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Range Management Newsletter 09/3

 

November 2009 – Range Management Newsletter 09/3


FROM THE EDITOR

Noelene Duckett
10 Villa Canyon Place, The Woodlands  Texas  USA  77382
Email: aduckett7@msn.com

Thank you for reading the November issue of the Range Management Newsletter.  First up, we have an update on the next ARS Conference which will be held in Bourke in September 2010.  Conference organisers are working hard to put together a great conference which will include field tours, sessions on applied rangeland management and also research presentations.  Why not go along to check it out?

This issue also contains several updates from research projects including: Brett Abbott’s project examining land condition monitoring in the Burdekin region of Queensland; Jane Addison’s PhD studies investigating land tenure in the Gobi Desert area of Mongolia and China; Mark Alchin’s Carbon Capture project in northern Western Australia; and Nadine Marshall’s studies of social resilience to climate variability in the Dalrymple Shire in Queensland.  It is great to see so much interesting work in progress!  For those of you currently undertaking projects in the rangelands, why not consider sending me an update for inclusion in the next newsletter.  It could be a fast and effective tool for getting your story out there!!

The November issue also include tributes to Greg McKeon, a long-term member of the ARS, who recently retired from a 40 year career focussing on the ecology and sustainable management of Australia’s grazing lands, and to the late Professor Emeritus Imanuel Noy-Meir, who recently passed away after a stellar career as an ecologist.  Following this is a short note about the Rural Education Award recently awarded to Rangelands Australia.

The next newsletter is due out in March so please have your contributions to me by early February.  Have a great holiday season – we will see you in 2010!
 

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“RAIN ON THE RANGELANDS” - THE 16TH ARS BIENNIAL CONFERENCE, BOURKE, 26-30TH SEPTEMBER 2010

Russell Grant, Western Catchment Management Authority,
PO Box 307, Cobar  NSW  2835.
Email: russell.grant@cma.nsw.gov.au
 
Preparations are now underway for the 16th Biennial Conference of the Australian Rangeland Society in Bourke from 26-30th September 2010.  The chosen theme of the Conference is “Rain on the Rangelands” to focus on the breadth of water issues associated with the Australian rangelands.  A small organising committee is gradually hammering out program details and venue arrangements, ably supported by Natalie Bramble Management of Dubbo, our professional conference organisers.
 
Field tours are scheduledfor the first day of the program, following on from a positive response to this format at the 2008 Charters Towers Conference.  Potential field tour options will include grazing management, conservation, Aboriginal cultural heritage and water management themes.
 
Conference sessions will commence on Day Two which will have a focus on applied rangeland management.  The organising committee will be seeking presentations showcasing best-practice approaches to on-ground management such as “precision pastoralism” or innovative Aboriginal land use.  We hope that the Day One field tours and Day Two applied management sessions will present an optional two-day package to attract more landholders to the Conference.  Days Three and Four of the Conference will consist of research presentations themed around the issues of water in the rangelands as well as the tradeoffs between production and biodiversity conservation.  The proximity of the Conference to the Darling River presents an ideal opportunity to highlight Murray-Darling Basin issues, however, we recognise the significance of other basin-scale issues in the rangelands and intend to maintain a broad scope for posters and papers.  A Young Scientist session and two structured poster viewing periods will be embedded within the program as in previous events.
 
Conference feedback has suggested a demand for a Partners Program.  Planning is underway to engage the arts community in Bourke with such a program. Tour arrangements will take advantage of the heritage and scenic attractions of the town and the Darling River, such as a cruise on the paddleboat Jandra.
 
A pre-registration brochure and call for papers will be released in the near future and Conference information will be regularly updated on the Australian Rangeland Society website at http://www.austrangesoc.com.au
 
Please secure this Conference in your diaries. Bourke offers iconic rangelands and lively issues, so don’t miss it!
 
 

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WIN FREE ANNUAL MEMBERSHIP FOR TWO LAND PRODUCERS OR LAND MANAGERS

Tell us how you think the Australian Rangeland Society can attract more Producer / Land Manager members and you can win one of two free memberships for the Producer or Land Manager of your choice!

A very kind member of the Australian Rangeland Society (ARS) has donated two full individual memberships on the condition that preference is given to Producers or Land Managers.

To enter you are required to:
• Nominate a Producer / Land Manager for one annual ARS membership
• Tell us (the ARS Council) your idea(s) for encouraging Producers and Land Managers to become members.

The two best ideas will win a free membership for their nominated Producer.

Council’s decision will be final!  Winning ideas will be published in the newsletter and will be implemented by the Society.

To enter please write or email (one A4 page maximum) to:

Dr Carolyn Ireland
Secretary, The Australian Rangeland Society
13 Woodland Close
ALDGATE  SA  5154
Email:  cireland@irmpl.com.au
 

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LAND CONDITION MONITORING IN THE RANGELANDS OF THE BURDEKIN DRY TROPICS REGION

Brett Abbott, Tropical and Arid Systems, CSIRO Sustainable Ecosystems,
Private Mail Bag PO, Aitkenvale, Townsville QLD 4814, Australia. 
Email: brett.abbott@csiro.au

Background

Landscape condition monitoring and assessment by remote and/or on ground methods is by no means a new idea, but until recently it has been unavailable to, or misunderstood, by cattle producers in the Queensland rangelands; being primarily used by the scientific and extension communities.  Recently the upper Burdekin ABCD land condition framework was released, and through implementation in QDPI & F’s Grazing Land Management (GLM) package, has found wide acceptance at the producer level allowing graziers to assess landscape condition on their own properties, raising awareness to environmental factors involved in animal production.

Recognition of the ABCD framework has led to it being used to set rehabilitation targets by Natural Resource Management (NRM) bodies across Queensland’s grazed rangelands, with particular emphasis being placed on the very poor condition land types or D-condition.  For example, the North Queensland Dry Tropics NRM planned resource condition target specifies the rehabilitation of 50% of D-condition land in critically located areas by 2024.

Here, we investigate the possibility of mapping D-condition landscapes at a regional scale using remote sensing technology.

What is D-condition?

D-condition can be described as having one or more of the following attributes;

  • a general lack of any perennial grasses or forbs.
  • severe erosion or scalding, resulting in a hostile environment for plant growth.
  • thickets of woody plants cover most of the area.

In general terms, these condition descriptions equate to plant cover or bare ground thresholds that can be derived from remote sensing using cover indices.  The thresholds can then be applied to identify areas of persistent low cover consistent with the first two classes of this definition (the woody thickening aspect of D-condition was not assessed here).

The ABCD framework does not explicitly provide us with those thresholds, and they are likely to vary between regions.  However previous research in the Burdekin has shown that cover levels have a significant effect on landscape function with landscapes being “fully functional” at above 75% cover and “dysfunctional” below 25% cover, with 40% cover being the threshold for loss of greatest landscape function.

