Range Management Newsletter 10/3

November 2010 – Range Management Newsletter 10/3


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

Welcome to the last issue of the Range Management Newsletter for 2010.

First up I have included some feedback from the 16th ARS Biennial Conference held in Bourke during September 2010.  Over 200 delegates attended and by all accounts the conference was a great success.  Russell Grant, on behalf of the Organising Committee, has provided a rundown of the practical side of the conference, including a summary of the conference evaluation forms.  Additionally I have included the wrap-up comments made by Ron Hacker and Joel Brown during the last session of the conference – their summaries provide a good technical review of the papers and posters presented at the conference and point out several major themes of the conference.

Following on from this, you will find several items related to Society business.  In particular, there is a notice that explains that the ARS Council is looking to appoint more Fellows to the Society.  If you know of anyone who has made a significant contribution to the ARS or to rangelands in general why not nominate them?  More details about the nomination process are given on page 2 of this newsletter.  Note that nominations need to be with Council by the 28 February, 2011.

In this issue you can also read further descriptions of Jane Addisons’s field studies in Mongolia.  The latest instalment describes Jane’s most recent trip to the Gobi Desert, this time accompanied by the Nuffield Scholarship winning goat-catcher, Christine Ferguson.  Find out why Christine believes that Australian pastoralism has more in common with the Gobi than American ranching by reading the article on page 10.

Additionally, there is a short article from Dean Graetz describing recent developments for the Koonamore Vegetation Reserve Archive of photographs taken since the Reserve was set up in 1926.  A subset of the Archive, the repeat photography of 67 permanent sites, has been converted to video and is now available on YouTube.  I am sure you will be amazed at some of the changes that have occurred especially if you view the videos backwards as Dean suggests.  More details about how to access the video series are given on page 11.

The deadline for the next issue will be late February 2011.  Please think about contributing something.

Have a great holiday season – see you in 2011!

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John A Taylor, ARS President and Director, Rangelands Australia/Professor of Rangeland Management at The University of Queensland, Gatton  QLD  4343.  Email: john.a.taylor@uq.edu.au

The country around Bourke put on an impressive display of the impact of ‘Rain in the Rangelands’ for our recent conference.

I have seen a preliminary summary of the evaluation forms, and the feedback is overwhelmingly positive.  Words like ‘excellent’, ‘wonderful’ and ‘marvellous’ have been used in the feedback on the program, sessions and organization.  Overall, the conference scored well, with catering, venues, networking opportunities, conference publications (abstracts), the welcome to Bourke, wharf BBQ and conference dinner all scoring highly.  People also clearly valued the manager/practitioner session and international contributions.

On behalf of the Council I would like to repeat our thanks to the Organizing Committee, Editorial Committee and the Natalie Bramble team for their efforts in making this a very successful conference.  We should also acknowledge that we put a bit of pressure on a small (but big hearted) town, and I would also like to thank the staff of the Bourke Shire, the Western CMA and the community for making our stay so enjoyable.  And a special thanks to our major sponsors, session sponsors and other supporters – without them we wouldn’t be able to facilitate the exchange of ideas and information at a forum like this.  Thanks also for the valuable suggestions on how we might improve the value of the conference to members. More time for questions, more input from other rangeland users, and involving local high school students are among the suggestions.  All of the feedback will be passed on to Paul Novelly and the team to help make the Kununurra conference (Sept 2012) an even greater success.  No pressure, but Bourke was seen to be a ‘hard act to follow’!

I am pleased to report that the Society currently has over 300 active members, and a healthy bank balance.  Since the conference, your Council has continued to meet approximately every two months by teleconference.  Over the last few months we have completed an update of Conference Guidelines, initiated a review of membership categories and benefits, agreed to mount a display featuring the Society, the Journal and the Kununurra conference at the SRM meeting in Billings MT and the IRC in Rozario Argentina, and considered several applications for Travel Grants.

Finally, I would like to remind members of the opportunity to acknowledge long-serving and major contributors to the betterment of the rangelands and the Society.  Nominations for the award of ‘Fellow of the ARS’ close at the end of February.

On behalf of your Council, have a happy and relaxing Christmas, and our best wishes for 2011.

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Do you know someone that has made a significant contribution to the ARS or to rangelands in general?  Why not nominate them as a Fellow of the Society?

Over recent months the Council of the Australian Rangeland Society has been discussing the nomination of new Fellows of ARS.  Appointment as a Fellow recognizes “Any person who has rendered or is rendering distinguished service to the Society or to rangelands.”  There are currently five Fellows – Mr Gary Bastin, Mr Bill Bolton Smith, Mr David Wilcox, Dr Alan Wilson and Mrs Joan Gibbs.

The result of the Special General Meeting held recently (and advertised in the last Range Management Newsletter) was that the change to percentage of members that can be awarded Fellowships of the Society was raised from 2% to 4% (motion passed unopposed).  This allows the Society to award at least five more Fellows.

The guidelines for nominations for Fellows have been revised as indicated below.  Council would like to award these at the Society’s next AGM to be held in May 2011.  Proposers must get their nominations to Council by the end of February 2011 for consideration by Council at its March 17, 2011 meeting of Council.

