Noelene Duckett, 5 Amery Street, Ashburton  VIC  3147.  Email:

Hello RMN readers!  This issue begins with the announcement from the ARS Council that Associate Professor Wal Whalley and Dr Ken Hodgkinson have been awarded the honour of Fellows of the Society.  These awards are very much deserved as both of these fantastic gentlemen have had (and continue to have!) outstanding careers in the rangeland field and have made very valuable, long-term contributions to the Australian Rangeland Society.  Unbelievably, Wal has been the Editor of The Rangeland Journal for the last 14 years (and before that an Associate Editor for 8 years) while Ken has been on the Publications Committee for the last 16 years, with the last 6 years as Chair.  That’s a serious commitment in anyone’s view!!

Following this, David Eldridge has written an excellent article looking at how shrub encroachment in the rangelands may be viewed in a modern-day context.  Historically, in semi-arid pastoral communities increasing shrublands have been used as a sign of an unhealthy environment.  David suggests, however, that more recent studies indicate that these shrublands may not always be a bad thing as they may provide substantial ecosystem benefits.  Have a read of David’s article, beginning on page 3, and see what you think.

By all reports, the IX International Rangeland Congress, recently held in Rosario, Argentina was a great success.  The ARS provided travel grants to assist three delegates , Bob Karfs, Bob Shepherd and Carolyn Ireland, attend both the Congress and some of the field tours.  All three were very positive in their assessment of the Congress, and their summary reports and accompanying photos certainly make me want to put both Argentina and New Delhi (the host of the next IRC) on my travel calendar.

Finally, I’d like to remind everyone again about the Society’s website (  This site contains useful general information about the Society, the National Council and how to become a member, and also includes abstracts from the current issue of The Rangeland Journal and papers from the 2010 ARS Biennial Conference.  ARS members can access current issues of the RMN and, through a link, papers from TRJ.  Watch out over the next few months as more back issues of the RMN also come on-line.

The next issue of the newsletter is due out in November 2011 so I would appreciate receiving articles by late September/early October.  Please think about contributing!

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John Taylor, ARS President and Director, Rangelands Australia/Professor of Rangeland Management at The University of Queensland, Gatton  QLD  4343.

Over the past 5 months I’ve been privileged to attend the International Rangeland Congress (IRC) in Argentina and travel extensively in western New South Wales and Queensland.

As part of the IRC, I was involved in the ARS-CSIRO Publishing-Rangelands Australia Trade Display, took the High Altitude Rangelands pre-conference tour and chaired a session on Extension and Education.  There were over 30 Australians at the conference, and all of them I spoke to thoroughly enjoyed the tours and the presentations.  Several of our 2011 Travel Grant recipients have submitted short articles on their pre-conference tour and conference experiences, and I encourage you to read their interesting and entertaining reports.  These highlight the value of travel, and hopefully will stimulate others to apply for these grants in 2012.

The purpose of my 3-week, 8500km trip in western NSW and Qld with a colleague from the University of California-Davis was to capture panoramic (ie. gigapan) images of the major rangeland types of eastern Australia.  These images are destined for a web-based ‘Virtual Exploration of Global Rangeland Ecosystems’, which in the first instance will include imagery and basic information on around 23 USA and 12 Australian range types.  I had planned to write about this and the global rangelands initiative for this edition, but with all the material for this edition I’ll hold it over until the next newsletter.  This road trip highlighted the dramatic change in the rangelands that follows a run of good seasons.  Many areas were the best I’d seen them in over 35 years, while others observed that it was the best they had seen the country in almost 90 years!  These conditions will provide a rare opportunity to use fire strategically, but the risk of wildfires will be high over the next four months.

Council activities

Your Council has met by teleconference on two occasions and convened the 2011 Annual General Meeting since the last RMN.  In the teleconferences we have considered a report on membership and endorsed recommendations from the Publications Committee regarding the publisher for The Rangeland Journal for the next five years, the appointment of an Editor in Chief to replace Wal Whalley, and the appointment of new Associate Editors for the journal.  We have also taken advice from the Publications Committee and our journal publishers regarding our planned involvement in the Global Rangelands Initiative, and have communicated our intentions to the Organizers.

We have received the Final Report on the Bourke Conference, and will be considering this and a number of finance-related issues in another teleconference in the near future.

At the AGM office bearers were re-elected and a new general member, Ben Forsyth from WA, was welcomed to Council.  A brief bio for Ben is later in this newsletter.  Peter Johnston has retired, and Council thanked him for his contributions as President and a General member.  A summary of the Directors report tabled at this meeting is provided later in this newsletter for information.

I hope you enjoy reading about what some of your colleagues have been doing, and I look forward to catching up with you in my travels around the rangelands.

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The ARS Council announced the awards of Fellow of the Australian Rangeland Society to Associate Professor Wal Whalley and Dr Ken Hodgkinson at the AGM held on May 16, 2011.  The Awards will presented to the recipients in person at the next ARS Biennial Conference to be held in Kununurra in September 2012.


Nomination as Fellow of the Australian Rangeland Society – Associate Professor R.D.B. (Wal) Whalley

Nominated by Gary Bastin, Margaret Friedel, Ron Hacker, Alec Holm, Tony Pressland and Ian Watson, March 2011

Associate Professor R.D.B. (Wal) Whalley, a founding member of the Society, has given – and continues to give – distinguished service to the Australian Rangeland Society, to higher education and to rangeland science since the Society’s establishment.  Associate Professor Whalley’s appointment as a Fellow of the Society recognises his long standing, eminent service to the Society through editing The Rangeland Journal (since 1998) and his previous roles as Associate Editor (1990-98) and as Chair of the Editorial Committee in the formative years of the Australian Rangeland Journal (1976-78).  Through his energy, enthusiasm and sheer hard work, the Journal has increased its scope, content and frequency; improved its national and international reputation; and is now more visible and accessible through electronic publication.  Associate Professor Whalley has staunchly advocated for conservation and appropriate grazing management of native pastures of the eastern tablelands, has had a distinguished research career in rangeland ecology and management and has committed to educating younger generations of ecologists through teaching, direct supervision of postgraduates and wide-ranging mentorship of many other students.  Indeed, there are many present members of the Society who have thus benefited from A/Prof. Whalley’s tuition, supervision and mentoring.