Creating the D-condition Raster Map

As described above, 40% ground cover has been identified as a critical threshold below which landscape function declines as infiltration decreases, and runoff and sediment loss increases.  The Ground Cover Index (GCI – developed by Queensland NRW from Landsat TM imagery) estimate of 40% cover was determined as a threshold for identifying candidate areas of D-condition land.  However, GCI data from a single date is not sufficient alone, and while giving us an indication, may not necessarily accurately predict D-condition landscapes.  There are two reasons for this.  One is the error associated with Landsat-derived cover estimates from any single date.  The other is ephemeral low cover on lands in A, B or C condition which may be included in the <40% category under short term defoliation conditions.

Temporal GCI datasets were used to overcome these limitations.  The GCI dataset has a 20 year range, but due to inconsistencies between dataset dates for the earlier periods, a matching 10 year dataset was used covering the years from 1996 to 2006.

The trend, of the multi-temporal GCI dataset, and mean can be used to look for patterns in the data and extract only those data that are most likely to arise from D-condition.  D-condition landscapes would be typified by persistently low cover or low cover and declining trend; i.e the bottom and lower right of Table 1 represented by X’s.

 

 

 

 

 

 

        Mean GCI

Cover Trend

 

Upward

No trend

Downward

High Cover >60%

O

O

O

Medium Cover 40-60%

O

O

X

Low Cover <40%

X

X

X

 

Table 1: The matrix between cover trend and mean cover.  The X’s show the values most likely to be in, or approaching D-condition.

 

The linear trend and mean raster layers were merged using the categories marked with an X in Table 1 to produce a map of D-condition.

Landsat TM imagery used in the temporal analysis is high resolution imagery, having a pixel size of 25m.  While this is helpful in broad scale analysis for D-condition, it may not give us an indication of smaller scale processes, particularly in regards to ‘chronic’ D-condition.  That is, areas that have degraded to bare ground. These areas are of interest also in terms of management processes.  The panchromatic (PAN) band of SPOT 5 imagery was used for this purpose, having a very high resolution of 2.5m and allowing for mapping of small ‘chronic’ D-condition land not detected by the Landsat imagery due to pixel mixing with surroundings. Bare ground has been added to the temporal analysis mapping to complete the D-condition picture (Figure 1).

 Figure 1:  D-condition landscapes in the Burdekin - showing analysis of cover trend and mean cover over time (1996 – 2006) categorised into D-condition, and SPOT 5 derived bare ground.


The present results are derived on this basis.  However, it is important to note that the analysis approach can be adapted to other cover thresholds, trend thresholds, and to trends derived from particular periods rather than the full decade.  It is also possible to apply different thresholds to dissimilar land types if desired.  The map has been limited to tree-masked and grazed areas.  We have not attempted the analysis where tree cover is above 20% although trend information may be potentially applied on these areas.

In the approach above, due to variability in the cover index, some C-condition and perhaps some lower end B-condition landscapes will exhibit responses identified with D-condition, particularly at the far right of Table 1 (medium cover, downward trend).  Some C-condition land is functionally similar to D-condition landscapes and shows a downward trend in condition over time.  Ground validation may be applied to identify such areas, but, even where such land is judged in C-condition its identification may be of interest as it is likely to respond to simple rehabilitation methods such as fencing or management change as compared to the more persistent long term D-condition areas.  In particular, B & C condition land with downward trends is of interest, as these areas will likely degrade to D-condition over time if intervention does not occur.  This can be said for the top two rows of column 3 (Table 1), although further research would be required to investigate the time scales involved for change to occur between condition classes.

Ground Truthing and Assessment

Twenty five areas representing different cover levels were chosen from the latest GCI dataset for ground truthing.  Of the 25 areas chosen seven were inappropriate for ground truthing on our arrival due to them being of other landuse types (house yards, cattle yards, borrow pits, mines) or inaccessible, leaving 18 suitable ground truth sites.

PATCHKEY* derived ABCD condition measures were collected for each site.  Of the eighteen suitable sites, seven were detected as D-condition only sites, eleven were mixed condition sites.  Mixed condition sites were chosen to validate the accuracy of the GCI. Of the seven D-condition sites, D-condition comprised 89% of the measured area for these sites with the C and B classes of land condition present at 7% and 4% of sites respectively (Figure 2).  These data suggest that the D-conditon mapping is fairly accurate, however a much larger number of areas from a full range of D-condition sites is required to test this result statistically (this level of ground truth sampling was not possible given the limited time available for a short term project such as this). 

  

Figure 2: Proportion of PATCHKEY derived ABCD condition for sites specifically targeted as being in D-condition


*PATCHKEY is a landscape condition estimation tool developed by CSIRO – Tropical and Arid Systems in Townsville which works at the vegetation patch level, tying in vegetation and landscape functional aspects.  It can be directly linked to ABCD land condition.

Conclusions

  • Candidate D-condition areas can be mapped at a regional scale using temporal remote sensed datasets, based on cover indices and cover index trends over a selected period.  It should be noted that, given the existence of the basic datasets, the approach can be adapted to other image sequences and thresholds of minimum cover if these are judged more useful for the region or for some areas in particular.
  • Permanently bare ground, which will include the most chronic D-condition land can be mapped using very high resolution single-date remote sensed imagery (SPOT 5 panchromatic at 2.5m resolution).
  • Ground truthing would suggest that mapping of D-condition is accurate at least for non- ‘marginal D-condition’ areas.  Marginal D-condition landscapes will contain higher levels of C and perhaps B condition.
  • Areas of negative cover trend and low-medium cover have been associated with marginal D or declining C condition; these areas are of particular interest as they may be at risk of decline to persistent D condition, but yet still amenable to recovery with minimal intervention or management change.

Acknowledgements

The Author would like to thank NQ NRM for funding this project.

References Consulted During the Study

Abbott, B., Perry, J., & Wallace, J. (2008).  Prioritisation of D-condition land for rehabilitation.  Report to BDTNRM as part of Land Condition Monitoring Project – Task 4.  CSIRO SE, Townsville.

Abbott, B.N. and Corfield, J.P. (2006).  Putting PATCHKEY into practice – investigating landscape scale patchiness. In Renmark 2006, the Cutting Edge (Ed. Paul Erkelenz).  ARS 14th Biennial Conference, Renmark, SA, 3-7 September 2006.  pp. 21-24.

Bastin G.N., Pickup, G. and Pearce G. (1995).  Utility of AVHRR data for land degradation assessment: a case study.  International J of Remote Sensing 16: 651-672.

Chilcott, C.R., McCallum B.S., Quirk M.F. and Paton C.J. (2003).  Grazing Land Management Education Package Workshop Notes – Burdekin.  Meat and Livestock Australia Limited, Sydney

Corfield J.P., Abbott B.N., Hawdon, A and Berthelsen, S. (2006).  PATCHKEY: a patch classification framework for the upper Burdekin and beyond – poster and proceedings paper.  In Renmark 2006, the Cutting Edge (Ed. Paul Erkelenz).  ARS 14th Biennial Conference, Renmark, SA, 3-7 September 2006. 

Graetz, R.D., Pech, R.P.; Gentle, M.R, O’Callaghan J.F. (1986).  The application of Landsat image data to rangeland assessment and monitoring – The development and demonstration of a land image-based resource information-system (LIBRIS).  Journal of Arid Environments 10 (1): 53-80.