Nominations require:

  • A written nomination (not exceeding 750 words) clearly setting out the contributions of the individual to the rangelands and/or rangeland management and the aims and functioning of the Society, together with a citation of not more than 150 words suitable for publication in the Society newsletter or on the website.
  • The nomination is to be supported by at least six financial members.
  • The nominee must be a current and financial member of the Society, and with a minimum of 10 years continuous membership and be judged by peers to have made a sustained and significant contribution to improvement of the rangelands, its industries and communities, and/or the progress of the Society.

The criteria that will be used to assess nominations will include:

  • Length and nature of service to the Society.
  • Contribution to the organization, management or advancement of the Society.
  • Contribution to the advancement of knowledge, the science and art of using and managing Australia’s rangeland resources for all purposes commensurate with sustainable use of the rangelands
  • Contribution to networking and mentoring within the Society and rangeland communities.

Further details about the ARS Fellowships and the nomination process is available from the members area of the ARS website (austrangesoc.com.au).

If you have any questions regarding nominations please contact the ARS Secretary, Carolyn Ireland, by email (cireland@impl.com.au) or phone (08 8370 9207).

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The 16th Biennial Conference of the ARS recently held in Bourke included an array of experiences for delegates including oral presentations, poster sessions, field tours and social events.  Russell Grant, on behalf of the organising committee, has kindly provided an overview of the conference from an co-ordinator’s perspective including a summary of the conference evaluation forms given to delegates.  A more technical synopsis of the conference can be gained by reading through the two wrap-up papers delivered by Ron Hacker and Joel Brown during the final conference session.

Postscript from the Organising Committee

Russell Grant, Western Catchment Management Authority, PO Box 307 Cobar  NSW  2835.  

In mid 2009, a small local organising committee and the staff of Natalie Bramble Management, the contracted event managers, bravely faced the task of staging the 16th Biennial Conference in Bourke.  Holding the national conference in Bourke followed on with the ARS tradition of keeping the event within the rangelands.  The advantages of Bourke included topical water and grazing issues on the doorstep, good access to field tour sites and attractive venues on the Darling River for social occasions.

Cuts in regular commercial passenger flights to Bourke and most other smaller regional centres in western NSW certainly created a challenge for the organisers.  However, most delegates opted to drive to Bourke rather than bus from Dubbo, the nearest operating regional airport.  We shelved our contingency plans for chartering a jet from Sydney.

Theming a conference “Rain on the Rangelands” two years out is potentially asking for trouble with the weather, especially given the unforseen change from drought to a La Nina wet seasonal rainfall pattern.  Given that three of the four field tours involved off-bitumen access, all social venues involved some outdoor exposure and we had fifty people sleeping in tents, the organising committee seriously devised contingency plans.  However, these were unnecessary and the weather conditions were ideal for the period, even tending to chilly on the night of the conference dinner.

Registrations totalled 217 delegates, including several day registrations.  This was down on previous years, possibly reflecting a downturn in science activities in rangelands as well as the lack of a direct air service.  Eight keynote speakers set the scene for the conference sessions, supported by forty oral papers including six student presentations.  Forty posters supported the conference sessions.  The prize for the best orally-delivered paper was awarded to Gresley Wakelin-King (Rivers are more than just water: landscape, ecology, and geomorphology in rangeland management).  The paper by Phoebe Barnes (Using active optical sensing of biomass to investigate the effect of scattered trees on native perennial pastures) was judged as the best student presentation, while Ray Thompson (Marra Creek Waterponding Program:  Rehabilitating scalded rangelands) was awarded best poster.  Gabriel Oliva, representing the organizing committee of the International Rangeland Congress in Rosario, traveled from Argentina to promote next year’s event during the Society’s General Meeting.

Photo 1: Delegates outside the main conference venue in Bourke.  Photo: Carolyn Ireland

The inclusion of a “practitioners” session in the conference program was well-received.  Landholders from five states provided first-rate presentations on managing rangelands.  David Pollock, from Wooleen Station in the Murchison area of Western Australia deserves special mention for his articulate discussion on the interaction between the bureaucracy and the pastoral industry.

Photo 2:  Adrian Harte introduces speaker Douglas Lillecrapp during Session 1 of the conference.  Photo: Carolyn Ireland


As a new initiative, all papers submitted for the conference are available for download in PDF format on the ARS website (www.austrangesoc.com.au).  Selected papers will be peer-reviewed for inclusion in a conference-themed edition of the Australian Rangeland Journal.

Delegates returned eighty six conference evaluation forms.  Aspects of the conference were scored on a 1-10 (lowest-highest) rating system and summary results are presented in Tables 1 and 2.  Overall feedback has been positive and we believe that the Bourke event maintained the good standing of the ARS Biennial Conference.