Nomination as Fellow of the Australian Rangeland Society – Dr Ken Hodgkinson

Nominated by Carolyn Ireland, John Taylor, Ron Hacker, Don Burnside, Graeme Tupper, Neil McLeod and Wal Whalley, March 2011

Dr Ken Hodgkinson has had an outstanding career in arid zone ecology and rangeland management and has contributed in major ways to the Australian Rangeland Society since 1976.   Throughout a long and successful professional career he has been responsible for many advances in the science of managing resources in the rangelands.  He has also given unstintingly of his time guiding and encouraging others in their learning and thinking about rangelands both in Australia and around the World.  Through his leadership and his research Dr Hodgkinson has been a major contributor to the accumulation of our knowledge about the use and management of rangelands worldwide.  These major contributions to science have been recognised by the award of a DSc by Massey University in May, 2011.  He has been unstinting in his work for the benefit of the Australian Rangeland Society as a Member of Council, as Vice-President and subsequently President of the Society and he is probably best known as a distinguished long-time Member and Chair of the Publications Committee.  His work with the redesign of the Society’s website and his current management of that site has been tireless – he spends many, many hours at these multiple tasks to the benefit of all members of the Society.  His intellectual input to the ongoing debate about wise use of resources in Australia and around the World has been exemplary.  He well deserves to be honoured by electing him as Fellow of the Society.

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David Eldridge
Office of Environment & Heritage, Department of Premier & Cabinet
c/o School of Biological, Earth and Environmental Sciences, University of New South Wales, Sydney  NSW  2052.


Encroachment of woody plants into grasslands has been a topic of considerable interest over the past decade. The term ‘encroachment’ is synonymous with terms such as woody thickening, regrowth, woody weed invasion, shrub invasion and bush encroachment. A number of factors are thought to lead to, or exacerbate, encroachment including overgrazing, recovery from disturbance, reduced fire frequency, and more recently, climate change. Overgrazing has frequently been blamed for promoting encroachment on the basis that it reduces both above– and below–ground plant biomass, increasing the availability of resources for germinating shrub seedlings, and lowering the chances of wildfire. Changes in the deposition of nitrogen and carbon dioxide, a consequence of a changing climate, are thought to give woody plants a competitive advantage over grasses.

The links between grazing, shrub recruitment and ecosystem functions are poorly understood, and few studies have successfully managed to tease apart the direct and indirect effects of grazing on shrub encroachment and therefore on ecosystem processes. Many of us in the rangeland community will be familiar with the work of Ken Hodgkinson and colleagues at CSIRO who looked at competition for moisture between grass and shrub seedlings and how this influenced the survival of shrub seedlings. This, and other work, demonstrates that the linkages between shrubs, grazing and understorey plants are indeed complex.

Much of the early work on shrub encroachment and its effect on plants and soils comes from the western United States in areas such as the Chihuahuan Desert (Jornada Experimental Range, New Mexico) and La Copita in Texas. Many Australians have made the pilgrimage to these research areas to examine first–hand the science and management that has formed the basis for our understanding of shrub encroachment processes and shrub control methods over the past half century. One can’t help being struck by the widespread degradation in many of these areas. Mesquite and creosote bush cover large areas of the western rangelands, and many areas are characterised by severe erosion. It is easy to see, therefore, how the presence of shrubs has been intimately associated with the notion of degradation or desertification. The productive potential of the soil across large tracts of mesquite and creosotebush shrubland has been irrevocably reduced, and the grazing value in many of these areas is poor.

Considerable intellectual effort has been expended into understanding the linkages between shrub encroachment and ecosystem processes. Shrub encroachment is a big part of models such as the Jornada Desertification Model of Schlesinger and colleagues (Schlesinger et al. 1990). While the presence of encroached shrublands might be indicative of a degraded landscape in parts of the US, one has to question, however, whether this holds true for other semi–arid environments such as Spain, Australia or South Africa (e.g. Maestre et al. 2009).

Shrublands and pastoralism

Encroachment is a phenomenon that has typically been viewed within the context of pastoral production; it’s a grazier’s problem. Shrublands generally have lower pastoral value than grasslands. They generally produce less grass, and land managers are faced with a number of shrub–related problems associated with stock management, control of feral animals, and management of wildfires, to name a few.

There has been little consideration of the ecosystem benefits of encroached grasslands and shrublands for non–pastoral uses. This is not meant to be a criticism of research into shrublands over the past half century, as the emphasis has largely been on pastoral production. However, there is an increasing need to take a broader view of the role of shrublands in semi-arid environments. This necessitates considering other land–use options for shrublands and consideration of the non–pastoral benefits such as sinks for carbon dioxide, areas of enhanced recharge, habitat for animals etc.

Despite the many millions of dollars invested in rangelands by CSIRO and other government agencies, it is hard to see what we have learned about managing shrublands. We certainly know more about their ecology, rate of spread and extent, and ecological constraints, but we still don’t know a lot about how to manage them in the context of increased pastoral productivity. Perhaps the closest we got was in the use of fire and the promotion of low risk stocking. Although few pastoralists are prepared to use fire to control shrubs, some innovative pastoralists have had mixed results by managing total grazing pressure.

Are shrublands ecological deserts?

I don’t believe that there has been an adequate examination of the roles of shrublands as habitat for plants and animals, and indeed the global literature is varied. Nowhere is this more apparent than in a study undertaken by Danni Ayers and colleagues at sites near Wanaaring, Ivanhoe and Cobar in western NSW (Ayers et al. 2001). Danni and her colleagues showed that increasing shrub density was associated with increases in some bird species, decreases in others, and unexplained changes in some vertebrate communities. In other words, some taxa were advantaged by dense shrubs while others were disadvantaged. This is not surprising really if one thinks about the diversity of taxa in western NSW. Other studies have shown that diversity of carnivorous mammals, reptiles and tortoises did not change with increasing shrub cover at sites in the Kalahari, Arizona and Texas respectively, and in New Mexico, vertebrates such as kangaroo rats and birds were advantaged by encroachment. The effects are clearly complex and likely taxon specific.
Towards a global synthesis

I have been interested for some time in the mechanisms by which shrubs and shrublands in semi-arid areas might influence ecosystem processes. The reason is simple; the prevailing view in pastoral communities is that shrublands are a sign of an unhealthy environment. Yet as ecologists and landscape managers we know from the ecological literature that shrublands provide a host of landscape and ecosystem benefits. Some of the anomaly could be due to context, i.e. different land-use conflicts, or perhaps the scale at which observations are made.