Karfs R.A, Abbott B., Scarth P., and WALLACE J.(2009).  Land Condition Monitoring Information for Reef Catchments : a New Era.  Rangeland Journal 31(1): 69-86.

Karfs, R.A., (2002).  Rangeland monitoring in tropical savanna grasslands Northern Territory, Australia: relationships between temporal satellite data and ground data. Masters Thesis.  Research School of Tropical Environment Studies and Geography, James Cook University, Townsville, Queensland.

Karfs, R.A., Bastin, G.N., Chewings, V., Bartolo, J., Grant, R., Lynch, D., Wauchope, S., Watson, I. and Wood, B. (2001).  Resource inventory, condition assessment and monitoring activities on pastoral leases in the Northern Territory conducted by the Department of Lands Planning and Environment.  Report prepared for the National Land and Water Resources Audit, Canberra.

Karfs, R.A., Applegate, R., Fisher, R., Lynch, D., Mullin, D., Novelly, P., Peel, L., Richardson, K. Thomas, P. and Wallace, J.F. (2000).  Regional land condition and trend assessment in tropical savannas: The Audit Rangeland Implementation Project  Final report.  National Land and Water Resources Audit, Canberra.

McIvor J.G., Williams J., Gardener C.J. (1995).  Pasture management influences runoff and soil movement in the semi-arid tropics. Australian Journal of Experimental Agriculture 35: 55-65.

Pickup, G.; Bastin, G.N.; Chewings, V.H. (1998).  Identifying trends in land degradation in non-equilibrium rangelands.  Journal of Applied Ecology 35 (3): 365-377.

Pickup, G., Chewings, V.H., and Nelson, D.J., (1993).  Estimating changes in vegetation cover over time in arid rangelansds using Landsat MSS data.  Remote Sensing of Environment 43 (3): 243-263

Roth, C. (2004).  A framework relating soil surface condition to infiltration and sediment and nutrient mobilisation in grazed rangelands of north-eastern Queensland.  Earth Surface Processes and Landforms 29: 1093-1104.

Scarth, P., Byrne, M., Danaher, T., Henry, B., Hassett, R., Carter, J. and Timmers, P. (2006).  State of the paddock: monitoring condition and trend in groundcover across Queensland.  In: Proceedings of the 13th Australasian Remote Sensing Conference, November 2006, Canberra.

Tongway, D. and Hindley N. (1995).  Manual for Assessment of Soil Condition of Tropical Landscapes.  CSIRO Sustainable Ecosystems, Canberra.

Wallace, J., Behn, G. and Furby, S. (2006).  Vegetation condition assessment and monitoring from sequences of satellite imagery.  Ecological Management and Restoration 7: 31-36.

Wallace, J.F. and Thomas, P. (1999).  Monitoring and summarizing rangeland changes using sequences of Landsat data.  In (D. Eldridge & D. Freudenberger eds) People and Rangelands: Building the Future.  Proceedings VI International Rangeland Congress, Townsville, July 19-23.  VI International Rangeland Congress Inc., Townsville, Australia.  pp. 777-778.
 

 

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ARS TRAVEL GRANT REPORT - LAND TENURE INVESTIGATIONS IN THE GOBI DESERT

Jane Addison, PhD Candidate at the University of South Australia, c/o CSIRO Sustainable Ecosystems, PO Box 2111,  Alice Springs  NT  0871. 
Email:  Jane.Addison@postgrads.unisa.edu.au

With the financial support of the ARS’ Travel Scholarship and grant, together with Desert Knowledge CRC and Endeavour Research Fellowship, I recently returned from 6 months spent in and around the Gobi Desert, Mongolia and China (see Figure 1).  I left Australia at the end of April this year to complete the forage assessment aspect of my PhD, entitled ‘Implications of land tenure on rangeland condition and herder livelihoods in the Gobi Desert.’

The Mongolian Gobi is primarily open access land tenure, with herders legally able to graze their animals wherever they choose, generally if it is within their soum (subdistrict) or aimag (district).  Private land ownership of grazing lands is currently unconstitutional, although winter/spring animal shelters can be legally owned.  Non-government organisations (NGOs) in Mongolia are increasingly looking towards co-management (group) land tenure options as a way of circumventing alleged overgrazing induced land degradation, without privatisation.  Inner Mongolia, in China, introduced a form of privatisation in the 1980s, with the hope that herders would have lender approved capital upon which to intensify their rangelands, and would also have incentives to better manage their land, preventing a ‘tragedy of the commons’ scenario.  There is evidence internationally that aspects of land tenure can have a significant impact on rangeland condition, but there has been little quantified research into land tenure in the Gobi Desert.

I decided to take a three pronged approach in assessing the relevant importance that land tenure may have on rangeland condition and livelihoods in the Gobi.  First, what is the historical spatial and temporal variability of the forage resource in the Gobi? Second, what are the social or cultural institutions that have evolved to match this variability, if any, and how does land tenure affect both these institutions and, in turn, herder profit? Third, are there variations in rangeland condition between different land tenure types and, if so, are they attributable to land tenure?

This year I focussed on the first of these questions.  I worked with MercyCorps Mongolia, an international NGO based in Mongolia that uses the forage model PHYGROW to assess forage availability across the country as part of the Gobi Forage project, with their collaborator Jay Angerer of Texas A & M University.  Together, we established new forage assessment sites in co-management land tenure areas in Omnogobi and Dundgobi aimags.  These areas had originally been set up by the New Zealand Nature Institute and the Swiss Development Corporation, respectively, and sites were established after discussions with both organisations (Photo 1).  As co-management areas are generally rather small in size, we put in sites at 8km intervals to match the PHYGROW satellite resolution whilst still achieving enough replicates within each tenure area.  We verified forage availability at open access sites (Photo 2).  I also worked with the Inner Mongolian Agricultural University in China to scope out possible sites for rangeland condition and livelihood assessments next year.  Forage assessments were also made at Wulatehou in Inner Mongolia, stratified with my open access and co-management sites in Mongolia.  In addition, I piloted rangeland condition assessments and herder interviews in open access/co-management areas in Dundgobi (Photo 3).

 

Figure 1.  Location map showing general research study area in the Gobi Desert, Mongolia and China

 

 

Photo 1.   Discussing suitable co-management land tenure sites with Jaigalsaikhan of the Swiss Development Corporation, Ulziit soum, Dundgobi.  Photo: M. Urgamal

 


 

Photo 2.  Forage clipping with the MercyCorps team in Reaumuria soongorica/Salsola passerina shrubland, open access land tenure site, Omnogobi.  Photo: D. Erdenebaatar.

 


 

Photo 3.  Piloting herder interviews.  Here, Batchuluun and Ulziiorshik draw a scaled map of their different camps in both a good forage year and a poor one in Ulziit soum, Dundgobi.  Photo: U. Narantsatsral.

 

Analysis of the temporal and spatial variability of the forage resource via the model PHYGROW, and implications for land tenure in the Gobi continues.  It is also too early to report on the results of the pilot studies.  However, there are a number of observational aspects of my research to date which may be of interest to the ARS.

