Covering the Goulburn and Murray valleys

Farmers proved right in Plains Wanderer debate

Environmental experts have backflipped on whether grazing is detrimental for the endangered Plains Wanderer bird.

November 23, 2012 4:11am

Local landholders who say their advice on the endangered Plains Wanderer bird was ignored have been vindicated.

Environmental experts have done a major backflip, after a decade of declaring that grazing was bad for the endangered bird.

In Victoria, sheep are now being released into National Parks to try and eat down overgrown Plains Wanderer habitat, which has been abandoned by the tiny bird.

North Conargo Land Management Group chair Colin Bull said farmers were ‘‘treated like fools’’ when ecologists began implementing conservation efforts.

‘‘Landholders knew nothing, according to the scientific ‘experts’, however now we have proven we are not as silly as they believed,’’ he said.

‘‘In the future, government departments should make sure they respect landholder knowledge and local experience.’’

A large amount of local land has been identified as Plains Wanderer habitat, particularly in north Conargo, and different conservation efforts have affected local properties since the late 1990s.

Among them was the purchase and de-stocking of Carrathool property ‘Oolambeyan’, and restrictions on development and locust spraying.

Conargo Mayor Norm Brennan believes NSW paid about $4 million to purchase ‘Oolambeyan’, which was de-stocked and converted to a National Park.

Mr Bull said National Parks and Wildlife Service is now having ‘‘great difficulty’’ finding Plains Wanderers in Oolambeyan, due to its management policy.

‘‘Although some grazing is now allowed it is too little too late,’’ he said.

Experts say the Plains Wanderers have left the areas where grazing has been stopped, because the vegetation is overgrown and does not suit them.

It is the very thing that local landholders said would happen years ago.

In fact, the ecologist they told was Dr David Baker-Gabb.

He is now Victoria’s ‘leading expert on Plains Wanderers’ - and the very man who has admitted he cannot find Plains-Wanderers on de-stocked Victorian land.

Mr Bull said at the time, Dr Baker-Gabb ‘‘wouldn’t listen to landholders’’.

‘‘The situation was handled very, very badly. NPWS used the big stick approach rather than working with landholders,’’ he said.

‘‘They put everyone off-side - to the detriment of the Plains Wanderer.

‘‘Landholders are more than happy to look out for the Plains Wanderer and enhance their survival and numbers.

‘‘It is a sad situation when the scientific community believe they have all the answers for species such as the Plains Wanderer.’’

However, Mr Bull said recent consultations with the NPWS were encouraging and suggested a common sense outcome can be achieved.

Farmers have also been restricted on where and how they spray locusts due to the Plains Wanderer, according to Cr Brennan.

He said during locust plagues, crops were lost because of the restrictions.

Some Plains Wanderers were sent to the University of Wollongong, to be bred and tested to see how locust sprays affect them.

However, Cr Brennan said six years later, their questions are still unanswered.

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