Since van Auken’s excellent review in Annual Review of Ecology Evolution and Systematics in 2000, there has been considerable advancements in our understanding of the effects of shrub encroachment on ecosystem processes. With an increasing number of publications since 2000 and a greater awareness of alternative land uses in shrublands such as carbon sequestration, a review of the shrub encroachment literature was both timely and warranted. Such an opportunity arose during a visit to Spain in 2009 to work with Fernando Maestre, who had just published work showing that shrub encroachment in Spain was consistent with ecosystem recovery. By reviewing the literature on shrub encroachment, we hoped to test the proposition that encroachment does not necessarily lead to declines in ecosystem structure and functions, and to test whether the traits of shrubs could explain, in part, the outcome of encroachment. We also wanted to explore new models that would consider a range of shrub encroachment outcomes that might result based on community or societal values, shrub traits, and functional and structural components.

We looked at 43 structural and functional response variables from 273 case studies cited in 144 published and unpublished reports. These were represented by 78 shrub and tree species reported from areas < 850 mm rainfall from North America, Africa, Europe, Australia, Asia and South America. We restricted our global analysis to areas where we were sure that shrublands had become encroached, allowing us to compare grasslands with a paired encroached shrubland.

There were four major results of this work. Firstly, some soil and vegetation attributes (soil carbon and nitrogen, aboveground carbon, exchangeable calcium, available phosphorus) increased consistently with encroachment, but only two attributes (grass cover, soil pH) declined. Overwhelmingly, most attributes (33 out of 43) demonstrated variable responses. Second, different shrub species had different effects on encroachment. For example plant height, and to a lesser extent allelopathy, dispersal mode and the ability to fix nitrogen, explained a significant, though small, amount of variation in our measures of ecosystem function and structure. Third, a simple characterisation of encroachment as a process leading to functionally, structurally or contextually degraded ecosystems was not supported by critical analysis of the literature. Finally, the outcome of encroachment depended on land use, with some losers (not surprisingly, livestock grazing), but many winners (carbon sequestration, goat grazing, nature conservation, soil water recharge).

What does this mean for Australian rangelands?

It is generally agreed, based on published material, that encroachment is likely to increase with increasing concentrations of atmospheric carbon dioxide. Increasing encroachment will ultimately mean a reduction in pastoralism in areas that are currently covered by dense stands of woody shrubs, and those where encroachment is likely to increase. In other words, encroachment is likely to increase in both extent and severity.

Overwhelmingly, the global analysis indicated that shrublands provide substantial ecosystem benefits, particularly by enhancing soil carbon and increasing aboveground carbon. While we acknowledge that encroachment will cause ongoing problems for pastoralists through reduced grass production, there may be considerable opportunities that flow onto the wider community through, for example, greater carbon sequestration, increased recharge and healthier soils.

Our model shows that there will be a winners and losers in a shrub-encroached world. With the recent discussion of a price on carbon in Australia, shrublands and other woody communities may be recognised as substantial sinks for carbon, potentially providing pastoralists with an alternative income stream. Similarly, other alternative enterprises are likely to benefit such as nature-based ecotourism, bio-char production, and perhaps even soil water recharge.


Ayres D, Melville G, Bean J, Beckers D, Ellis M, Mazzer T., Freudenberger D. (2001). Woody weeds, biodiversity and landscape function in Western New South Wales. Presented at WEST 2000, Dubbo, Australia

Eldridge DJ, Bowker MA, Maestre, FT, Roger E, Reynolds J, Whitford W.G. (2011). Impacts of shrub encroachment on ecosystem structure and functioning: towards a global synthesis. Ecology Letters DOI:10.1111/j.1461-0248.2011.01630.x

Maestre FT, Bowker MA, Puche MD, Hinojosa MB, Martinez I, García-Palacios P, Castillo AP, Soliveres, S, Luzuriaga AL, Sánchez AM, Carreira JA, Gallardo A, Escudero A (2009). Shrub encroachment can reverse desertification in semi-arid Mediterranean grasslands. Ecology Letters 12, 930-41.

Schlesinger WH, Reynolds JF, Cunningham GL, Huenneke LF, Jarrell WM, Virginia RA, Whitford WG (1990). Biological feedbacks in global desertification. Science 247, 1043-1048.

Van Auken OW (2000). Shrub invasions of north American semiarid grasslands. Annual Review of Ecology and Systematics 31, 197-215.

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The ARS Council awarded travel grants to three people to attended the IX International Rangeland Congress in Rosario, Argentina in April 2011.  The travel reports from Bob Karfs, Bob Shepherd and Carolyn Ireland give an excellent summary of the conference and the associated tours.

IRC Travel Grant Summary Report 1

Robert A. Karfs
AgriScience Queensland
Department of Employment, Economic Development and Innovation, PO Box 1085, Townsville  QLD  4810. 


Heading to South America I had few expectations aside from a small bit of experience travelling in Latin America, a few travel tips gained from colleagues and some pre-trip research – the Argentina Lonely Plant travel guide was an excellent resource.  The purpose of my travel was to attend the IX International Rangeland Congress in Rosario, Argentina 2-8 April 2011, whose theme was “Diverse Rangelands for a Sustainable Society”.  Further details of the congress may be found at –

The Australian Rangeland Society is graciously acknowledged for their support through the Travel Grant program. I describe below what transpired more or less in chronological order from 23 March to 10 April 2011.

Buenos Aires and Patagonian Pre-Congress Field Trip

First stop was Buenos Aires where my travel partner (Dr David Orr) and I took in the city sights and recovered from a lengthy international flight (14 hours).  We were impressed by the city’s classical architecture and monuments with a distinct French influence, much of it resulting from a golden era when Argentina was a global agricultural powerhouse (wool, beef grain) from the 1870s to the Great Depression of 1929.  We were told the current Argentine economy is problematic associated with variable inflation and high unemployment rates.

