conservation, sustainability

Property rights

"Our basic freedoms have become almost the very reason we exist, so that we may enjoy them and pass them, unalloyed, to our grandchildren. It has been said that we uphold property rights in the free enterprise system against human rights. I say that is a false statement. The right to property is only one of the human rights, and when that falls, all else falls with it The abolition of property rights means dictatorship."
 -  Dwight D Eisenhower

The Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen approved by
the National Assembly of France in August 1789, Article 17 states:

"Since property is an inviolable and sacred right, no one shall be deprived thereof except where public necessity, legally determined, shall clearly demand it, and then only on condItion that the owner shall have been previously and equitably indemnified."

With the Australian community becoming more aware of environmental issues, the political pressure on landholders with native vegetation on their land is coming to a head.
Landholders are now getting caught in the crossfire of conservation, and erosion of their property rights.  This is while they are trying to manage their property for sustainable production outcomes and the three issues are confusing many people in working out a way forward.

Remnant Vegetation a liability
 It`s now at the situation that if you are a landholder and have native vegetation, it is a liability to you.Those with remnant areas are incurring  restrictions and costs as the various levels of government impose more and more restrictions on how that vegetation (and land) can be managed. Landholders who have done the right thing and kept remnant vegetation, are being forced to pay the costs for the rest of society`s environmental sins by having to keep the vegetation but being unable to sell the land. (see stories of injustice)

Wrong Perceptions
While it is good that the community is concerned for the environment. Wrong assumptions about what good land management is (in the media and government departments especially), along with legislation that is not well thought out, and over zealous government people, have landholders on the back foot and sometimes forced into either bad management (which is percieved as good) or conservation for the "public good" without payment.  This has forced some off their properties.(stories of injustice)
Photo of Winton?

Enough`s Enough we want our right to farm!
1,000 Landholders in Central Queensland marched through Winton in March 2000 and chanted this as they confronted legislation that has now been proclaimed which has reduced their rights and made good management very difficult. Neither  State or Federal Governments have faced up to the  issue of property rights and the rights to farm, along with rights to compensation payments when either local, state or federal restrictions are applied to landholders. This has to be addressed with federal legislation supported by all states as soon as possible.

 Government policies
The structure of Australia`s society has land managers having to produce more and more primary produce for less return (competition policy) and at the same time being forced to do it better.(environmental standards)
Reversing degradation (e.g. erosion, bare soil, tree thickening, & weed infestations),and
Improving  biodiversity (more species)  and
Improving biomass (more grass & crop  growth)
are constantly on landholders minds.
The reasons for degradation are many, but these include

Bbest management practices of past generations
The influx of new competitive species (, e.g. rabbits, foxes, pasture grasses )
Changes to the fire management
Previous government policies which
*required tree clearing  if you took up the land,
*introduced "helpful animals" like the cane toad,
*introduced "helpful plants" such as Prickly Acacia (now a weed of national significance )
*Set up many Irrigation schemes
Sometimes those decisions have had beneficial results and sometimes they  caused degradation, but  no matter who  was to blame for past practices, most were only doing what was the best management at that time.

A quiet revolution
Today there are is a quiet land management revolution taking place, which minimises the potential risks involved with land management ,but can still produce healthy primary produce for the world`s needs.
All the management tools are the same, but depending on how each tool is used, the results are vastly different.
Instead of degrading the land, regeneration is taking place. Instead of losing biodiversity, it is being maintained or increased. (see grazing - landholders results )
However the difficulty to begin getting good land management is the precise information for your circumstance and implementing the changes required. Changes such as planned / pulsed  grazing, minimum tillage, biological farming and organic farming, etc
These changes have substantial costs to them and very little government financial help such as NHT funds ever  gets to land managers doing this work because it is seen to have too much private benefit. A very short sighted approach.
Enormous good will is giving out by Australian land managers, (who don`t get 50% or more of their income from the government, as USA and EEC farmers do)  But with the apparent arrival of globalisation that we are stuck with, maybe it`s time to consider competing  with overseas countries and straighten out our laws and regulations nationally and start to reward our land managers for good land stewardship as our many competitive countries are already doing. Unfortunately Globalisation is not just a race towards global markets, but global pests and disease outbreaks (e.g. fire ants, foot and mouth disease)

Where do we start?
 Every Australian state has it`s own unique vegetation, soil and water and climate circumstances, but the questions  are the same. What are the ecological processes affecting the environment in a particular area?
How do we determine where individuals and the wider communities responsibilities lie?
How can we write legislation that is fair and brings about the best possible land management?
How can we fund these arrangements?
What Historical lessons can we learn?