First, I was surprised to hear herders in my sites in privatised, arid Inner Mongolia report that they had an area of 1 hectare over which they were grazing up to 600 ‘small’ livestock, primarily goats.  This will be further clarified next year when I do official interviews as this seems impossibly small and may have been a misunderstanding.  However, there was evidence of significant supplementary feeding of what (I assume) was sorghum imported from agricultural areas, suggesting that the area they have been officially allotted is not large enough for a low input, extensive enterprise.  I suspect they do not have the ability to raise the capital to intensify further, however, and my understanding is that they are not presently allowed to buy or sell neighbouring properties as a way of reducing risk associated with temporal or spatial variability in the forage resource, or gaining economy of scale benefits.  Given the little available forage we found on most properties, the volume of supplementary feed required to maintain both the herd and the vegetation base may well be prohibitively expensive for the herders, making overgrazing a real risk.  There certainly appeared to be less forbs present than in my Mongolian, open access sites, suggesting past overgrazing, but this may well have been due to a lack of rainfall, and needs to be investigated further.

It appears that some herders in arid Inner Mongolia may be grazing outside their stated owned area.  Similarly, Mongolian herders in co-management areas also seemed to routinely move outside their defined grazing areas, in response to forage availability.  Widespread ignoring of formal land tenure arrangements of all types suggests that in both my Mongolian and Inner Mongolian sites, formalised land tenure arrangements do not make enough allowance for temporal or spatial forage variability.  It seems Mongolian herders are unable to compensate for this with supplementary feeding, as either local forage productivity is too low for them to make it themselves, or none is available on the market to buy and what little there is prohibitively expensive.  Again, this will require further clarification next year.  I plan to investigate the socioeconomic situation of herders further to see, amongst other things, whether there are adequate alternative social institutions (such as affordable livestock insurance or government subsidies) to compensate for the increased exposure to risk associated with restricting the land area available to herders under private and co-management land tenure arrangements.  If not, increasing herd sizes are a very rational tool used to help buffer risk, acting as an interest raising savings account and an ongoing food and clothing source independent of inflation and fluctuating product and fuel prices.  Government or NGO programmes aimed at reducing grazing area or herd sizes without providing other risk-management tools may therefore have a serious impact on livelihoods amongst people that are already considered poor by international standards.

I found it very difficult choosing appropriate rangeland condition indicators in the area, and trying to remove my Australia landscape ‘biases’ was also difficult.  First, it is a challenge defining a temporal or spatial analogue in a landscape that has been grazed by ruminants for thousands of years.  Without a good understanding of, for example, ‘natural’ levels of erosion, if such a thing even exists, I found estimating what is accelerated erosion and what is not very difficult.  I am also sceptical that fenced enclosures are suitable analogues, as ungrazed vegetation in this area may be historically atypical.  Secondly, many western rangeland scientists in Mongolia blame overgrazing for land degradation, perhaps as this may be true in our own rangelands.  This may in fact also be the case in the Gobi, but the herders I spoke with rarely cited this as a cause.  This may reflect their own biases, but in addition, whilst livestock numbers have been increasing in recent years, in Mongolia, at least, there is some evidence that current dry sheep equivalents are not significantly higher than they were in the early 20th century.  Without understanding how livestock numbers have fluctuated in the area over the last millennia or so, I believe it is risky to automatically attribute a declining forage resource to overgrazing by correlating it with recent increases in livestock numbers alone.  Thirdly, rangeland monitoring in Australia often relies on the indicator perennial cover, partially because it is the ‘base’ resource of livestock during dry times.  It seems that in the Gobi there is more reliance by livestock on highly productive summer annuals, forbs or pseudo-annuals, such as Allium and Stipa species, with the strategy to survive the hard times of winter being to fatten up in summer as much as possible.  In the extreme winter there is ‘batten down the hatches’ style approach, which seems to ‘work’ in most years despite livestock normally losing 15 - 19% of their autumn body weight.  Added to this, female livestock give birth towards the end of this period.  Some herders in open access Mongolia that I talked to said that it is both the production and condition of summer pastures that have declined most in recent years, with declines in total plant diversity, particularly plants that have higher protein concentrations.  Trying to quantify declines in annuals, without the compounding factor of rainfall, is difficult to do within the timescale of a PhD, however.

Interestingly, piospheres in Mongolia appeared to be very small or, perhaps more accurately, less visibly obvious to me in the Gobi than in Australia.  This is despite the widespread complaint by herders that since the transition from socialism to capitalism in the early 1990s, many wells have fallen into disrepair, and more animals are reliant on a smaller area of watered pastures, concentrating the grazing pressure.  The most obvious sign of a piosphere I noticed was the unpalatable Peganum hamala dominating immediately around winter camps (Mongolian open access and co-management areas) and within about 500m of Inner Mongolian homesteads (private areas).  Whilst this is based on ‘eyeballing’ only, cover did not seem to significantly change with proximity to wells.

Gobi rangeland scientists both sides of the border rely on plant species composition and productivity as their main indicators of rangeland condition rather than soil based indicators (although this seems to be changing with the influence of western rangeland science).  Erosion seemed to be much more prevalent in my Inner Mongolian sites than in Mongolia (both open access and co-management land tenure sites).  However, the worst of the Inner Mongolian erosion seemed to be historical rather than presently active.  There also appeared to be many unused buildings, and a lack of children or young adults in Inner Mongolia, compared to Mongolia.  Whilst these are side observations, it may reflect the Chinese government’s recognition of land degradation issues in Inner Mongolia’s rangelands, and subsequent policies of both population control and encouraging relocation of herders to cities.  Whilst the grazing of Mongolian rangelands appears to be fairly close to capacity, it will be interesting to see in future whether the large number of herders’ children continue herding or turn to other forms of employment, such as the Gobi’s ever-growing mining industry.  If they choose to take up herding, the land degradation currently present is likely to be exacerbated.

I look forward to continuing rangeland condition assessments and herder interviews throughout the region next year, and would like to thank both my collaborators and supervisors (Margaret Friedel, Fleur Tiver and Jocelyn Davies) for their assistance this year.  I greatly appreciate the support of the Australian Rangeland Society in helping to finance this work.

 

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GREG MCKEON COMPLETES ANOTHER CHAPTER

Peter Johnston, ARS President and Science Leader - Beef  Sheep, Dept of Employment, Economic Development and Innovation, Locked Mail Bag 4, Moorooka  QLD  4105. 
Email:  Peter.Johnston@deedi.qld.gov.au

Dr Greg McKeon is a long-term member of the Australian Rangeland Society who finished formal work on 18th September 2009.  A celebration of Greg McKeon’s career was held at Indooroopilly in Brisbane on Friday 30th October 2009 as he enters the next phase of his life – a life without milestones and project deadlines, greater time with family and friends with just a dash of recreational computing to keep the neurons humming.  The large audience at Greg’s farewell was made up of family, colleagues and friends from every chapter of his working career.

This career spanned 40 years and has unwaveringly focussed on developing a better understanding of the ecology and sustainable management of Australia’s grazing lands.  This understanding was built on a combination of field observations of the factors driving plant growth, mathematical modelling and the re-analysis of historical research.  Most importantly, Greg had the ability to draw people together in highly effective teams – teams that had clearly defined objectives and a tight focus on solving real-world problems.