Argentina is the world’s 8th largest country at 2.8 million km2 or more than double the size of Queensland and has a population of 40 million.  More than a third of the population or 13 million people live in Buenos Aires. Rosario is the third largest city at 1.1 million.  The dominant language spoken is Spanish, yet English is commonly understood. Argentina is subdivided into twenty-three provinces (states) with their own constitutions linked under a federal system (Figure 1). There are more than twice as many bovines in Argentina than Australia (58 million compared to 25 million), yet like Australia, Argentina has vast areas of sparsely populated rangeland.

Figure 1.  Map of Argentina (available at: www.argentour.commapasarchivosmapasmapaargentina).

Through a last minute change to my pre-congress tour that was suppose to take me on a traverse through savanna and the Pampas region and more sub-humid regions in the country’s northeast – which I thought was good justification for comparison to the northern Australian rangelands that I am most familiar with – I instead ended up on the south (sur) Patagonian tour to semi-arid wind swept rangelands, surreal glacial and alpine landscapes and journeying to the ‘end of the world’.  We were a crew of some 36 odd rangelanders from around the globe who proved to be excellent travel companions and keen explorers, with different perspectives ranging from land manager to scientist to research manager.  The crew included a cheery band of Aussies representing New South Wales, Western Australia, Tasmania and Queensland.

Flying from Buenos Aires to El Calafate, cropping land was quite notable from the air gradually giving way to rangeland and then the Steppe country at the foot of the Andes Mountains.  Visiting the Puerto Merino and Upsala Glaciers we saw perhaps some of the most inspiring landscapes in the world – massive uplifted, folded and faulted mountains of one of the highest ranges in the world with razer sharp peaks, classic glacial sculpted horns, colossal glaciers terminating abruptly into lakes and extending for kilometres upslope and receding alpine glaciers in U-shaped valleys all in a water setting complete with cobalt coloured ice bergs (Figure 2).

Figure 2.  Author standing at Puerto Merino Glacier.

The tour then took to the land travelling some 250 km from El Calafate to Rio Gallegos in the Santa Cruz Province inspecting tussock grass rangeland of the Magellanic Steppe.  Santa Cruz is the largest province in the Argentinean Patagonia, covering 294,000 km2, where sheep grazing is the main land use.  My impression as we drove was mostly land in good condition with perennial tussock grasses and shrubs.  Poorer condition, we were told, was linked to increases of less palatable shrub species.  Few ‘water erosion’ features (like we see in northern Australia) were in sight, for example rills on bare soil road cuttings were starkly absent.  Precipitation near the Andes range is around 300 mm and falls off to 100 mm in the east in the rainshadow of the mountain range. Precipitation is concentrated in the winter months.  The winds are almost constant, blowing from the west at high speeds of 20 to 40 km per hour with stronger gusts common – wind is clearly the primary erosive agent in this landscape.  The Steppe is a treeless environment except where trees have been introduced for providing windbreaks and for aesthetic purposes around small towns and Estancias (property/ranch).  Cascos (Estancia homesteads) are typically positioned very low in the landscape, often nestled against the base of a scarp to escape the wind and for extracting ground water using pint-sized windmills, while the elevated plains were largely unobstructed except for fencelines (Figures 3 and 4).

Figure 3.  Casco (homestead) positioned to maximise shelter from prevailing winds

Figure 4.  Darren Turner from NSW checks out a typical Patagonian windmill

Estancias are typically 2,000 ha in size, but increase to 5,000 ha towards the east in the lower rainfall regions.  Santa Cruz province currently has around 2.1 million sheep, 55,000 cattle and 265,000 Guanaco – Lama guanicoe a small native from the camelidae family.  Wool and sheep meat is produced for domestic use and export trade.  Predation is generally not an issue with the small native South American Gray Fox targeting mostly rodents, birds and rabbits.  The industry relies on grass production at around 400kg/ha from a short growing season around the months of December and January. Shrubs, while palatable during the growing season when protein levels are high, are avoided most of the year.  Along isolated riparian or wetland ecosystems (mallines), higher pasture production capacity of 10 to 15 times of the surrounding Steppe is achieved, yet overuse and degradation can be an issue in these corridors.  The smaller Criolla sheep breed has become well adapted to the harsh Andean rangeland environment, where the recommended stocking rate for ovine production is 4 ha per adult equivalent. Supplementary feeding is generally not practiced.

In Santa Cruz province, the number of sheep peaked in the early 1930s at 7 million and remained over 6 million head until the late 1970s when falling wool prices and degradation associated with overstocking led to a major downturn in the industry.  Sheep numbers have since fallen sharply, but in the early 1990s it was estimated that around one-third of Patagonia rangeland was ‘badly desertified’.  Following adverse winter seasons in the 1990s, where reportedly 50% of sheep perished, 400 of the 1200 estancias became unprofitable and were abandoned in the central plateau region of Santa Cruz.  We were told many of these properties have since been bought by wealthy foreigners from North America and Europe for conservation purposes.

Our tour visited the Potrok Aike Field Station in Santa Cruz run by INTA, Argentina’s National Institute for Agriculture Technology, and the following day at the Santa Cruz Experimental Station at Rio Gallegos where we listened to technical talks.  There are three ‘rangeland’ research stations in Patagonia operated by INTA conducting research in beef, sheep, grazing management, vegetables and fruit.  Tools discussed to improve grazing management included:

  • field inventories using satellite imagery,
  • field evaluation of stocking rates, and
  • increasing awareness of grazing land management practices e.g. rotational grazing.

Field inventories were based on Landsat remote sensing data processed using supervised classification and linked to field evaluation sites to help develop ‘Grazing Plans’ for producers.  Obtaining contemporaneous cloud-free remote sensing data across Patagonia was described as somewhat problematic, although the application of next generation satellite data with higher temporal resolution but lower spatial resolution (e.g. MODIS) was being explored.  At Potrok Aike Field station, ovine breeding, reproduction and nutrition research was combined with land management research.  The lambing rate at the station was 80% compared to an average of around 50% for Patagonia generally.  I was keen to hear about the importance of soil surface measurements (ala Landscape Function Analysis) and monitoring sites from a passionate young researcher named Liliana González.  The team has set up 120 monitoring sites with layout and sampling protocols similar to the West Australian WARMS system (Figure 5).  INTA are in the second year of measurement and aspiring to establish 3-400 sites across Santa Cruz Province.  We also delighted in a traditional Argentinean BBQ that featured succulent, fire roasted lamb. 

