself anyway. I believe the pubic's expectations about conservation are unreal. Both governments and landholders are not going  to be able to deliver absolute conservation no matter what.

However I do see some sort conservation as possible and I will explain it later. In answer to some of the inquiry`s  questions, I would like to make several points

·     anything which takes up landholders time, money or limits his land development options are all imposts that should be paid for by the people who want those things done e.g taxpayers or consumers.

·     If there is  to be a thrust of conservation and sustainability it will run out of steam if it is not woven into commercial realities - in other words it needs to have market forces and prices to help pay for the work to be done. Landcare Grants and 6.5 billion dollar plans will be wasted money it commercial realities don't ultimately take over the issue.

·     There are inequalities which are starting to emerge, which may blow up in some governments face one day and these are

(a) National Parks management
(b) Aboriginal Land management
(c) Council Land management
The ways that each of these lands differ in the accountability of their management (when compared with freehold and leasehold) is starting to get up people's noses, so if the issues of sustainability and conservation are paramount, they have to be addressed equally across all tenures.

·     If any government wants to say that landholders will have to "carry the can for conservation, then we will have yet another situation where the bush will feel alienated and will ultimately rebel one way or another.

·     If the greenhouse gas issue were to be dealt with fairly, then the use of carbon credits could help landholders establish or keep more trees on their properties however there are several things that make us landholders sceptical which are

(a)     native forests in existence prior to 1990 are ineligible , therefore landholders in some parts of Queensland have to pull their trees and replant other trees to be eligible
(b)     regrowth is uncertain for being eligible
(c)     Nick Minchin has refused funding to research for the greenhouse office work to establish carbon values in our soils and the forests in our area of Queensland (Desert Uplands) (*note - This decision was reversed later)
(d)     Agreement across most countries of the world needs to be sorted out and agreed upon before carbon trading can be a realistic option.
(e)     the size of forests required to be eligible, make a commercial difference for those planning. Because this is unknown it`s a concern to landholders.
(f)     Once land has reached its potential for stored carbon in trees and vegetation, then carbon credit payments may cease and other commercial realities need to take over that would support the storing of carbon, or that system will (ultimately) fail

Now to my suggestion for a process that can deliver some conservation and some sustainable development

l've tried to encompass several issues in this one plan. They are
(1) Sound Tree clearing practices
(2)The Federal Govt's discussion purple paper on Future Sustainability -Landcare / NHT direction
(3)     Changing the fact that landholders have continually been asked to do things better but never getting any financial benefits when they do it better.
(4)I would like to see the usual process changed. You know the one! Generally an issue is tackled by Govt's a bit, a few dollars thrown at it, that usually doesn't work so if it will get some votes a few more $ are thrown around, that works a little, so it either it has to get a lot of publicity and looked at properly, otherwise it gets ignored and put in the "too hard" basket.

I have a suggestion to split the vegetation / landcare management into 3
(1)conservation of either endangered ecosystems or endangered species
(2) sustainable production of grazing land &
(3) sustainable production of farming land

hopefully this would make policies I principles of management less confusing

Lets look at the conservation issue first
I believe it is the responsibility of all of society to share the cost of conservation
Supposing regional groups were given the primary responsibility of maintaining the "endangered" species (I prefer just the conservation of species to the conservation of ecosystems because its easier, less complex and less costly) An ecosystem is more than trees on a soil type, it is every organism that is in a defined area

Remember that locking up land in a brittle (low humidity) environment causes some grasses to die out - This is due to several factors (roots of grasses not being stimulated and the nutrients not cycling properly) We have photos and an explanation on our web site of a plot of land locked up for 7 years in the longreach district which demonstrates this. the site is
www. geocities.com/barcoorah.

Suppose they come up with an arrangement of fencing out all "endangered" (& maybe even 'of concem" species as well) and these areas were agreed to be monitored and managed just for the conservation of whichever species were designated. If other species are conserved as well - that`s great.
The costs of this would be
(a) management (monitoring and organising fire, grazing, & rest etc)
(b) fencing
(c) production losses to the landholder (who would then have to be either paid for the land or paid compensation annually for lost production, based on a formula like the average profit per hectare of developed country minus the devlopement costs per hectare spread over the likely time the development would be effective)

Now lets look at sustainable production of grazing land.
The reason we want sustainable production is to maintain or improve production without degradation so that we have resources for ages to come. The landholder's responsibility should be the management costs, but (since ) it is important to society to know that the resources are being maintained, then  society should pay for the costs associated with gaining that knowledge. (monitoring)
My suggestion is a performance based incentive scheme where all land (aboriginal, Govt, council, and private is monitored for several indicators of good management.
My suggestions are some or all of these.
(1) water table levels (indicator of a potential salinity problem)
(2) Grass check (number of species and numbers of total plants / area)
(3) microorganisms in the soil (000's / cubic cm of soil)
(4) erosion check
(5) tree check or biomass check (amount of timber or carbon / hectare)
(6) native and feral animal check

Properties could get a report card each year and if every indicator shows there has been no deterioration in the ecosystem (indicators 1 ,2,3,4,&6) the property
can get a green (landcare) accreditation stamp to put on its produce to hopefully gain a market advantage. I expect it will take several years for the market advantage to be realised, but once it does this will become the driving force for sustainable production, - not government grants.
Indicator 5 could be used for carbon credits or put in with the green stamp as well.
The costs should be split whereby the landholder pays for the management that is required to maintain the health of the ecosystem, while society pays wages for people to do the monitoring.
Naturally the monitoring costs will be quite high with one person only able to monitor about 2 to 5 properties / week, but if Society is so concerned about  the environment then I believe it has to put it`s money where it`s mouth is and do the job properly or not at all.

Many have just suggested establishing best management practices (BMP's) rather than monitoring.
In my opinion that does not allow for pioneering new methods, or differences in soils, ecosystems, climate, management styles and other subtleties that BMP's cannot address. One of our paddocks has 3 hugely different ecosytems that weave in and out each other in it, and each responds differently to fire, rest, waterspreading, and overgrazing. I'd like to see someones BMP for that paddock. I expect it would be to fence each ecosystem and manage them then. On our property that would mean the weirdest sized and shaped
-docks, which would cost up to 3 times the value of the land. By monitoring that paddock a truer  picture about what is happening environmentaliy can be guaged before management strategies begin.

Now to Look at Farming for sustainable production
I believe this could be done very slirillar to grazing land except that the grass check and tree check are not included. But a water quality runoff Indicator could be included instead. This is because soil particles with nutrients attached, pesticides and weedicides are far more likely to come off farmed land than grazing areas and then they could get into water supplies.

Apart from these types of arrangements, the main other issue that regional groups could work on are timber harvesting regimes, retention rates and which species are to be conserved generally the regional groups could decide if and to what level they want to work towards, and how to use the green landcare accreditation to improve producers prices for their areas stamp

Both State and Federal Govt's are coming under pressure to be seen to be
We are all just starting to realise how complex and difficult managing the
environment is. We can either let the process bumble along or encourage it in the right direction.
Can we devise an idea which will achieve results year after year. Perhaps a phasing in of annual monitoring checks over 5 years might be the way to go .
Would the seasonal variations throw the monitoring results into chaos?
Would a work for the dole scheme be able to be implemented as part of the monitoring work?
Lets get grass roots people to inspire it and govemments smoothing the process so that conservation and sustainable production get market forces supporting the reality across all of Australia.

Leon Ashby
(secretary of the Aramac Landcare Group )