Greg’s work commenced at Katherine Research Station in December 1970 where he studied the field germination of Townsville Stylo.  This included the early development and validation of pasture growth and plant establishment models.  In June 1973 he became the first student of the School of Australian Environmental Studies at Griffith University studying for his PhD under Calvin Rose.  His thesis, entitled Seed dynamics of some pasture species in a dry monsoonal climate was awarded in 1979.

Greg was appointed by John Leslie to the Queensland Department of Primary Industries in 1978 as a pasture modeller to work in parallel with the crop modelling team led by Graeme Hammer.  A major focus of the modelling teams was to extrapolate the results of field trials over time and space to better predict and understand the impact of Queensland’s variable climate on agricultural production.  Greg and colleagues continued to develop pasture growth and livestock production models and “completed” GRASP in 1981 (Grass Production).  The GRASP model calculates daily pasture growth at a point scale from daily inputs of rainfall, temperature, evaporation and solar radiation for a particular location defined by soil type and vegetation.  GRASP has been used as a modelling tool in many projects involving Australian rangelands.

In 1983, Greg and his colleagues attempted a first ever ‘drought alert’ based on simulated pasture growth using Gayndah as an example.  This was a major achievement considering the methods of computing available in the early 1980’s (i.e. card decks, Canberra-based main-frame computers, teletype terminals and ‘acoustic’ modems).  The prototype ‘drought alert’ would become the basis for future work such as AussieGRASS (developed by John Carter and colleagues).  The growth in pasture modelling in the mid 1980s drove the collation of large historical climatic data sets and the development of a large informal network of field trials to calibrate and validate GRASP.

This network commenced in 1986 at the 4th Australian Rangeland Society conference in Armidale where Greg formed the GUNSYNpD pasture growth team (soon led by Ken Day) with his colleagues in QDPI and John Mott in CSIRO.  The combination of large historical climate data sets and GRASP validated for a greater range of pasture communities enabled Greg and his colleagues (including Jeff Clewett) to be the first to examine El Nino-Southern Oscillation (ENSO) and climate change impacts on Queensland’s grazing production in 1987.  This work culminated in the landmark 1990 paper for the Journal of Biogeography (McKeon, G.M., Day, K.A., Howden, S.M., Mott, J.J., Orr, D.M., Scattini, W.I. and Weston, E.J. (1990).  Northern Australia Savannas' management for pastoral production.  Journal of Biogeography, 17, 355-372) and a chapter in Greenhouse Planning for Climate Change (McKeon, G.M., Howden, S.M., Silburn, D.M., Carter, J.O., Clewett, J.F., Hammer, G.L.,Johnston, P.W., Lloyd, P.L., Mott, J.J., Walker, B., Weston, E.J. and Willcocks, J.R. (1988).  The effect of Climate Change on Crop and Pastoral Production in Queensland. In Pearman, G.I. (ed). Greenhouse, Planning for Climate Change. CSIRO Division of Atmospheric Physics, Melbourne. pp. 546-63.)

The work examining the impact of climate and management on Australia’s grazed lands continued to expand.  In November 1991, Greg and his colleagues provided the first operational use of the El Niño-Southern Oscillation to warn of emerging drought.

In July 1994, Greg formally joined Ken Brook’s “Drought Group” which became part of the Department of Natural Resources and Mines.  Here Greg and his colleagues began working simultaneously on four externally funded projects: AussieGRASS; DroughtPlan; Risks of Land and Pasture Degradation Associated with Drought; and Evaluation of the Impact of Climate Change on Northern Australian Grazing Industries.  Each of these projects saw the continued development and broader application of GRASP.

In 1994, Greg was awarded The Australian Medal of Agricultural Science for outstanding contributions to the advancement of agriculture and natural resource management.

From 2000 to 2004, Greg and many colleagues worked on the project Learning From History (Pasture Degradation and Recovery in Australia’s Rangelands).  With Grant Stone’s help, Greg gave over 50 talks nationally on the subject of ‘Learning from History’.  Some of the practical products and tools based on the work of Greg’s team in the drought group are available on the LongPaddock website http://www.longpaddock.qld.gov.au/  The report drawing on the contributions of over 50 scientists and graziers was published in 2004 (McKeon, G.M., Hall, W.B., Henry, B.K., Stone, G.S. and Watson, I.W. (2004).  Pasture Degradation and Recovery in Australia’s Rangelands:  Learning from History.  Queensland Department of Natural Resources, Mines and Energy.  pp. 256). 

In January 2003, Greg was awarded the Australia Day Achievement Award.  Whilst Greg’s work “Learning From History” may have been the catalyst for his being nominated for this award at this time, the nomination also acknowledged Greg’s substantial contribution to rangeland management, his networking amongst peers and disciplines, his compassion as a human being, his mentoring of junior staff and colleagues and his loyalty to the Queensland Government, to science and to public service for Queensland.

In December 2006, Greg was awarded a Senior Research Fellowship by Land and Water Australia to explore the impact of climate change and natural resource management on pasture condition.  This work formed the basis Greg’s keynote address at the 15th Australian Rangeland Society Conference in Charters Towers on 1st October 2008.  The Fellowship was delivered in March 2009 in two reports: A synthesis paper (with 16 co-authors from the rangeland community) in Volume 31 of The Rangeland Journal called: “Climate change impacts on Australia’s rangeland livestock carrying capacity: a review of issues” and a longer report available on the LWA web site http://lwa.gov.au/products/pn30114.  The Society was indeed privileged to have Greg deliver his last key-note address at a Society gathering.

 


 

Photo 1.  Greg McKeon presenting his key-note address at the Australian Rangeland Society’s 15th Biennial conference in Charters Towers on 1st October 2008


Greg has always believed in the ‘college’ of rangeland scientists.  As indicated above, in his many publications and projects, he has sought to include and acknowledge many rangeland and climate scientists.  We have only mentioned a few of his colleagues above! Because of his systems approach he has always appreciated the great complexity rangeland systems and the need to combine the knowledge and expertise of many scientists and graziers.  Greg has always seen his work as building on previous knowledge and linking to future challenges (such as climate change) for Australia’s rangelands.

The Australian Rangeland Society wishes Greg all the best for retirement and greatly appreciates his technical and professional support of the Society and many of its members.
 

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VALE IMANUEL NOY-MEIR

Professor Emeritus Imanuel Noy-Meir of The Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Rehovot, died on 6 October 2009, of heart disease, at the age of 68.   Though he spent almost his entire career, from appointment as a lecturer in 1970 to his retirement as Professor of Plant Ecology in 2007, at The Hebrew University, Imanuel had a close connection with, and impact upon, rangeland science in Australia He completed his PhD at the Australian National University in 1970, spent two subsequent periods, in 1976-77 and 1994-95, as a Visiting Research Fellow there, and participated in highly productive ongoing collaboration with Australian colleagues.