Figure 5.  Ian Watson and Don Burnside standing at an Argentine ‘WARMS’ monitoring site.

The Tour then flew to Tierra del Fuego (‘Land of Fire’) where we stayed at the seaside town of Ushuaia, a popular tourist destination and gateway to Antarctica.  We ventured out on the Beagle Channel (55 deg S latitude), where Charles Darwin sailed 188 years earlier, to the ‘Lighthouse at the End of the World’ (Figure 6).  Visiting the Parque Nacional Tierra del Fuego we took in some terrific vistas with the beech woods (Lenga and Guindo species) in full autumn colours. We also saw a startling example of a dam network built by an active beaver colony – introduced to the area for economic reasons and now considered an environmental pest – which was something of a tourist attraction.

Figure 6.  Lighthouse at the End of the World – Beagle Channel, Tierra del Fuego.

The Tour ended as the group flew north to a warmer climate at Rosario (32 deg S latitude, about the same as Dubbo in New South Wales), in Santa Fe Province.  Tour organiser and INTA rangeland scientist, Guillermo Becker, was to be congratulated in guiding such a large group over six days on what was a truly memorable experience in Patagonia.

Professional Workshops

I attended pre-congress workshops on Ecological Sites and Assessing Rangeland Condition hosted by United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the US Bureau of Land Management (BLM) respectively.

The Ecological Site concept is based on plant species, the relative proportions of the species present, annual plant production and soil factors including ecological function and hydrology.  State and Transition Models are used to classify plant community attributes into (typically) three states: ‘reference’, ‘at risk of transition’ and ‘alternate’ (i.e. a degraded state) with multiple ‘phases’ occurring between the stable plant community states.  Information is also provided on the causes of change and the management interventions needed to recover previous plant communities and ecological services.  Literature review, expert and local knowledge, old photos and maps followed by field reconnaissance and objective field data and analysis are the information sources input into the descriptions.  Detailed soil mapping at 1:24K and 1:12k facilitates extrapolation of the point-based data.
Ecological Site descriptions and management recommendations are written in plain English so that rangeland producers can relate the information directly to their property.  I likened the Ecological Sites concept to a combination of the CSIRO Land Research Series, State land resource survey work and Grazing Land Management (GLM) production and management guidelines used in Australia.  What was impressive about the Ecological Sites system is that all of the natural resource and management conservation/production information is available online at one source.  The Australian Soil Resources Information System (ASRIS), National Vegetation Information System (NVIS), and change information derived from the Australian Collaborative Rangeland Information System (ACRIS) are perhaps the most comparable in Australia.  Development of the Terrestrial Ecosystem Research Network (TERN) could see the further integration of National land management and biophysical datasets available online.

An important message was that populating the Ecological Sites database was an incremental developmental process that was continually improving.  I was a little surprised there was little emphasis on the need for time-series remote sensing to identify vegetation changes within the mapped ecological states.  Considering the high spatial resolution of the Ecological Sites soils database, the need for decadal Landsat time-series data might be redundant in the US, whereas in Australia this remote sensing data is an important tool for understanding vegetation change and land condition over vast areas of rangeland.  More details on Ecological Sites can be found on the Natural Resources Conservation Service site –  A special issue on Ecological Sites appeared in the Society for Range Management December 2010 edition of Rangelands (volume 32, number 6).

The half-day workshop Assessing Rangeland Conditions continued with the reference site theme albeit with an international flavour.  Tony Palmer described how the change from freehold to leasehold tenure in South Africa in 1994 has led to a shift away from production oriented rangeland monitoring on commercial properties, where woody encroachment and conversion of grassland to cropping land were emerging issues.  He reported that land use change from livestock to wildlife production was having a positive impact on rangeland and that field sites for biodiversity monitoring research were actively being established.  The use of remote sensing and GIS technologies was incorporated into field research and linked to a National Land Cover monitoring program.

IX International Rangeland Congress

The Scientific Program for the IX International Rangeland Congress was divided into three concurrent streams on Ecological Integrity, Sustainable Productivity and Social Sustainability.  Poster sessions were conducted between the main paper presentations.  Over 700 papers were published in the proceedings and about 500 delegates from 40 countries attended.  Upon reviewing my notes from the presentations that I attended, I’ve listed a few snippets below that struck me at the time and may help capture some of the flavour of the congress.

  • Layne Coppock’s PARIMA project in east Africa highlighted the importance of women taking on leadership roles in entrepreneurial and micro-finance endeavours, where profits were invested into family welfare.  Demonstration, training, peer innovation and peer partnerships were simple take home messages for extension and education programs, and that poverty convinces people to do things differently.
  • Marcello Sternberg informed us that Israel’s rangelands have been grazed for thousands of years, and that grazing had become part of the system rather than an impact.
  • Jeff Herrick drew parallels between the United States in the 1930s, i.e. ‘the dust bowl’, and areas of contemporary South America and the rapid encroachment of cropping on marginal land.  Periods of high rainfall and therefore a lack of negative economic consequence could led to serious land degradation issues and social and economic collapse.
  • Mark Stafford-Smith highlighted the need to capture and share knowledge for use by rangeland managers (that previously was at a generational scale) as the rate of environmental change is accelerating beyond traditional human response rates.
  • Paulo Carvalho showed examples of the expansion of soybean farming into rangelands of the Pampas region.
  • Romy Greiner highlighted how environmental duty of care had voluntary support of some Australian rangeland producers.  By being proactive, producers were positioned to take advantage of options for environmental services should they become a commercial reality.
  • Jerry Holechek provided the rationale for the increased importance of rangeland and grass-fed cattle in light of population growth and the increasing costs of oil and its impact on grain production.  He noted that current land condition of rangeland in the US is perhaps as good as it has been over the last 150 years (e.g. due to recovery and sustainable range management post dust bowl era).
  • Andrew Ash presenting for Justin Derner noted a study that showed warmer global temperatures had a net impact for increasing C3 plants, sub-shrubs, shrubs and legumes.  Active adaptation management and monitoring systems that provided relevant information for decision-making were required to help producers adjust to changing climatic conditions.
  • Janette Kaiser discussed the need for a consistent global assessment of rangelands as a resolution for the IRC Continuing Committee.  The ACRIS 2008 report ‘Taking the Pulse’ was mentioned as a good model for how to integrate disparate datasets to achieve a cohesive assessment framework.
  • David Tongway recommended that rangeland assessors identify ecosystem processes rather than ecosystem objects. 
  • Dean Anderson stressed that no single tool exists to answer all questions, and that cutting edge technology needs to be integrated with the human mind to maximise its application.
  • Neil McLeod discussed results from northern Australia indicating that variable stocking rates (aligned with seasonal conditions) were more profitable than fixed stocking rates yet fully flexible practices had associated risks, and that wet season spelling and prescribed fire practices offer advantages over ‘do nothing’ management strategies.