Table 1.  Evaluation of Conference Evaluation

Table 2.  Evaluation of the field tours and conference sessions.  Note that Tour 4 was cancelled due to insufficient numbers

Sponsors responded generously to the conference and their funds were invested directly into making the event better value for delegates.  We thank the following agencies and organisations for their support:

Major sponsors

  • Western Catchment Management Authority
  • Australian Government
  • Murray Darling Basin Authority
  • NSW Department of Industry and Investment

Tour or function sponsors

  • Central West Catchment Management Authority
  • Meat and Livestock Australia

Session sponsors

  • Lower Murray Darling Catchment Management Authority
  • Desert Channels Queensland
  • NSW Land and Property Management Authority
  • Rangelands Australia
  • NSW Department of Environment, Climate Change & Water


  • S. Kidman and Co
  • Resource Consulting Services
  • QLD Dept of Employment, Economic Development & Innovation
  • Bourke Shire Council
  • NRM Jobs
  • RM Williams Pty Ltd

Many individuals contributed to the organisation of the conference. These include but are not limited to the following people:

Conference steering committee

  • Daryl Green (chair)
  • Ron Hacker
  • Ken Hodgkinson
  • John Taylor
  • Graeme Tupper

Editorial committee

  • Cathy Waters (also organised the Macquarie Marshes tour)
  • David Eldridge and Erin Roger

Bourke organising committee

  • Natalie Bramble and staff
  • James Leigo
  • Anthony Azevedo
  • Andrew Hull
  • Richard Turner
  • Gemma Turnbull
  • Nerida Green
  • Anne Wise

Field tour hosts and leaders

  • Paul Theakston and Chris Higgins
  • John and Rana Manns
  • Graham and Cathy Finlayson
  • Anne Holst

Professional conference organisers

  • Natalie Bramble and staff
  • Donnamaree O’Neil

The local staff of the Western Catchment Management Authority and NSW Department of Industry and Investment deserve a special mention for their willingness to contribute time and effort as necessary to make the conference a success.

Good luck to the Kununurra committee!


Photo 3.  Delegates enjoy dinner on the Darling Wharf in Bourke.  Photo: Carolyn Ireland


Photo 4.  Bush poet Nick Brown performs at the Bush BBQ.  Photo: Carolyn Ireland

Conference Wrap-up 1

Ron Hacker, Research Leader (Forest and Rangeland Ecosystems), Industry and Investment NSW, PMB 19, Trangie  NSW  2823.  Email:  ron.hacker@industry.nsw.gov.

Reflecting on the papers that have been presented from this podium, and the posters, I’m struck by a number of impressions that I’m grateful to have the opportunity to share with you – purely personal impressions of course and likely quite different to your own.

The first and overriding impression is of the number of papers which either implicitly or explicitly have expressed a view of rangelands as multidimensional systems.  A range of terminology has been used – ‘dryland syndrome’, human-environment system, social-ecological system, complex adaptive system.  In many papers these terms were not used at all but the multi-dimensional characteristics of rangelands were nevertheless reflected in one way or another – low productivity of semi-arid and arid landscapes, low population densities and issues that arise from that, complex responses that cross thresholds and may not be reversible, remoteness, frustration with distant policy makers or lack of influence in the policy domain, but at the same time recognition of the importance of policy settings and governance arrangements, the need for a connection – or indeed the inevitability of a connection – between the social and ecological dimensions of the system.

This sort of discussion is not new to this Society.  Since the Port Augusta conference in 1996, ARS conferences have clearly recognised a need to focus on social, economic and policy issues as much as on biology and ecology.  We have had an understanding that all of these dimensions need to be right if the whole thing is to work properly for people and the land.  I don’t think that much which is fundamental to that understanding has changed in the last 14 years.  What has changed though is the extent to which this understanding has been systematised and, of course, at the same time jargonised.  I’d have to admit that there is part of me that laments what sometimes seems to be an unnecessary ‘scientising’ of common knowledge and common sense.  But at the same time, I can also recognise the value of a systematic framework for conveying a particular view of the world to those for whom it is not common knowledge but whose actions and policies may impact significantly on people in rangelands.  There may also be value for rangeland users themselves in recognising the ‘syndrome’ for what it is, that the frustrations experienced by many residents are a fact of life, that they are not unique to Australia, and that the way foreword is to learn how to be smart in managing those realities and in arguing the case for rangelands with ‘outsiders’ from a firm theoretical base.

One of the imperatives that flow from this ‘new view’ of rangelands, of course, is the value to be attached to local knowledge.  It was therefore very pleasing indeed to see the significant Aboriginal presence at this conference from across the continent and the willingness of those participants to commence what needs in my view to be an ongoing feature of these conferences – the sharing of Aboriginal knowledge relevant to land management.  The current project by the Western CMA to collate such knowledge is a very welcome initiative.  Increasing participation by Aboriginal land managers in conferences like this, and more broadly also, is required – and not simply by the extent of Aboriginal land ownership in the rangelands.  It is actually an imperative that flows from the conceptual model being espoused in so many papers at this conference, consciously or not.

Similarly the knowledge of non-indigenous landholders has also been well shared at this conference, and was explicitly sought by the Organising Committee.  I thought that the landholder presentations in the first session on Tuesday were first rate – in fact the best collection of practitioner experiences I can recall at an ARS conference – not only informative but free of any of the ‘them and us’ attitude that has occasionally marred similar sessions at previous conferences.  Hopefully it does reflect an increasing willingness of landholders to share their experiences in formal ways – as noted by Sally Ware and Bill Noad in their poster on the Western Division Newsletter.  It is a trend to be encouraged through similarly structured sessions at future conferences, which I think could be recommended to the next OC, and again it is an imperative that flows from the concept of human-ecological systems.

