Bio-Diversity – Environment – Ecology – Mega Fauna
Noeline Franklin B Sc (Hons) PTC M Med Sc.
Being a scientist and a Snowy Mountain farmer this synopsis of historic and factual findings, together with my personal expertise and experience, I hope will offer you information to comprehend government are funding junkets engineering false claims. Brumby damage to our environment being used to genocide this marvelous asset fighting to maintain what’s left of our once pristine heritage Snowy these wild horses nurtured long before National Parks were thought of and their endurance to survive massive destruction of their habitat under blatant myth-management.
The summer in the mountains this year was as dry and windy as it has been for several years raising concerns again of severe bushfire destroying more of the Upper Murray catchments including adjacent farmland. Many of the creeks were dry and isolated pools where underground flows rose over rock shelves. The Brumbies were in good order and had created fire breaks around the bogs keeping them fire safe. Trampled grass tracks in the old days would make excellent fire breaks for back-burns required to stop any bushfire. The active Brumby runs is where the few remaining Corroboree frog colonies have persisted in fire safe lawns. There was 200000 hectares of the Upper Murrumbidgee that was grazed green fire safe in 2003 bushfires that roared to the east through the Cotter basin into Canberra. The other fronts carried on to the main range burning except where the little Brumby mobs had maintained some lawns.
On January 8th 2003 a dry storm came through from Victoria as they often do. 700 lightening strikes lit 85 fires or more in the dry vegetation. Several fires were not put out, burnt much of the alps and burnt into the suburbs of Canberra. Canberra was drawing up to 85% of its water supplies from the Cotter basin when in 4 hours of 18.1.2003 160000 hectares was burnt including the catchment of Bendora dam and the lower Cotter dam severely burnt to mineral earth. Corin the highest of the reservoirs was less affected with night burns after the hot weather had past. A storm the following month washed sediment into the Bendora reservoir which finished that water supply for some time until a treatment plant was constructed to remove silt and soot from the supply.
Canberra is looking to source water from the Upper Murrumbidgee purchased off irrigators. Canberra is looking to increase their population from 320000 people to 420000 people in the near future and thus increasing their water needs to about 100 giga litres annually for Canberra and Queanbeyan residents. Canberra has a policy of removing Brumbies from their water catchment. Traditional horses were implicated in digging up the mountain flats and removed in 1987. In fact the impact was mistaken as feral pig digging. Brumbies make very different impressions to pigs that roll over with their leathery noses, grass sods looking for earthworms, lizards and orchid corms. Brumbies eat only grasses, herbs and nibble at certain shrubs. Horses tend to be reluctant to enter boggy areas if it can be avoided. Pigs again wallow in mud to maintain moist skin. Horses roll in moist grass in preference to mud to maintain skin health.
In 2003 the old but vacated ungrazed Brumby runs around the headwaters of vital streams burnt as never before in living memory. While the mountains were dryer than some seasons the summer of 2003 did offer some green fire safe vegetation where wildlife had grazed. Just in the adjacent valley to the Cotter, the Upper Murrumbidgee was grazed green by Brumby mobs and travelling cattle each November and May along the stock routes. Traditional big animal travel routes for the last 170 years resuming where the giant wombat and kangaroo left off in the last 6000-30000 years. No time at all ago when considering modern vegetation and big animals coevolved for many millions of years with a background of natural fire.
Aboriginal summer migrations seeking Bogong moths, yams, fringe lilies, ceremonies was accompanied by cool burning these thoroughfares to maintain the vitality of their hunting grounds and yam gardens for the last 20000 to 60000 years over lapping with the presence of the big native animals. Cool fires also enhance the quality of the water running between the ferns across large smooth rocks and gravel, herb infused and lightly carbon filtered. Sweet cold tasting so good.
Water seeping through rotting gum leaves is bitter, toxic, black by comparison and upsetting for frogs, tadpole, aquatic insects and fish. Cool little Aboriginal fires used to crackle across the tops of the fallen gum leaves smoking off all the toxins leaving a rich charcoal and potash to return nutrients to the soil, smoke to germinate the grasses, wildflowers and beautiful flowering shrubs. Stockmen adopted these practices where the big animals prepared for cool fires by kicking the bark away from the buttress roots of the ancient forest trees, compressing the twigs and gum leaves mulching the dry unpalatable dry grasses pruning and separating the flammable shrubs ensuring biologically beneficial cool burns.
