David Phelps, ARS President and Director, DAF Office Landsborough Hwy Longreach Qld 4730.  Email:president@austrangesoc.com.au


Welcome to this edition’s Presidents column.  Council continues to meet regularly to discuss the sustainable future of our Society, with minutes of all meetings available on the website.  Please note that membership enquiries will be handled by Don Burnside for 2017.

Congratulations to Margaret Friedel on being awarded an Australian Rangeland Society Fellowship—you are one of our true treasures Margaret, and the award is well deserved. One of the things that Margaret has done so well is to keep the conservation of sustainable rangeland management going for many years and to a broad audience.

In this edition, I wish to issue a challenge for all of us to take the conversation on rangelands to the world. There is a lot of media and political attention on the Outback and regional Australia, and I believe the timing is right for us to really engage through social media.

The members of the Australian Rangeland Society know just how important rangelands are, both at home and globally. We intrinsically understand the importance of finding a sustainable balance to preserve our deserts, wetlands, grasslands, shrublands, woodlands and savannas. Many of us were born in rangelands and have decided to stay, others have moved onto cities or other re-designed landscapes but still carry the smell of coming rain or the scent of daisies in their hearts and minds, whilst others have chosen to make the rangelands a permanent or semi-permanent base for work or pleasure.

But what about our non-members? There are 100,000s of residents in the Australian rangelands who are not members of the ARS including many land-management professionals who could enrich our networks, ideas and ideals. There are millions of Australians who have never heard of the rangelands, mainly because they live in the 20-25% of the continent that is the modified landscape. Most would not associate ‘the outback’ with rangelands; yet they are synonymous.

Most Australians would not realise that Australia’s rangelands generate more than $16 billion of wealth every year (http://www.environment.gov.au/land/rangelands). Most tourists to Uluru, Lake Eyre, Lake Mungo, or the wild flowers of Western Australia—some of the most iconic and important natural features of Australia—would not realise they are in rangelands.

One of our challenges as members of the ARS is promote our vision of a sustainable Australian Outback to those who have never heard of rangelands.

The Australian Rangeland Society was formed over 40 years ago to help preserve the productivity and stability of the Outback through continuous improvement of the science and art of rangeland management. To do this, The Rangeland Journal was created and has evolved to be internationally recognised, increased from two to six editions a year and had its impact more than double over the last decade. A biennial conference was started, and has grown to the point that the social media impact topped Australia’s charts from Alice Springs during the week it was held in 2015. We reward the study of rangeland science through our annual awards for study and travel. These are considerable achievements, but will not be enough for the ARS to thrive into the future.

Our founding members were visionaries. They perceived that the strength of the ARS is the members’ shared vision of natural landscapes, stable ecosystems and conserving the inherent resources of Australia’s rangelands across multiple land uses. These ideas and ideals should resonate with most Australians; with scientists, naturalists, beef and sheep graziers, conservation managers, tourists, policy makers and residents. Yet our membership has not really broadened as it could have; our conversation is still internal within the Range Management NewsletterThe Rangeland Journal and at our conferences.

The secret to our future success, I believe, is in taking our conversation across Australia, and using this to grow our membership numbers. We have created a modern social media platform to give us a national and global voice. There is renewed interest in discussing regional Australia, from the social injustice of the widening digital divide and the lack of progress in Closing the Gap; the emergence of new technologies in agriculture, research and landscape management; the entrepreneurial spirit of drought ravaged communities to convert the intense sunshine during drought into international investment in solar power generation; to the intensity of political debate over Royalties to the Regions style programs. The majority of us—ARS members—live these debates every day. We also travel regularly to places that most Australians will never experience. This provides us with many unique opportunities to engage in conversations to enrich everyone’s understanding of rangelands and the Outback.

Our first task is to communicate and network beyond the safe environment of the ARS publications and conferences, and engage with the rest of Australia through our FaceBook, Twitter and Instagram pages. Details on how to do this are included in this edition of the newsletter.

Our second task is to grow our membership numbers. Please use your existing networks and social media platforms to encourage people to join by promoting the web site, newsletter, conference and Rangeland Journal. Standard membership with the newsletter is only $80, which also gives discounts on CSIRO publications and access to ARS travel and study grants. The more members that we have, the stronger we become through Journal papers, newsletter articles, conference attendance or the social media conversation, and better our ability to promote our vision of a sustainable Australian Outback.

I hope we are all up to the challenge, as it will be rewarding and enriching for all of us—let’s get the conversation going!