For my part in the congress, feedback on my poster paper VegMachine: technology for understanding and quantifying rangeland change suggested that our use of time-series remote sensing data for rangeland monitoring and management was sophisticated, and would have application in other rangelands across the globe.  I noted that most papers highlighting remote sensing approaches in Argentinean rangelands were focussed on land type inventory and measuring land use change e.g. encroachment of cropping practices in marginal rangeland.

Mid-congress Field Trip

Our mid-congress tour consisted of a large group visiting an estancia and then an agricultural college to the southwest of Rosario.

The estancia was a 2,500 ha beef and cropping enterprise with friable soils of aeolian origin in the Pampas region (Figure 7).  Management practices included: genetic testing for mating using recorded bulls and established mating cycles, culling non-performers and rotating animals to another production system after weaning.  To remain profitable, the landholder had recently undertaken planting soybean and alfalfa to balance grazing systems operating over the past 35 years. Ground maze and hay was provided as feed in winter.  The property owner was very hospitable, sharing his management practices and answering all types of questions from a very large contingent of foreign visitors then provided us with tasty Argentine beef and beverages for lunch, all of which I thought was quite admirable (Figure 8).

Figure 7.  Goucho rounding up the herd.

Figure 8.  Dos Amigos doing a cracker of a job at the BBQ lunch held in our honor.

We then visited the Centro Agrotecnico Regional agro-technical college.  Both English and Spanish are taught at the school of about 700 students.  We witnessed aspects of the training and development program from early primary to high school in all things agriculture: from caring for poddy calves, producing milk and cheese, using worms and compost to make fertiliser, learning butchery skills and making hand-made leather products.  What was most impressive was the enthusiasm and confidence these children displayed in showing rangeland scientists from around the world their culture and their capabilities.  From this experience and other observations I made during the trip, I couldn’t help but think that agriculture in Argentina was highly valued and in good hands for the future (Figure 9).

Figure 9.  Students at Centro Agrotecnico Regional School showed warm hospitality to our group of rangeland scientists from around the world.


International Congress Events

The congress dinner was a formal affair and the Argentine hosts put on a great show with the majority of attendees enjoying South American song and dance.  It was announced that the next (X) International Rangeland Congress would be held in New Delhi, India in 2015.  Dana Kelly was nominated as the Australian representative on the International Continuing Committee joining David Michalk and replacing retiring member Andrew Ash.  Resolutions included progressing a global rangeland assessment initiative and consideration to promote 2015 as the ‘year of rangeland’ through the United Nations.  The XXII International Grassland Congress with the theme ‘Revitalising Grassland to Sustain our Communities’ will be held 15-19 September 2013 in Sydney, Australia – this should be an outstanding event. 

Final Remarks

From a personal perspective I would recommend a trip to Argentina for anyone interested.  What made it special for me was interacting with people having a common passion for rangelands.  I thought that the state of the global rangeland scientific community was strong, and the high number of young university students attending the congress in Argentina was encouraging.  Further, Australia was well represented in its capability, leadership and relevance, which is a credit to the Australian Rangeland Society members.  Yet, it seemed to me that the ‘latest’ methods and analysis in biophysical, social and economic disciplines were used in most countries, but adapted to suit the specific administrative and environmental conditions that individuals were operating in.  For example, it was echoed many times that managing stock rates is perhaps the key management tool for the sustainable use of rangelands.  This certainly concurs with the findings in Australia from a biophysical and business perspective in adapting to climate change.  The Digital Age and a willingness to share data and ideas in the rangeland fraternity have probably fast tracked this outcome. 

In closing the congress Israel Feldman, the founding President of the Argentinean Association for Range Management and key driver of the International Rangeland Congress in Rosario, while thanking the organisers for their hard work gave a passionate speech (very unlike what we would see in Australia I might add) pointing to a bright future for the continued study of and sustainable use of rangelands globally, and that pretty much summed up the congress.


IRC Travel Grant Summary Report 2

Bob Shepherd
Principal Extension Officer, Grazing Land Management, Agri-Sciences Queensland
Dept of Employment Economic Development & Innovation, PO Box 976, Charters Towers  QLD  4820. 

The IX IRC was a big undertaking for the Argentinean Association for Range Management which was formed in 1999.  I had the pleasure of travelling to South America with my wife Leean for five weeks including a pre-congress tour and attending the congress in Rosario, plus some time for touring in Argentina, Peru and Chile before and after the congress.

Pre-Congress Tours

The South Patagonia pre-congress tour (Figures 1 and 2) was chosen for its dramatic contrast to the rangelands of Australia.  This region consists of 81M ha of mostly grasslands and shrublands with smaller areas of wetlands and dense forests.  Not all of the region could be described as rangelands – particularly the dense forests of the high rainfall areas.  While there are several land uses, pastoralism is the most extensive.

Figure 1. Participants on the South Patagonian Pre-congress tour.

 Figure 2. Bob Shepherd and his wife Leean taking in the sites of Perito Merino Glacier in South Patagonia, Argentina as part of the pre-congress tour.