Innovation and influence are words that readily spring to mind when recalling Imanuel Noy-Meir.  He was one of the most substantial figures in ecology, particularly of rangeland and Mediterranean ecosystems, over the last 40 years.  He is perhaps best remembered for his classic papers on Desert Ecosystems published in the Annual Review of Ecology and Systematics in 1973 (Part 1: Environment and Producers) and 1974 (Part 2: Higher Trophic Levels).  These papers are still quoted today and were highly influential in subsequent major developments, most notably the ‘state-and transition’ model of Westoby, Walker and Noy-Meir published in 1989, the most widely quoted paper in range ecology for the last 50 years.  The ‘trigger-transfer-reserve-pulse’ model of rangeland function, published in CSIRO’s Landscape ecology, function and management: principles from Australia's rangelands in 1997, is a direct development from the 1973 paper.  Along the way these papers also influenced Stafford-Smith and Morton’s ‘Framework for the ecology of arid Australia’ in 1990 as well as a host of other papers.

However, Imanuel’s influence went far beyond these well known classics.  From his PhD work on the large-scale structure of vegetation in south east Australia came a series of papers in the early-mid 1970’s on the application of multivariate techniques to vegetation analysis.  These were important in clarifying the underlying principles of these techniques and developing new ones, such as multiscale ordination with Derek Anderson, at a time when quantitative, multivariate ecology was still in its infancy.  I often wonder today if many who routinely apply these approaches would not benefit greatly from a re-reading of these seminal papers.

Plant-herbivore interaction was an abiding area of interest, persisting throughout his career, including the modelling of grazing system behaviour.  Here, too, he made a fundamental and innovative contribution.  His paper on the application of predator-prey graphs to the analysis of stability of grazing systems, published in Journal of Ecology in 1975, led to much fruitful development in the study of grazing system dynamics by others like B H Walker and C S Holling, both independently and in collaboration with Imanuel.

In addition, and consistent with his early studies of the vegetation of south east Australia, he retained an enduring interest in community ecology.  In later years this focussed particularly on the ecology and management of Mediterranean grasslands for production and conservation, including the studies that demonstrated the significance of small scale refugia in rocky landscapes for the conservation of grazing–sensitive species.  This was a fascinating insight into the factors that determine the conservation of biodiversity in landscapes with histories of domestic grazing far longer than our own but with parallels in some Australian landscapes, and in other parts of the world, where rocky hillsides can at times provide a surprising response to reduced grazing pressure.  Nor was his interest restricted to rangelands with later studies of forest ecology showing the same imaginative insight that has been the hallmark of his career. 

In contrast to the modern trend of team writing, many of Imanuel’s major papers were published in single authorship . His inspiration was largely his own.  But he was not a reluctant collaborator - in fact, in later years his publications are noteworthy for the extent of his international collaboration.  He was principal author of only four of the 34 papers of which I have record in the last 12 years but the extent of the international collaboration is impressive, as is the range of subjects that the papers embrace.

Part of this ‘elder statesman’ role, I suspect, reflects the publications arising from the work of his post-graduates.  I cannot speak on their behalf but I can personally attest to the generosity with which he gave of his time and energy to support students.  As a PhD candidate struggling with some of the mathematical techniques Imanuel had pioneered I remember with gratitude that his willingness to assist my understanding and interpretation (he was on one of his stints as a Research Fellow at ANU at the time) was critical in giving me the confidence to persevere.  Later, as an examiner, his remarks were generous and encouraging.  No doubt I was not the only student to benefit from these qualities of the man. I remember him as somewhat diminutive but a man of keen intellect, quick and energetic.  Imagine my surprise when having agreed to meet and discuss my PhD work his preferred time and place was our home - before breakfast the next morning!!

I find on perusing that old thesis again that he is cited more frequently than any other author, and that among some notable luminaries of the time.  Imagination and influence.  Few will leave a better or more lasting legacy.

Ron Hacker
Research Leader, Forest & Rangeland Ecosystems, Industry & Investment NSW, Trangie Agricultural Research Centre, PMB 19, Trangie  NSW  2823.
E-mail: ron.hacker@industry.nsw.gov.au

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AN UPDATE ON THE "CAPTURING CARBON IN THE WESTERN AUSTRALIAN RANGELANDS' PROJECT

Mark Alchin, Project Manager, Department of Agriculture and Food WA, Kununurra. PO Box 19, Kununurra  WA  6743.
Email:  mark.alchin@agric.wa.gov.au

Rangelands cover more than three quarters of Australia’s land mass and have long been the backbone to our economy primarily through mining, pastoralism and tourism.  The rangelands may provide a new platform of wealth generation for Australians by producing carbon offsets.

The three primary drivers which will determine the extent to which rangelands can actively capture the legacy load of carbon from the atmosphere are climate, fire and grazing.  We have limited capacity to influence the local climatic conditions.  However, we have significant scope to manage fire and grazing patterns.  When you consider that approximately 20% (or 16.8 million ha) of the WA rangelands is currently rated to be in poor condition and savanna fires emit over 11.5 million tonnes of greenhouse gases every year, it highlights the opportunity for improvement.  In this context, the Carbon Capture Project has been exploring the scope for carbon sequestration and storage for trading purposes in the Kimberley-Pilbara region.

The Carbon Capture Project involved three primary activities:

  • Audit existing business productivity, financial returns and greenhouse gas emissions for the previous five years. Complete an environmental audit of the pastoral businesses.
  • Conduct a soil and vegetation carbon accounting survey across each of the three pastoral businesses.
  • Complete carbon and economic modelling to evaluate and discuss the most profitable, low-emissions and environmentally sustainable enterprise and management practices for each individual business.

During the 2009 dry season the Carbon Capture Project launched a major research effort to survey the existing carbon stocks of the soil and vegetation on three pastoral businesses in the Kimberley and Pilbara.  The businesses were Cheela Plains (120 km west of Tom Price), Roebuck Plains (30 km east of Broome) and Mt Barnett (310 km east of Derby).  Over 700 soil samples were collected, more than 9000 individual trees and shrubs were measured and grass and litter was removed from 1500 quadrats.

The major challenge with carbon accounting work in the rangelands is the issue of scale of the assessment. There is substantial variation across time and space in the rangelands and this must be taken into consideration. This is one of the primary reasons why many people consider it too difficult and too costly to verify rangeland carbon stocks for trading purposes. Detecting change with a degree of statistical rigour is a challenge because there can be substantial background ‘noise’ that can be difficult to filter out in order to identify the major causal agents of change. I remain optimistic that we can achieve this and the financial costs associated with it could be justified by the potential returns given the spatial size of the asset we are dealing with.

Under the current legislation pastoral lease-holders in Western Australia do not hold the legal entitlement to trade any carbon offsets that may be created on their leases, as it is a separate entitlement that must be obtained from the State Government. This is an additional issue we must resolve once we have quantified the magnitude of the opportunity.

The Carbon Capture Project is an initiative of the Department of Agriculture and Food WA and Rangelands NRM and involved a joint investment of $692,809.  The project will be completed in March 2010.
 