Putting the knowledge and experience on the table is one thing.  Equally important is a genuine dialogue between practice and science.  As Mick Veitch noted in his opening address, the Society was established for this very reason and it has tried to maintain this focus since.  I would argue that practice is at its best when it is willing to be subject to scientific scrutiny and, vice versa, science does best when subject to what will inevitably be the incisive assessment of practitioners.  This dialogue too is actually mandated by the conceptual model so generally embraced at this meeting.  It really goes without saying, of course, that dialogue is only possible in a common language.  Overall, with the odd exception, I think this conference has been blessedly free of jargon but it does require a conscious effort, on the part of both landholders and scientists, to ensure that common language is maintained.

Before leaving these comments on the ‘new view’ of rangelands, let me reflect on an old Chinese proverb which says that if your planning for next year grow rice, if your planning for the next decade grow vines, if you’re planning for the next century grow people.  Rangelands are obviously on the ‘century scale’.  Growing human capacity is as much a dictate of the ‘new view’ of rangelands as the science-practice dialogue or respect for local knowledge, and the urgency of the challenge was very clearly highlighted yesterday by John Taylor.  I have no definitive suggestion as to how the Society should respond to his challenge to encourage the development of this capacity except to say that the Society could certainly find among its ranks many examples of fulfilling careers that would resonate with some young people considering their options for the future.  In the bigger picture Mark Stafford-Smith’s suggestion of an Outback Capital Trust Fund would be a great asset, providing not only for human capital but the other four capitals also.

A second impression, and one that is related to the first, is a call in various forms for changed governance or administrative arrangements for the rangelands.  The call was most explicitly articulated in the paper by Graham Marshall and Mark Stafford Smith advocating localised, adaptive governance, but similar calls were contained in a number of other papers and revolve around notions of a balance between sanctions and incentives in NRM, and the potential for rewarding landholders for provision of environmental services or non-consumptive products.  I agree with Sheldon Atwood that a link between payments and the actual conservation outcome achieved should be an important feature of such schemes.  I believe that these schemes have an important place in the policy mix for rangeland administration and that if done imaginatively (e.g. through integration with drought assistance policy) need not be a drain on the public purse.  Again, an Outback Capital Trust Fund would be a great boost.

The third impression is that the technology available for management of rangelands is really quite impressive, at least from a pastoral perspective.  It ranges from tools that can be applied at property scale (e.g. grazing charts, safe utilisation rates, regeneration techniques, pasture growth forecasting at paddock scale) to tools for large scale monitoring and administration (e.g. land condition monitoring protocols and infrastructure established under the Delbessie agreement; landscape functionality monitoring; AussieGRASS).  While there will always be I’s to dot and T’s to cross I believe that the tools for management of grazing from a pastoral perspective are largely there, notwithstanding the effect that climate change will have on the detail of their application and the need for more drastic adaptive measures in some situations.  Adoption is now the key.

We are certainly not nearly so far advanced in terms of understanding how sustainable pastoral management impacts on biodiversity both over time and over spatial scales.  But equally we are not without a broad understanding of the requirements of decreaser species, we can acknowledge that certain specialised habitats simply should not be grazed (e.g. mound springs) and with careful argument we can develop substantial programs to reduce feral animals.  Despite the prognoses for another round of extinctions in the rangelands I think that with good pastoral management in the broadest sense we are in a good position to at least hold the line on biodiversity until knowledge improves.  Not all may agree.

A fourth impression for me has been the limited focus on basic science at this conference.  The student papers as usual were refreshing but together with a dozen or so others they represent a fairly small minority of the material on offer over the last two and a half days.  I do wonder if we have the balance quite right between the practice, the system understanding, and the process level research that can ultimately underpin both.  Personally I’d like to see more good science presented at this conference, not to the exclusion of practice and system understanding but in addition to them, and perhaps even the introduction of some limited concurrent sessions at future conferences to engage the science base of the Society.

Finally, I’d like to say something about the call for better understanding of geomorphic processes made by Gresley Wakelin-King and of course echoed in papers on Tuesday by landholders who have benefited from the EMU process.  After something of an uphill battle it’s good to see the persistence of Hugh Pringle and Ken Tinley rewarded with the recognition they have received at this conference.  When I first started in rangeland ecology after five years of training in Agricultural Science I had a reasonable knowledge of a few plant species and even better knowledge of soils, but I had no understanding at all of how landscapes worked except that water always runs downhill.  I could barely pronounce the word ‘geomorphology’, and I had never seen an aerial photograph.  Fortunately, I had a great mentor in David Wilcox and I picked up a few things along the way.  I think it is too easy to ignore landscape context or believe we do more or less understand Geomorphology 101 but there are many of us I suspect even today who never did Geomorphology 101 or who would benefit greatly from a refresher.  Perhaps Rangelands Australia already offers training in this discipline but if not I would suggest to John – still Australia’s only Professor of Rangeland Management –  that it is a serious deficiency in the building of that human capacity that you recognised as so vital for the future management of our rangelands.

Thank you for the opportunity to share these thoughts with you.