History of Property rights  
Looking back in history, on every continent there appears to be a time when there were no property rights, just tribes of people fighting for their patch of land. The rights to live on a patch were won by winning a battle with the neighbouring tribe(s), but the tribe did not have a need for individual rights as everyone lived off the resources spread around the countryside. Photo of a Tribe?
As populations increased and stayed in one place, people specialised into their jobs. There are written accounts of plots of land being bought, taxed and stolen throughout history. These were the first types of property rights. No environmental responsibilities were put on those who purchased the rights to the plot and nobody even questioned it.

Varying approaches
As countries developed, many varying approaches to property rights have been tried. Sometimes rights of ownership have been defined. These have been  rights to lease or graze, build upon, bury family etc, and other times "rights in common" were used. (where everyone has an equal right to the resources of the land)
One thing we should have learned from history is that "rights in common" give rise to individuals competing for the resources to use and usually major degradation occurs. The "tradgedy of the commons" became the term which descibed this. It means everybody wants the benefits and nobody on their own wants to, or can even afford to take the responsibility of caring for the resources properly. Today it is being played out in world wide issues such as deciding what to do about the "common atomosphere resource" in relation to potential  global warming.
 The rights to land have also been a contentious issue when totalitarian governments and some dictators have forced the population into certain land management approaches. This approach has also led to no-one either wanting to care, or even able to care for the resources either.

Paying for property rights
In contrast democracies and republics have tended to give the rights to individuals,  if they purchase or lease  the land. The approach of individual rights firstly defines everyone`s patch of responsibility. It can be argued that this approach also results in degradation, however the greatest improvements have come in this system, as have the greatest wealth, technology gains, innovative ideas and at the least cost to any government. (see the article - institute of public affairs -cost of public good conservation)

Rise of the Green Movement
During the last 20 years, a greater understanding about how the many land processes work and environmental problems such as pollution, degradation and species extinctions, have brought landholders issues into every home around the country. The view of many in the Green movement is now to try to force those who have paid for their property rights to become subject to Government (and Green) dictated management. This approach is seen by landholders to be the same as either being under a dictatorship or having at best having "rights in common". Either  approach is doomed to failure.
Landholders also have the view that "if anyone (green groups, govts etc)  want the managerial rights - then they should pay for them because they (landholders) have had to" . Many landholders are prepared to go to gaol over this issue.

 It is acknowledged that we all want a healthy, productive and diverse environment, but the way to achieve this is not what most think it is and it`s not easily explained.

The Big Picture
Despite all the environmental doom and gloom, the world today is producing more food and primary resources than ever before and the population is about 6 billion. Can you contemplate that despite a slowing birth rate, the world`s population is predicted to peak at  about 12 billion in 50 to 70 years time. What impact will that have on the earth`s resources?
We are still learning more and more about the complexities of the various organisms that inhabit the earth but the assumption that we can have total control over every aspect of the earth is a myth. Deadly viruses (HIV), sickness outbreaks  caused by bacteria (E-coli), new strains of diseases (the latest foot & mouth), floods, famine, major pest outbreaks (fire ants) and plagues (locusts) are just some of the difficulties humanity has to face and will continue to have to deal with. Photo of Foot & Mouth Fire

Solutions are coming
Across the world land degradation is still increasing, but solutions are being found. The good news is that expertise already exists that can regenerate almost all of the degraded areas of the world. The quiet revolution of land managers who are using the understanding of people like Allan Savory to reverse degradation, and bring more biodiversity into their privately owned properties is slowly bringing increased production as well. It`s the people on the ground who are going to be the ones to solve the land management problems if they are given a go. For example, the photo below shows how waterspreading has regenerated land from being quite bare (on the right) to having many healthy plant species (on the left). This type of idea is relatively new. It is a commercial way to improve the water cycle and encourage more biodiversity.  It is a tool that not only restores native grasses but the stickraked heaps of timber are small animal refuges as well. Conservation can be achieved while using the land for grazing.