Pastoralism:  The region was settled in 1880s and stocked with sheep across 1200 properties.  Approximately 800 commercial properties remain with property areas ranging from 20,000ha near the Andes Mountains (600mm rainfall) to 50,000ha in the east (150mm rainfall).  The climate is harsh with temperatures in January of 5°C min to 16°C max and July -3°C min to 4°C max, plus wind-chill from high wind speeds that exceed 20 knots for days on end.  Pasture yields with good land condition are 400kg/ha on the grasslands up to 2500kg/ha on the wetlands.  Stock numbers peaked at 21M sheep and 0.7M cattle in 1952.

After a long period of overgrazing (1.0ha/DSE), approximately 10M ha has been abandoned due to desertification (400 properties).  The degradation has manifested itself in two forms; loss of desirable perennial grasses and scrub dominance by verbenaceous plants, and watercourse incision which lowers watertables in wetlands resulting in a loss of natural sub-irrigation of pastures.  Carrying capacity has been reduced to 10ha/DSE in some areas.  The region now carries 3M sheep and 1.25M cattle.  A property that carries 7000 sheep cutting 5kg wool/head was deemed viable and was valued at US$1.0 to 1.7M.  Foreign ownership is increasing eg Benneton Bros. of Italy own 0.9M ha.  The foreign owners tend to run guanacos (small domesticated native llama) that produce a 0.75 to 2.0kg fleece at 12 to 17 microns.  The estimated population of guanacos is 0.5M head, but I am unsure of the proportion that is domesticated.

The INTA officers based at Rio Gallegos gave a presentation on the current extension program to address the challenges faced by wool and sheep meat producers in South Patagonia.  It is similar to extension programs that are conducted in Australia.  Their program included: property mapping, land condition assessment, development of grazing management plans, improved sheep husbandry practices, disease control, genetic improvement, better marketing and enterprise diversification eg agro-ecotourism.

The tour group visited Estancia Potro Aikea which is a government research station near the Chilean border where we inspected a long-term (12 years) grazing systems trial.  The station staff prepared the most appetising parrilla of sides of lamb for lunch with top-notch Argentinean red wine on what was a cold and windy day (for us Aussies anyway).  Travelling over the grass steppe plateau country is similar in places to driving over the undulating downs country of western Qld.  Although South Patagonia has its share of challenges, it is a spectacular region to visit, particularly the Los Glaciares National Park near El Calafate and Tierra del Fuego both with their mountains, lakes, forests, glaciers and open spaces.

Mining:  South Patagonia has commercial quantities of coal, gold, oil and gas.  Environmental management has been poor until recent years with impacts such as soil erosion, landfills, oil spills, saline waste water, soil compaction, roads and drilling disturbance.  Some of this damage was clearly evident from the air when flying from Buenos Aires to South Patagonia.  There is now a stronger focus on reclamation activities with site assessment, planned rehabilitation, bio-remediation of oil, revegetation and monitoring, producing effective results.

Timber production:  A commercial native forest-based timber industry exists in Tierra del Fuego.  We visited a mill that was cutting Antarctic & Lenga beech from a 500,000ha logging area.  Some value adding is occurring locally by producing furniture.  Being a temperate climate, growth rates are low at 1.5 to 2.0 m3/ha/yr.  The harvesting regime is 100 to 200m3/ha for the first cut and a subsequent cutting cycle of 10 to 15 years.  The acquisition of some mills by multinational companies is adding more pressure to the industry.  The sustainability is questionable due to the short cutting cycle and low growth rates.

Feral Animals:  Beavers were introduced to Tierra del Fuego from Canada in the 1920s, supposedly to provide fur hats for Argentinean servicemen.  The animals have exploded and are dramatically altering the ecology of the landscape by removing trees from hillsides to builds dams which flood riparian and alluvial areas adjacent to watercourses.  The stands of large beech tree that grow in these areas are being drowned and transformed into permanent wetlands (grasses and sedges).  Declining water quality induced by the large amount of timber and vegetation moved into the streams by beavers is reducing the aquatic biodiversity in the watercourses.  There appears to be few if any options for management of this problem.  In recent years the beavers have swum across the narrow Straits of Magellan separating Tierra del Fuego from the mainland and are now moving through southern Chile.  In North America beavers occur as far south as northern Mexico; the same latitude south in South America runs from Santiago to Buenos Aires which is 3500km from Tierra del Fuego.


The day before the workshops, a group of eight Aussies and Glenn & Bev Shewmaker from the USA did a boat tour of the Parana River at Rosario.  There are big islands in the centre of the river which support a beef industry.  Cattle owners live in high set homes and use boats as the primary means of transport for people, goods and livestock as the islands flood every year to a depth of one to two metres.  This area is in dramatic contrast with the urban area of Rosario which is only two kilometres (but a world) away.

Day 1:  I attended the workshop “Rangeland Management and Restoration Using Ecological Sites: Linking Scientific and Local Knowledge of Ecosystem Dynamics” hosted and conducted by the Natural Resources Conservation Service & Agricultural Research Service of the US Dept of Agriculture.  There are many methods for assessing/describing land resources including the Ecological Sites methodology as developed by in the USA. However the highlight of this workshop was the accessibility of Ecological Site Description reports, soils database (mapping, profile diagrams and vegetation descriptions) on a Google Maps/Google Earth platform at a large scale (ie high level of spatial resolution) for the USA.  Have a look at the website – and go from there.  Irrespective of land resource assessment method, this is a model that Australia should aspire to for all land uses including the extensive rangelands.

Day 2:  As the Ecological Sites workshop was only one day duration, I was able to participate in the final half day of the workshop “Ecosystem Restoration – Rebuilding Rangelands from Microbes to Landscapes” hosted by the US Geological Survey.  A case study “Restoration and sustainable development: examples from Mexico” in a severely degraded mixed farming area in Mexico presented by Dr Elisabeth Huber-Sannwald from the Institute of Scientific & Technological Research in Mexico, was a great example of a successful bottom-up, long-term approach to land restoration by a local community against the odds of an inflexible and out of touch bureaucracy.  A second case study “Restoration of Argentina’s Rangelands” by Dr. Griselda Luz Bonvissuto from the National Institute of Agricultural Technology (INTA) in Argentina demonstrated how a comprehensive program could start to address the challenges of urban drift, over-grazing, low production from livestock, over-harvesting of firewood and adverse mining impacts in the pastoral zone of Patagonia (Argentina).  A memorable quote came from Dr Luz Bonvissuto when referring to rangelands communities under stress and their need to recognise and take ownership of problems by changing the paradigm, “Not me! – Yes me”, “Not here! – Yes here” & “Not now! – Yes now.”