Conference Wrap-up 2

Joel Brown, Jornada Experimental Range, MSC 3JER, PO Box 30003, New Mexico State University, Las Cruces  New Mexico  88003-0003.  Email:  joelbrow@nmsu.edu

The Australian Rangeland Society Biennial Conference in Bourke provided a venue for practitioners and researchers of rangeland management in its broadest sense.  The posters and presentations ran the gamut, from traditional (livestock forage production) to emerging (wetlands restoration) values.  Several things about the meeting struck me as themes that exemplify rangeland research and management going in to the second decade of the new millennium.

First, the communication skills of all the presenters were very good.  Although there was a tremendous diversity of subjects and presentation styles, the speakers had one important thing in common; they spoke with passion about their subjects and clearly made connections with the audience.  What impressed me most was the ability of the speakers to make their point, even though their evidence ranged from hardcore experimental data to largely anecdotal impressions.  Multi-day conferences with back-to-back presentations can often try the attention span of even the most avid professional, but I found myself really enjoying the presentations.  Even though I disagreed with several speakers regarding their premises or conclusions, I found the presentations easy to follow and appreciated their organization and logic.  To communicate with those outside of our profession, we have no better tool than our communication skills.

I also thought the presentations, when taken as a group, described some of the dominant processes associated with rangeland ecosystems globally.  The processes described in the papers could be interpreted broadly as encompassing population dynamics processes: either extinction or survival.  Guy Fitzhardinge intuitively combined data from many varied sources to describe the precarious position that rangeland managers currently occupy.  Richard Kingsford also assembled a broad range of data to present a picture of agricultural landscape and river system dynamics and their influence on wetlands within the Murray-Darling Basin.  His presentation demonstrated the highly connected nature of large catchments and the formidable challenge of trying to manage human-influenced processes to achieve large-scale restoration.  Caroline Harris and Mike Chuk described some of the individual processes (energy exploration and invasive species, respectively) that are contributing to the extinction of ecosystem functions that stabilize rangelands.

A particularly interesting and important set of processes that are contributing to the instability of rangeland ecosystems were those described by John Taylor.  The movement of skilled (in the broadest possible sense of knowledge and abilities) people out of the rangelands via inadvertent attrition or conscious decision constitutes a serious threat to the stability and survival of rangeland ecosystems.  A loss of people who understand the narrowness of the intersection of ecological, economic and social sustainability and the difficulty of managing for all three simultaneously is a loss that cannot be understated in its impact.  There is a world of difference between having the knowledge to sustainably manage rangelands available in the public sector and getting it applied consistently and broadly.

Counteracting these degrading processes ultimately ending in extinction of species, populations or professions are restoration processes that stabilize and strengthen mechanisms supporting sustainability.  Douglas Lillecrapp, David Pollock and Robin Cadzow provided some interesting insights as landowners involved in restoration projects at the scale of individual properties, using relatively low risk technologies.  These papers all addressed, to some extent, the paradox that within property restoration, while critical to sustainability, often is written off as economically unfeasible because of the long timeframe for response.  The landowners seemed to have adjusted their expectations of how long they are prepared to wait to restore land to productive capacity.

Mark Stafford-Smith and Erlina Compton both presented analyses of projects designed to find ways to encourage implementation of processes to stabilize rangelands.  Interestingly, both were focused on new and innovative ways to get people and institutions to implement relatively well-proven, traditional management practices.  I interpreted this set of papers as being about survival processes, or ways to avoid extinction of species, populations and professions.  In particular, the emergence of a group of researchers and practitioners working on how to structure larger scale policy and programmatic processes in rangeland ecosystems is heartening.  For a decade or more, we have had a reasonable grasp of both the larger scale drivers and the smaller scale mechanisms of degradation.  Yet, we seemed to have ignored the asymmetrical nature of our elucidations of the ongoing struggle between degrading and stabilizing (or extinction and survival) processes.  While we had relatively well-developed descriptions of the small-scale stabilizing and restoring processes, we spent precious little time trying to understand, communicate and direct the larger scale drivers that could accelerate their implementation.  Perhaps the new focus on the dual nature and connection of small scale mechanisms and large scale drivers will result in a new approach to developing and implementing technology.  Also encouraging were the new applications and creativity in the student presentations and posters, which provided a counterbalance to John Taylor’s presentation about loss of skills.

Another dominant theme of the papers and posters was more traditional, but nonetheless just as important.  Scientists and technicians have typically supported practitioners, policy makers and especially the public with the development of tools, methodologies and systems for measuring rangeland ecosystem attributes.  Without objective, cost-effective measures of ecosystem change and/or production of goods and services, credible decision-making at any level is impossible.  Whatever changes about rangeland science, the role of developing measurement technologies and systems will remain an important part of our contribution to society.

In summary, the 16th Biennial Australian Rangeland Society Conference had a blend of new and traditional information.  It was most appropriate that it was held in the Darling River Basin, a region that is both the heart of traditional Australian agriculture as well as an ecosystem about to undergo dramatic and extensive change.  The services provided by the members of the ARS, whether practitioners, researchers or technical advisors, will help provide a rational basis for the difficult decisions, technologies to implement those decisions and methodologies for assessing their impacts.


Photo 5.  Some of the nine Rangeland Management students, four Rangeland Champions and four Learning facilitators associated with the Rangelands Australia initiative and present at the Bourke Conference.