Unfortunately the Conservation attitude is currently "do not use the species and maybe  we can keep it" rather than "find a way to use the species and then we will keep it".
Photo of sticKraked rows as well
There are people working on understanding how soil biota can improve food production - naturally. Recently an Ausralian university isolated a  fungi  which can be produced and added to the biodiversity of the soil. this means it is  in more abundance than it already exists. It  helps deliver nutritional needs to  a particular variety of wheat plant  so production can increase up to 10 %.
All these innovative solutions do not want restrictive legislation to hinder their advances.
The approach of Allan Savory is one that has no absolute rules but requires  flexibility, timing and monitoring. These ingredients are essential to the success of all future land  management.(see Grazing, Fire, Treepulling) The tools used are the same ones that can cause degradation, but the way they are used depends upon things like what your goal is, grass growth rates, soil condition, plant species, what type of animals are being grazed, and so on. Management is  rarely consistent from one property to another, or from one part of the year to another.  Legislating restrictions on  tools like fire management, tree pulling or limiting stocking rates is ultimately going to do more harm than good.

So  what is sustainability and where does it differ to conservation?
Sustainability can mean different things to different people but if we define sustainability as continuing the processes to keep human and almost all other life occuring on the earth, then a part of sustainability is to discriminate against bad species (weeds, disease causing organisms, pests and monoculture causing species etc) and encourage the "better species" to thrive. The bad species do not have to become extinct, but kept in check by other species (hopefully).

 A  Wrong Assumption
There is an assumption that the native species  are superior to exotics and that sustainability should be about conserving all native species, but that idea does not stand up to scrutiny. Australia has imported exotic dung beetles to help the breakdown of animal manure and improve the cycling of organic matter (carbon). And our most persistant and productive grasses and animals are mostly exotic as well.
While conserving all native species is a fine ideal, but unless all species have a good use, it is unlikely they can be conserved without a specific aim to do so.
Sustainability should be about obtaining the best range of species to
(1) Sustain human life (sheep cattle goats, fish, fruit, vegetables etc)
(2) Sustain the species essential to all primary production (soil biota, plants, animals)
(3) Sustain the ecological processes (Photosynthesis, stable water tables  etc)
(4) Sustain the life cycles of species ( breeding habitat) and
(5) Sustain the various element cycles (carbon, water, etc )

Conservation on the other hand wants to conserve every species (good and bad) because it is unique, sometimes for our pleasure to just look at it, sometimes because it might become  useful to us  one day, but mostly to conserve it in the the diversity of organisms that interact with each other in an ecosystem.
 In most situations Conservation and sustainability are compatible.

Do conflicts occur between sustainability and conservation then?
Yes, an example of the conflict between sustainability and conservation is the Dingo issue. While some people want to see wild dingos in the wild, and others want to know the best dingo genetics are conserved, others on properties try to minimise their numbers (by trapping, shooting, & poisoning) This  keeps their stock and native animal numbers at an optimum. Dingos are at the top of the food chain and could cause extinctions to many native animals and wreck good grazing (sustainable) management if their numbers got out of control. They are believed to have caused the extinction of the Thyracine (Tasmainian Tiger)
Another conflict is the native plant "Heartleaf" which when eaten by animals can cause deaths, and is actively dug out by landholders, but one day when it becomes an  "endangered" plant, who will be forced  to forgo their property to conserve it?- No doubt some unlucky  Landholder.

Conserving Biodiversity is the big thing now where does that fit in?
Once again this is a conservation ideal which is going to be very difficult to achieve if every native species has to be monitored and a conservation plan worked out.
Landholders see the benefits of having a lot of diversity but if an organism is important or essential for a healthy ecosystem, then surely if we maintain healthy ecosystems the important biodiversity organisms will be there. Now not every native species can have millions of dollars each year thrown at it just to preserve it`s genetics so surely commercial solutions have to be considered. (the article by the institute of public affairs discusses this in some detail - research & articles

Suggested solutions
So we believe society should debate  putting a value on species needing conservation and consider.
(1) commercially  farming  as many native species as possible or
(2) find ways they can complement existing commercial species.
Incentive schemes could be set up quite easily to encourage some good ideas.
These ideas may be abhorrent to "high brow greenies"  who think wild species should always be wild, but the current process of waiting until a species has only a few  individuals left and then to farm them to ensure their survival seems fairly risky and not all that smart .