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UNDERSTANDING SOCIAL RESILIENCE TO CLIMATE VARIABILITY IN PRIMARY ENTERPRISES AND INDUSTRIES

Nadine Marshall, Climate Adaptation Flagship, CSIRO Sustainable Ecosystems, PMB, Aitkenvale  QLD  4814.
Email:  nadine.marshall@csiro.au

The resilience and adaptive capacity of resource-dependent industries has never been more important to assess, influence and monitor.  Climate predictions suggest that the scale and rate of change driven by increases in concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere are unprecedented in recorded human history, and will significantly – and in many cases dramatically – alter the accessibility and quality of natural resources.  Primary enterprises and industries, which include the sectors of agriculture, forestry, fisheries and mining, are highly vulnerable to climate change because of their dependency on climate-sensitive natural resources for their prosperity and sustainability (Zamani et al., 2006).  More than ever, resource-users will need to anticipate, and prepare for, each climate-related challenge, and institutions will need to be particularly supportive, if resource industries and the extended social systems dependent on them are to be sustained.

Recently, a study was completed that examined the capacity of cattle-graziers to cope and adapt to climate variability as a precursor for understanding their vulnerability to climate change and to test whether their capacity is influenced by the use of seasonal climate forecasts and/or their level of dependency on the grazing resource.  The evaluation of 100 graziers from the Dalrymple Shire in north-eastern Australia revealed that these resource-users perceive themselves to be resilient to climate variability. Highest resilience was associated with graziers who were more interested in using seasonal climate forecasts, highly attached to ‘place’, employable, strategic and financially secure.  These findings suggest; (i) graziers do not perceive the need to use forecasts to enhance their resilience to climate variability (given current forecast reliability), (ii) resilience to climate variability might not adequately reflect resilience to climate change, (iii) perceived resilience to climate variability may, in fact, make graziers vulnerable to climate change, and (iv) adaptive capacity can be enhanced through decreasing resource dependency and improving the likely uptake of seasonal climate forecasts.

Given that it is not possible to directly control the climate, developing strategies to support resilience and adaptation in the face of uncertainty are perhaps the only current options that primary enterprises and industries have.  The results of the study suggest that facilitated collaborative learning amongst graziers and other stakeholders may assist to develop strategic skills, increasing climate awareness, developing financial security and adopting climate tools such as seasonal climate forecasts.  Enhanced strategies for coping with climate variability will provide a way for encouraging gradual, incremental adjustments for climate adaptation.

The details for this study will be published in the next edition of ‘Global Environmental Change’.  For more information please contact Nadine on (07) 4753 8537 or at nadine.marshall@csiro.au.
 

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RANGELANDS AUSTRALIA – AUSTRALIAN RURAL EDUCATION AWARD 2009

Rangelands Australia, a Centre at the University of Queensland’s Gatton Campus, was recently awarded the 2009 Australian Rural Education Award (AREA) by the Society for Provision of Education in Rural Australia (SPERA).

The AREA award recognizes excellence in rural education, and in particular, initiatives that expand opportunities, bring about efficient and effective education, and provide educational benefits in rural Australia.  This is the first time the award has been conferred on a University-based education initiative.

In accepting the award, Director of Rangelands Australia, John Taylor, acknowledged the many stakeholders who had contributed to the curriculum and course development processes, the investors such as Meat and Livestock Australia, the Australian Government’s Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry, the Queensland Government and CSIRO, the RA staff and the network of Rangeland Champions.  Together, they have realized a vision of more accessible and more relevant higher education for land managers, Landcare and NRM facilitators, local government, educators, etc. in remote and regional Australia.

“This has been an extraordinary partnership, and a great testament to the benefits of strategic, participatory, student-centered and demand-driven approaches to provision of higher education in an educationally disadvantaged region” John said.  “This professional development initiative has remained grounded in the real world through the engagement of experienced land managers/owners, yet current and forward looking by the engagement of researchers from State agencies, universities and CSIRO”

The citation noted that the development of UQ’s Rangeland Management postgraduate coursework program has been one of the most highly strategic knowledge and skill development initiatives in Australia, with needs and gap analyses, market research, stakeholders engaged and actively guiding curriculum and course development, and innovations in support for mature-aged students.

These strategies have underpinned strong growth in enrolments and the growing national and international reputation of the Rangeland Management program.  The program has attracted students from NSW, NT, Qld, SA and WA.  Enrolments have grown by over 600% over the last four years, and the program is now the largest postgraduate program in the Faculty, with 2-3 times the number of students in other postgraduate programs.

RA’s approach to curriculum and course development is now being adapted by a consortium of USA-based universities developing a new range management curriculum.

Further details of the Rangelands Australia initiative are posted on the website (www.rangelands-australia.com.au).

 

Photo:  John Taylor receiving the 2009 Australian Rural Education Award from Emmy Terry, President of SPERA, on behalf of the Rangelands Australia team, the Rangeland Champions network and The University of Queensland.


 

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NEW ARS MEMBERSHIP RATES FOR 2010


As indicated in the March 2009 Range Management Newsletter, membership rates for the Australian Rangeland Society will be increased from 1 January 2010.

The new Membership Rates are outlined in the table below:


Membership Rates; GST inclusive, if paid by 31st March                            Australia                           Overseas Airmail

Individual or Family -   

  •   Full (Journal + Newsletter)/Student                                                 $100 / $80                               $125 / $100
  •  Part (Newsletter only)/Student                                                             $60 / $45                                   $70 / $50

 Company -   

  •  Full (Journal + Newsletter)                                                                    $135                                          $165
  •  Part (Newsletter only)                                                                               $75                                            $90

 

New members are encouraged to join the Society via the ARS website (www.austrangesoc.com.au).  Renewing members can also pay their 2010 dues through the website.

  • Membership Fees paid after 31st March 2010 will incur a penalty of an additional $15.00 per subscription.  Membership Invoices issued for the 2010 year will show $15.00 as a discount if paid by 31st March.
  • All rates are quoted in AUSTRALIAN currency and must be paid in AUSTRALIAN currency.
  • Membership is for the calendar year 1st January to 31st December.  New member subscriptions paid after 1st October are deemed as payment for the following year.  Any member who has not paid his/her subscription by 31st March of the financial year for which it is payable shall be deemed unfinancial, and all his/her rights and privileges as a member of the Society are suspended until the subscription is paid.

 

 

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NEW MEMBERS

Andrea Leigh
Department of Environmental Science
University of Technology Sydney
PO Box 123,
Broadway  NSW  2007

Nicolai Cooper
116 Wingewarra St,
Dubbo  NSW  2830

Rachel Greenfield
74 Foxglove Street
Mt Gravatt East  QLD  4122

Brett Abbott
CSIRO - Davies Laboratory
Annandale, Townsville  QLD  4814

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MINUTES FROM ARS GENERAL MEETING #197 (2 OCTOBER 2008)

GENERAL MEETING (ARS Meeting #197)
 

Thursday 2 October 2008 at 8.05 am
World Theatre, Charters Towers, Queensland

MINUTES

68 people were present.  The President, Peter Johnston, welcomed everyone to the meeting, and explained that this meeting is not an Annual General Meeting, but a meeting to let members know where the Society is at and where it is heading.

1. Apologies

Andrew Craig.

2. Minutes of General Meeting (Meeting #188) held 5 September 2006 at the 14th Biennial Conference, Renmark, South Australia

The Minutes of Meeting #188 were distributed.  David Orr noted that the date of the International Rangelands Congress in Inner Mongolia should be corrected from 2007 to 2008 (General Business – fourth paragraph).  Carolyn Ireland moved the acceptance of the Minutes, with this change, as a true and accurate reflection of the meeting.  Seconded: David Orr.  Carried.