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Ken Hodgkinson, Chair, ARS Publications Committee.  Email:  ken.hodgkinson@csiro.au

The recent Special Issue of The Rangeland Journal “Linking the dynamics of people, land and water in the drylands of the Murray-Darling Basin” was on my mind as I passed through Bourke recently on Friday 5 November.  To my surprise the town was very quiet and most businesses were closed, especially my favourite coffee shop.  On enquiry I found the MBDA were in town to conduct a community information session in the Bourke High School Multipurpose Centre where the recent 16th Biennial Conference was held.  The Bourke Shire Council had encouraged the town to take to the streets in protest over further water cuts.  The Council believes any further loss of water for Bourke, as may come about with the introduction of the Basin Plan released by the MBDA, would be disastrous and result in businesses closing, job losses and even more people forced to leave the district.

The impact of the Special Issue on the meeting would have been inconsequential but I hope in months/years ahead the excellent work of the authors and Invited Editor, Sarah Ryan, will be useful in the debates and formulation of policy.  Papers in the issue were concerned with conceptual approaches and developing integrated understandings of how the drylands of the Basin function.  These approaches and understandings should be useful and it is to the credit of the Society that we can assemble these papers as a contribution in a timely manner.  In my opinion the topic is “hot” now in Australia and the way it is handled in Australia is of international interest.  I hope members enjoyed reading the Issue.  Some of the authors were available to present talks on their topics at a session of the Conference in Bourke and their efforts were appreciated.

The Publications Committee and the Editor-in-Chief are always looking for topics and support for future Special Issues.  The current Issue emerged from committee discussions and we went to the MDBA for support three years ago.  I want to acknowledge the encouragement and very generous financial support given by the MDBA: funding was provided for a preparatory workshop in Canberra, for production of the Special Issue and for major sponsorship of the recent Biennial Conference in Bourke.  It would be amiss not to mention our publisher: staff worked under pressure to publish the Issue electronically before the Bourke Biennial Conference and their commitment is greatly appreciated.  In case you missed it at the Conference, non-member speakers were given advance copies of the Special Issue in appreciation for their efforts.

If you know of any special meetings coming up in the future in Australia or in other countries, which are cutting edge and topical, please contact a Publications Committee member or the Editor-in-Chief.  You may also be able to suggest an emerging topic which could be “hot” in several years’ time.  We would like to hear from you.

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The 17th Biennial Conference of the Australian Rangeland Society will be held in Kununurra, Western Australia in September 2012.  The theme will be “Celebrating Diversity in Place, People and Purpose”.  Don Burnside outlined a brief proposal for the Kimberley Conference during the General Meeting of the Society in Bourke and guaranteed that delegates would be warm!

The Organizing Committee will consist of Paul Novelly (Chair), Don Burnside, Jennifer Duffecy, Trevor Howard, Alec Holm, Sandra Van Vreeswyk, Troy Sinclair, Pauline Grierson, Peter Landman and Tony Brandis.  The Committee recognizes that local presence on the ground is essential and they are working on this aspect.

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For any of you who may be considering hosting an ARS Biennial Conference at some stage, please note that all future Conference bids must be presented using the Conference Proposal Template which is now available on the ARS website.  This is an interactive Word document which can be filled in electronically.  If you have questions about this document please contact Larissa Lauder (larissa.lauder@hotmail.com).

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Jane Addison, PhD Candidate (University of Queensland), CSIRO Ecosystem Sciences, PO Box 2111, Alice Springs  NT  0820.  Email:  jane.addison@csiro.au.

Christine Ferguson, Myrnong Station, c/o Wanaaring PO, NSW  2840.  Email:  dlcj@bigpond.com

Late last year, Nuffield Australia Farming Scholar and upcoming goat eccentric Christine Ferguson sat down for a couple of minutes to read the ARS newsletter in between mustering on her western NSW property.  An article written by Jane Addison, UQ PhD student, 2009 ARS travel grant recipient and ex-Elvis Presley fan, caught her eye.  Jane’s article related to her work in the Gobi Desert looking at linkages between rangeland condition, herder livelihoods and land tenure.  Being the recipient of a large wad of cash to be spent on an international investigation into goat grazing management in arid lands and opportunities for the Australian goat industry, Christine decided to give Jane an email.  Jane, very excited that she wasn’t the only person in the world to randomly cold email anyone/everyone doing anything even slightly related to her research topic, replied.  Several months later, Christine was on her way to Mongolia to join Jane on a trip to the Gobi.

Their August trip consisted of a large loop around Mongolia’s Omnogobi province, a 100 – 150mm rainfall zone primarily utilised for pastoralism. In 2009, goats were the dominant livestock type due to a run of high cashmere prices.  An extremely cold winter saw the temperature drop to -20˚C by November. Jane, unfortunately, got to experience the growth of muddy ice stalactites on the back of the Landcruiser firsthand – in the words of Louis Armstrong, nobody knows the trouble she’s seen.  These cold temperatures combined with an impaired ability of pastoralists to manage for climatic risk, killing up to 60% of livestock in certain areas.  ‘Cashmere cash-crop’ goats were particularly vulnerable, with the more historically common camels having higher survival rates.  Being a fan of selecting species to suit the environment. Christine couldn’t help but think that goats were the wrong species for the cold Mongolian winters.  She was very impressed with the Bactrian camels that reportedly could lie down for 3 days and let a cold winter storm pass them by whilst goats froze to death.  Christine formed the opinion that the herders’ methods of risk management were to retain diversity of species in their livestock so as after a cold winter there would at least be some animals to provide meat and milk for the herding family when the lucrative cashmere producing goats were nothing but a pile of dry carcasses.  But being the financier of large boarding school fees herself, she could understand the attraction of the cashmere industry.