What is the landholders over all  approach?
Landholders are interested in both sustainability and conservation, while the general public seems to be focused on just conservation most of the time. The tree "clearing" issue is a prime example. Very little media information gets into the reality of what is sustainable management for  trees that constantly thicken and regrow . Most Green groups and most of  the media treat the issue as a conservation issue only, which is ridiculous. (see tree pulling, tree increase)
When landholders think about how to sustain the cycling of elements such as water, minerals, oxgen, carbon etc. We realise we often see the unsustainable lockup of carbon in a very visible way.

Degeneration Plots
 Many parts of the country have  small areas fenced with no access allowed to stock and other animals. These were fenced off to show landholders how the land will regenerate when grazing stops. After a few years of improvement these areas are now slowly getting worse and landholders now call them the degeneration plots.There are two  reasons for this. When plants are not eaten, they dry off, do not decompose, then if parts break off they blow or wash away and do not refertilize the soil. In time the soil has less nutients in it. At the same time the plants are not being grazed and do not get stimulated  and can die from over rest. Gradually the plant species mix changes and decreases.

National Parks
We see national parks in arid areas doing this all the time -  Unsustainable grass and soil management and the public thinks it is good conservation. Allan Savory has made the comment that without large ruminant animals such as cattle managed to help plant material reenter the soil (dung recycled), the arid areas of the world will ultimately desertify. Fire and no grazing are not enough.
When it comes to property management, landholders  see constant changes in the populations of plants and animals from year to year, we see fires change the vegetation balance, feral cats change the bird and small animal populations, wet years and droughts change the tree seedling populations etc etc, and all the while the public assumes the land stays static and to conserve a species is as simple as putting a fence around it.
This open grassland has had thousands of native tree seedlings germinate on it. They are about 18 months old. Within 10 years, they will shade out the grasses, reduce biodiversity, and cause stock mustering problems.
Conservation is not a simple task of passing a law and it will be done. Landholders see it as more like riding a brumby bareback  - it takes a lot of persistance.
And most of the regulations and laws coming upon us are like string tying the riders feet and hands together before he gets on. The problem is, those who write and pass the laws have never successfully managed any land for conservation and are guessing about what to do.

What about the arguement that unviable or marginal  properties should become reserves?
This idea suggests that unviability is a function of non productivity. Any property owner can tell you that they can be sustainably producing heaps and heaps of beef, wool, timber, milk etc, and not be viable because it is market prices and production costs that are the biggest determinate in the equation. Often "marginal" country only needs a breakthrough in either technology or management change to be able to lower the cost side of things and be "safe" country. All wealthy countries  rely on primary products for their industrial production and provided we are protecting endangered species and enough biodiversity to be sustainable, then, surely all land should be looked at for sustainable production, even reserves (use the species as a way to keep it)

Is there a solution then?
We (landholders at the forefront of innovative management) are beginning to get solutions to almost all the environmental problems Australia is facing. We want to be able to continue this progress and prevent legislation and regulation that inhibits this advancement. We therefore believe the way forward is
(1) To educate the public, Green groups, media and politicians about where the "cutting edge thinking" is at. Most people may have heard about this or that, but are 10 years behind in grasping how or why any environmental approach really works.
(2) Speak out against the current wave of Environmental over-regulation.
(3) Lobby for environmental outcomes that protect peoples rights or at least repay them for the loss of those rights and enhance sustainable production and sustainable conservation

What is "Landholders for the environment"`s main lobbying aim?
That a national approach to environmental regulations and legislation be brought in as soon as possible. We want it to
(1) Uphold landholders rights (declaring areas either for primarily conservation or primarily production - even though some conservation can be done within a production framework & some production within a conservation framework)  and have a formula for compensation when rights were reduced.
(2) Give options to landholders if a conservation area was declared.(straight compensation payment or selling to a government or to sell and buy back with a conservation covenant on it etc)
(3) Give flexible management options to landholders to pursue their own goals of sustainability and production on all land where conservation is not an issue.
(4) Rewarded good management results (some sort of green label)
(5) Incorporate a way of managing national parks as well as other primarily conservation areas, with the required management needed. (Leasing out / tendering out the conservation management using tools such as fire, grazing, rest, ocassional pulling etc.)