Australia used to have 20 species of big wombats to 3 tonnes each. The biggest draught horses might weigh 1 tonne. Big herds migrating freely across Australia grooming the vegetation spaced well for cool fire. These big animals eating, in the order of 150 kilograms of vegetation a day of bark, branches, digging out shrubs and eating roots and all. Shrub and grass seed, soil fungi and essential bacteria would be brewed in their gut redistributed as pelleted seed set up for success so biodiversity was re-established on their travel routes and feeding areas. Scientists envisage big animal migrations in Australia would have been similar to those in Africa today, such as those involving 250000 zebra and 1.3 million wildebeest in one herd. More species of giraffe, elephants, antelope, birds travelling together according to seasonal rainfall, filling needs for water and feed.
In addition to the species of giant wombat Australia had at least 95 species of kangaroo and wallaby. The bigger species were between 150 and 300 kilogram pony sized. They too browsed shrubs to 3 metres into the canopy keeping the vegetation fire safe, gathered and redistributed seed, nutrients, soil organisms plants need to grow well. Their digestive systems were designed somewhere between that of horses and that of sheep or cattle. Horses and sheep graze grasses and browse shrubs where cattle mostly eat grass.
Stockmen used to say the more we came the prettier the mountains became as the flats and water ways grew sweet green grass and wildflower gardens. In a bushfire these lawns were fire safe havens for plants and animals. The streams and bogs were fire safe. Stream banks were stabilised and filtered the run off of soot or silt. Australian modern vegetation evolved with big animal activity cooling the summer fires.
A recent report indicated the mountains this summer were dry and the winds were exceptionally hot and dry in January. People were very concerned about the amount of dry grass piles of fallen gum leaves the dense flammable understorey. As the Brumbies are being removed said to enhance Canberra’s water supply moving from the Cotter to the Upper Murrumbidgee via the Tantangara dam. Water used to be diverted into the Murray and down to the irrigation areas or environmental flows. This water now goes down to Canberra’s new enlarged Cotter dam or pumped to Googong dam on the Queanbeyan river for Canberra to use as required.
The horses as stock-horses, pack horses, timber team horses and more recently as free living Brumbies have been effective in maintaining fire safety in the Upper Murrumbidgee for over 150 years and around the biodiverse area of Yarrangabilly where the plant communities enjoy big animal activity. Many say the wildflowers persist better on the Brumby runs. As the horse populations are reduced, the travelling cattle stopped coming through, flammable woody weeds are taking over more of the snow plains. This is raising concerns that the Upper Murrumbidgee in future will not be safe from hot fires. The broad tooth rats, Corroboree frogs and other species retracting their distribution to active big animal grazed green lawns will disappear when the Brumbies are gone. The water supplies put at risk of hot fire are a greater concern than hoof prints in creek crossings.
Reports from the mountains suggest there are in the order of 30 trap yards being set with horses indiscriminately removed called for by environmental activists who seem unaware of the long term sustainability of removing big animals from the Australian ecology.
If we cannot grow up our remaining wombats and kangaroo fast enough to manage the relationships between fire vegetation growth and spacing then perhaps we should be reconsidering as are other countries internationally the ecological necessity of big animals in keeping our water supplies and biodiversity sustainable.
Some farmers are reporting an increase in kangaroo size where they are being left alone to cohabit with their sheep, cattle and horses. Grey kangaroo bucks growing as large as red roo 70-90+ kilograms where farm animals are maintaining fresh nutritious vegetation. Where kangaroo, wallaby, wallaroo, wombats, emu, possum have a choice of vacant timber or livestock lawns they vote with their feet and head for the paddocks. Maybe one day Australia will again have mega marsupial hastened by the return of big animal activity to the ecologies moved along by the return of big herds.
Internationally there is a rethink of the ecological place for big animals. Perhaps Australia should be reconsidering aerial culls and removal of our heritage horses, camel, donkey, water buffalo, and what relationships they have formed with native species biodiversity in the last 200 years. Not so fast as multiculturalism needs to be extended to rural Australia.
We listed to the multicultural indigenous history up to 60,000 years and adopted key components of their management.
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