Interviewing pastoralists after such a winter was at times difficult, despite the fact that the herders most badly affected had already moved to town and were thus un-interviewable.  On a good note, the additional soil moisture that the winter’s snow melt provided, and perhaps also the reduced grazing pressure, meant that many species that Jane had never seen flower/seed were this year finally able to.  The highly palatable Allium polyrhizium, one of the main species ‘going off,’ reportedly contains 26% protein – and luckily for Christine and Jane, its spring-onion taste meant it became an important part of their Scurvy Prevention Programme (SPP).  Rangeland condition surveys throughout the area showed surprisingly little utilisation, and none of the gullying or large number of unpalatables found in similar sites in Inner Mongolia.

Photo 1:  Goats grazing Nitraria sp.

Both Christine and Jane found the shared fieldtrip incredibly useful in furthering their understanding of opportunities and constraints in arid rangelands.  There are many similarities between the Australian and Mongolian systems – high levels of risk, extreme exposure to climate, minimum government support, high levels of debt, poor infrastructure, the need for flexibility/mobility, the independent spirit of pastoralists, the influence of mining, the need for cash to pay school fees (and flow-on affects for management decisions), and the rural-urban drift of the young. Christine noted that Australian pastoralism has much more in common with the Gobi than it does with American ranching.

Photo 2: Bath-time, Gobi-style

Jane greatly benefited from being able to bounce ideas off Christine, and the additional access to vitamins and caffeine that having a 50:50 Mongolian/Australian team ratio allowed with Christine’s presence.  Jane was also grateful that most of the various off/fermented milk products were sent in the direction of the ‘Australian goat herder’ rather than the woman with the clipboard asking all those strange questions.  Christine was a little gobsmacked to find her western division goat chasing self sharing milky tea with Mongolian herders in a ger in the Gobi, but with the help of copious amounts of unbelievably “tasty” dairy products and good conversations felt more at home than anyone would have expected.  She noted that opportunistic grazing in a variable climate seemed to be the only realistic way to sustainably procure an income whether you were a pastoralist in Australian or Mongolian rangelands, however, she was enormously grateful for the technology that meant that she didn’t need to bucket the water out of a well to water livestock.

Photo 3:  The goat-catcher catches a camel!

Whilst Christine and Jane continue their Genghis Khaan inspired nomadic lifestyles, they are best contacted via email: Jane – jane.addison@csiro.au; or Chris – dlcj@bigpond.com.  Christine’s Nuffield blogspot can be found at http://goatcatcher.farmnet.com.au/.  Jane is grateful to the Royal Geographical Society of South Australia for partial financial support of her 2010 field season.


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Dean Graetz, Hackett, ACT, 2602.  Email:  MargaretDeanGraetz@me.com (please put Koonamore in the subject heading)

The following information may be of value to all members interested in the long-term response of rangelands to changes in grazing management, and to climatic  fluctuations.

The recovery of a degraded rangeland at Koonamore, a sheep station in the northeast rangelands of South Australia, has been researched since 1926.  One of the recording techniques employed has been repeat photography.  Now, because the research at Koonamore continues today, the Koonamore Photographic Archive is the longest in Australia, and one of the longest, globally.  It is unique, informative, and valuable because it records the severe ENSO droughts of the 1930s, the arrival of Myxomatosis in the 1950s, and the 1973-4 extreme wet period.  To make these images accessible, the Archive is now digitized.

A subset of the Archive, the repeat photography of 67 permanent sites, has been converted to video.  Video presentation enhances the detection and interpretation of the vegetation (and soil surface) changes that have occurred, especially if the video is viewed in reverse.  It is no exaggeration to say that most of the landscape responses were significant and surprising.

The video series, comprising 76 volumes, is available on YouTube with an overall title of Recalling the Past: Responses of a degraded rangeland.  Each volume is HD resolution (1280 x 720), freely downloadable, and most are about 6 minutes long.  Because of the vast and dynamic nature of YouTube, the simplest way to access the series is via two dedicated websites.  The first (http://tinyurl.com/3algxrx) provides explanatory background to the Koonamore project and the series, followed by links to each video.  In addition, the annotated still images used for the video production are available to view as a slide show, and (in reduced size) to download.   The second website (http://tinyurl.com/32ovg9o) also provides the background and YouTube links, along with immersive panoramic photography that displays the landscape context of most of the photographic sites.

I am confident that, if you peruse the video series, you will find much that is interesting and instructive. The videos, annotated still images, and panoramas (in Flash format) can all be freely downloaded.

Please note: The video series was built on a subset of value-added, digitised images from the Koonamore Photographic Archive, which remains the intellectual property of the University of Adelaide, South Australia.  All enquiries about additional access should be directed to its custodian, Dr Russell Sinclair who can be contacted by email at russell.sinclair@adelaide.edu.au.  Digitizing the Koonamore Photographic Archive, and composing and authoring the video series were my contributions.  My contact details are in both websites.