3. Business arising from the Minutes

Marg Friedel noted how successful the 2008 conference has been with regard to student involvement through presentations and the student forum.  Ron Hacker endorsed Marg’s comments regarding students, but noted the lack of industry representation.  The President noted that this issue would be discussed under General Business.

4. President’s Report

The President spoke to his report presented at the Annual General Meeting in May 2008 – the report will be included in the Range Management Newsletter.  The President introduced the other Council members present (John Taylor, Graeme Tupper, Annabel Walsh and Sandra Van Vreeswyk), and noted that Tim Ferraro had resigned from Council at the Council meeting on the previous day.  The President passed a vote of thanks to Ian Watson for his role as Subscription Manager over several years.  Council was involved in planning for the 2008 Biennial Conference.

Council awarded three travel grants in 2008 to the value of $8100 to Nigel Tomkins, Merri Tothill and Paul Erkelenz.  Paul Erkelenz did not take up the grant.  All of the funds applied for were granted so the President encouraged members to consider applying.  Application information is in the newsletter.  The contract with CSIRO Publishing has been continued.  Three issues of the journal were published in 2008.  The Society made a $55,000 profit in 2006 and a $1550 loss in 2007.  This is a normal pattern with a profit in conference years and a small loss in non-conference years.  The Society has $219,692 reserves in the bank.

Marg Friedel asked how many members the Society had.  Peter Johnston advised there are 320 members plus 88 institutional members.  The number of members had increased over the last week.  It is down from its peaks but tends to be static, but with revolving members.  Bob Shepherd asked how many corporate members there were.  Graeme Tupper advised there were less than ten.

5. Election of a Council Secretary

The President advised that the position of Secretary is vacant following Vanessa Bailey’s resignation in April 2008.  Sandra Van Vreeswyk has been acting in the position.  Anyone keen to take on this role should contact himself or Sandra.  The role of the Secretary is not too onerous, and involves keeping the President on track, recording minutes of Council meetings, keeping Council members informed, and managing inwards and outwards correspondence.

Don Burnside nominated Carolyn Ireland as Secretary, seconded by Ian Watson.  Carolyn accepted the nomination and the President appointed her to the position.  The meeting acknowledged the appointment.  Following Tim Ferraro’s resignation there is also a vacancy for a General Member which will be determined out of session.  The President moved a vote of thanks to Tim for filling the role of Finance and Audit Officer for five and a half years.

6. Publications Update

Ken Hodgkinson provided an update on the Society’s publications.  A review of publications was requested by Council in 2004 and the Publications Committee has done a tremendous amount of work on the journal and website.  The newsletter will be next.  The Publications Committee has a strong link with Council.  Council appoints members to the committee and handles finances.  Ken asked that the tremendous efforts by Wal Whalley as the Journal editor and Noelene Duckett as the Newsletter editor be recorded.  The meeting acknowledged their contributions.  CSIRO have been keen partners in the review.

The Publications Committee and Council support the publication of four issues of the Journal per year to raise its standing.  By dropping ‘Australian’ from the journal name, having overseas associate editors and plans to have overseas Publication Committee members, there has been a change to an international focus.  The number of papers submitted to the journal has been increasing significantly from around twenty per year to seventy and growing per year.  With this increase the rejection rate has also increased from about 35% to 50%.  Another change has been the opportunity to publish special issues.  The challenge is to raise the impact factor for the journal (from 0.5 to 0.6 currently to well over 1) as the Society is losing papers to other journals.

The newsletter changes are going on steadily.  The newsletter will be produced electronically as well as in hard copy, and state editors will be appointed.  The challenges are to improve the layout and make it more attractive to potential members.

The new website is about to be placed publicly on the web.  The aim was to make it attractive and dynamic.  Mark Alchin will manage the discussion forum.  The Publications Committee would like to appoint a website manager who would sit on the Committee.  Ken asked members to see any of the PC members with any suggestions for a website manager.  Greg Campbell suggested the newsletter be free and available on the website, without the use of a PIN.  Ken advised that the value of being a member has to be considered.  A suggested compromise is to have past issues freely available on the web, and current issues only available to members, but this could be changed.  Greg advised that he tends not to access items if a PIN is required, but appreciates the issues and is happy to go along with the Society’s decision.  Ken advised that when publications are available electronically members will receive an email with a direct link so they won’t need to type in the PIN.

7. Next Conference

The President advised that in a rare event two bids had been received for the next conference, from Wentworth and from Bourke.  Having two very competitive bids was exciting.  Council awarded the conference to Bourke.  Russell Grant provided a snapshot of what we might see in Bourke in 2010.  Bourke is an iconic location with many things to see on the field tours.  With a population of 4,000 it will be one of the smallest conference locations.  It does have adequate accommodation but additional transport may need to be arranged.  A potential theme is ‘Water in the Rangelands’.  There is good local support for the conference.

8. General Business

Marg Friedel commended the Organising Committee on its focus on young people at this conference, both with the student presentations and the student forum.  She commended this to the Bourke Organising Committee.  Marg did notice that what is missing is engagement with industry issues.  Ron Hacker commented on the conspicuous absence of landholders, with no producers on the podium and very few in the audience.  He appreciated that they may have been involved in the field tours.  He was seeking advice from this Organising Committee on how landholder’s involvement could be increased for the next Organising Committee.

Peter Johnston reported that there were two producers on the 2008 Organising Committee.  The Organising Committee could have made much more effort to involve producers.  Bob Shepherd advised that the committee had debated discounts for producers, and decided against it on the basis that with the good economic situation at the moment for Queensland producers, if they can’t pay full fees now they never could.  With the benefit of hindsight this may have been the wrong decision.  Bill Holmes advised that he spoke to three or four producers and they had never heard of the ARS conference.

Nigel Tomkins commented that the Society’s reserve seemed very healthy, and suggested that Council could consider a scholarship for fourth year students or to fund a textbook.  Nigel suggested that the Bourke Organising Committee could extend an invitation to high school educators.

Marion questioned if producers would be more interested in conferences if there was more emphasis on economic rather than environmental issues.  Rory reported that it was difficult to attract producers.  The western CLM had offered five places but only two were taken.  Time away from work is an issue.  The NRM alliance could promote the conferences.  They brought eight staff to the conference and they have been totally energized.  Paul Williams was gratified to hear that and will encourage South Australian NRM groups to attend.  To him, as a producer, the production side is minor.  The opportunity to be at this conference and hear interesting concepts is tremendous.  Roger Landsberg stated that, as one of the four local producers, he agreed that he was interested in environmental issues.  He had talked to other producers but they can’t lose work time.  The Organising Committee could devote a session at the conference for them to attend.

Don Burnside supported Marg’s view regarding attracting indigenous people to Bourke as they now manage significant parts of the rangelands and it is critical that they become involved. The President called for members to bring ideas on improving conferences to Council members.  Marg Friedel moved to pass a vote of thanks to the Organising Committee.  The President advised he will do that later during the conference.

9. Close of meeting

The meeting was closed at 8.55 am.

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