Photo series 1.  Photopoint images for Quadrat Q100SE located in the NE section of Koonamore Vegetation Reserve.  Dates and approximate rabbit numbers are indicated on each photo.  Note – sheep were present in the area from the 1880s until excluded  in 1926; rabbits were present from the 1890s and eliminated in 1984; kangaroos are endemic, continuous and variable in number.


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Lester McCormick – Manilla  NSW

Ninti One Ltd – Alice Springs  NT

Ken Harrison – Dubbo  NSW

Faye McPherson – Byrock  NSW

Angus Arnott – Canowindra  NSW

Philip Bell – Bourke  NSW

Jasmine Wells – Hillston  NSW

Mike Chambers – Cowra  NSW

Casey Collier – Tennant Creek  NT

Michelle Crossley – Booligal  NSW

Kerry Wratten – Condobolin  NSW

Milton Lewis – Meroo Meadow  NSW

Graeme Hand – Branxholme  VIC

Leslie Russell – Hawker  ACT

Diana O’Connor – Flaxton  QLD

Lyndal Hasselman – Forbes  NSW

Sally Ware – Hay  NSW

Ian Thomas – Inverell  NSW

Richard Chewings – Dubbo  NSW

Mike Parish – Dubbo  NSW

Vicky Higgins – Inverell  NSW

Barbara Muldoon – Nyngan  NSW

Andrew Freeman – Toowong  QLD

John Gavin – Pt. Augusta  SA

Samantha Travers – Woy Woy  NSW

Sue Akers – Longreach  QLD

Eloise Kippers – Cloncurry  QLD

Jan Ferguson – Semaphore  SA

Geoff Cullenward – Broken Hill  NSW

Paul Flipo – Bollon  QLD

Cameron Muir – Canberra  ACT

Joab Wilson – Ballarat  Vic

Gary Hammond – Linville  QLD

Neil Judd – Charleville  QLD

Leonard Nutt – Pt. Augusta  SA

Ray Thompson – Nyngan  NSW

Marwan El Hassan – Monash  ACT

Justin McClure – Tilpa  NSW

Matt Salmon – Alice Springs  NT

Phoebe Barnes – Armidale  NSW

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Membership subscriptions are due on 1st January 2011.  The 2011 Membership Rates; GST inclusive, will be as follows (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


  • 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 should also pay their 2011 dues through the website, if possible.

A renewing member should logon using their Username, which is their email address as in the ARS database, and their Password, which is “new login xxxx”, xxxx being the member’s membership number.  If you do not know your membership number, please contact Graeme Tupper by email, grmtupper@yahoo.com.au.  Some members may have changed their Password in the database, in which case, Graeme Tupper will not know it.  If you encounter problems in logging on, contact Graeme Tupper.

  • Membership Fees paid after 31st March 2010 will incur a penalty of an additional $15.00 per subscription.
  • 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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The Society has two awards to assist members with either:

  • travel expenses associated with attending a conference or some other activity, or
  • studies related to the rangelands.

Applications for each award will be considered on a yearly basis and close in November of each year.  Any member of the Society interested in either award is invited to apply.

Australian Rangeland Society Travel Grant

This grant is intended to assist eligible persons to attend a meeting, conference or congress related to the rangelands; or to assist eligible persons with travel or transport costs to investigate a topic connected with range management or to implement a program of rangeland investigation not already being undertaken.  The grant is available for overseas travel and/or travel within Australia.  It is not intended for subsistence expenses.

Australian Rangeland Society Scholarship

This scholarship is for assisting eligible members with formal study of a subject or course related to the rangelands and which will further the aims of the Australian Rangeland Society.  The scholarship is available for study assistance either overseas or within Australia.  It is not intended to defray travel expenses.

How to Apply

Members interested in either award should submit a written outline of their proposed activity.  Applications should clearly address how the intended activity (ie. travel or study) meets the aims of the Society.  Applications should be brief (less than 1000 words) and should be submitted to the Secretary, Carolyn Ireland, before 30 November.  An application form can be downloaded from the ARS website at www.austrangesoc.com.au.  For further information contact Carolyn by phone on (08) 8370 9207 or email at cireland@irmpl.com.au.


Applications for the Travel Grant should include details of the costs and describe how the grant is to be spent.  Applications for the Scholarship should include details of the program of study or course being undertaken and the institution under which it will be conducted, and information on how the scholarship money will be spent.  For both awards details of any other sources of funding should be given.

Applications for either award should include the names of two referees.

Finally, on completing the travel or study, recipients are required to fully acquit their award.  They are also expected to write an article on their activities suitable for publication in the Range Management Newsletter or The Rangeland Journal as appropriate, and for the Australian Rangeland Society website, within six months of completion of their travel or study.


No formal qualifications are required for either award.  There are no age restrictions and all members of the Society are eligible to apply.  Applications are encouraged from persons who do not have organisational support.

There is a restriction on both awards for overseas travel or study assistance in that the applicants must have been members of the Society for at least 12 months.  The awards can be for Australian members to travel to or study overseas or for overseas members to travel to or study in Australia.

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