The final half-day workshop I attended was “Assessing Rangeland Conditions: What is the Reference and How Is Departure Determined?” hosted by the US Bureau of Land Management.  This workshop highlighted the variable level of usage of rangeland assessment data to recommend and make appropriate changes to land management practices.  For example in western countries it is continuing, but in countries such as South Africa, Prof. Tony Palmer highlighted the demise of rangeland monitoring programs due to the conversion of pastoral land to cultivation and freehold land to leasehold (communal) land.  Using Google Earth imagery to compare vegetation structure and function through time at regional and global scales was presented by German Baldi of Argentina.  Five regional areas in Southern Africa, Argentina, NE Australia and India were studied using the relatively inexpensive data available on Google Earth. While the interpretation of the NE Australian data was wide of the mark, the techniques used are valid and worthy of wider use for monitoring range condition over large tracts of land.

As workshop presentations are not in the printed proceedings, they will hopefully be put on the IRC website as some excellent papers were presented during those sessions.

The Congress

The congress was held in the City of Rosario (similar sized city as Brisbane) with the theme “Diverse rangelands for a sustainable society.”  It attracted 632 papers of which 40 were written by Australians primarily on domestic topics and a few international topics.  Twelve papers that were submitted and accepted (including yours truly) failed to make it into the printed proceedings. The conference organising committee indicated that these papers will be included in the on-line version of the proceedings.

As with all IRCs there are concurrent sessions therefore it is not possible to listen to all presented papers.  Of the papers that I saw presented, the following were the “lighthouse” papers for me as they documented an outstanding community success story (first paper), or were based on good social or biophysical science (last two papers):

  • Layne Coppock (Utah State Uni) – “Achieving real development impact among pastoralists: lessons from Ethiopia” (p 679 of the Congress proceeedings)
  • Eric Peterson (U of Wyoming) – “Developing a win-win relationship between producer and land management agency” (p 725)
  • Rebecca Bartley (CSIRO) – “From beef to reef: challenges and triumphs in reducing runoff and sediment at hillslope and watershed scales in Australian rangelands” (p 44)

On reflection after the IRC, there were several “hot topics” that emerged for me, including:

  • Monitoring rangeland condition and the rate of impact from changed management
  • Challenges in recovery & production from severely degraded rangelands and the lead taken  by women to achieve change (particularly in developing countries)
  • Woody plants are taking over in the rangelands!!
  • Managing for production and biodiversity
  • Diversification of rangelands based enterprises
  • Managing rangelands under an increasingly variable climate (climate change?)
  • Indigenous management of rangelands
  • Land tenure – who owns what
  • Managing grazing distribution on rangelands

Accompanying Partners Program

The organised accompanying partner program included a tour of Rosario City, visits to museums and shopping opportunities.  It was disappointing that there were no opportunities to see any Latin American performing arts in Rosario, a city with a population of 1.3M.  Many accompanying partners and delegates expressed a desire to see a local performance of the tango!

Mid-Congress Tour

The “Beef Production Systems on Rangelands” tour travelled across the famous Pampas Region of sub-coastal central Argentina. The Pampas covers an area of 48M ha of mainly alluvial soils within the 600 to 1300mm rainfall zone.  Traditionally Argentina’s prime grazing land, it is now also produces vast quantities of grain (soybean, maize, sorghum and wheat) and cotton.  If people wish to see the Pampas as a natural grassland system, do it sooner rather than later.  This area is rapidly being converted to cropping land (13M ha of soybean in 2003, 18.6M ha in 2011).  The expansion of cropping has reduced the cattle herd from 34M head in 1994 to 26M head today, which is still 52% of the national herd.  Cattle on the Pampas are British and Euro crosses.  Much of the remaining pastoral land has been over-sown with legumes such as lucerne to improve carrying capacity and individual animal performance.

Government policies on the marketing of agricultural commodities are having a negative impact on primary producers; for example, there are export levees of 35 percent on soybeans and 15 percent on beef, plus export quotas on beef.  In 2006 beef exports were banned for six months in an attempt to reduce the domestic retail price for red meat.  This encouraged a rapid expansion of cropping and a reduction in beef production and supply, which increased domestic beef prices!!  The increase in grain production has encouraged the expansion of the feedlot industry.  In 2011, forty percent of Argentinean beef will be grain finished.

The mid-congress tour group had the pleasure of visiting the Pampas estancia “La Blanqueada” 43km NE of the township of Venado Tuerto.  The property is owned by the Girardi family and our host was Monseñor Angel Girardi who is the president of the Argentinian Cattlemen’s Association.  Covering an area of 3000ha, “La Blanqueada” has been in the Girardi family since the 1800s.  The property is one of the few in the district that is still run primarily as a beef estancia with 2500ha of legume-grass pastures and 500ha of cropping (soybean, corn & wheat).  With an annual rainfall of 1000mm and native Brachiaria and Bothriochloa pastures over-sown with lucerne plus areas of annual ryegrass and pure lucerne, the property carries 2500 head (1.0ha/adult equivalent) of red and black angus cattle.  Steers are sold at 20 months with a live weight of 400 to 450kg.  A gaucho employed on “La Blanqueada” was a big hit with the group.  With translation by Carlos Ramirez from CSIRO in Townsville, the gaucho answered numerous questions about his role and life on the property and his family.  The tour group enjoyed a traditional asado (BBQ) lunch with a fine Aberdeen Angus Malbec (red wine) under the shade of a very large Australian river red gum that was planted at the back of the house in 1890.  The beef which was cooked on a parrilla (grilled on an open fire) was superb – as good as any I have eaten in Australia.

The rest of the day was spent at the “Centro Agrotecnico Regional” (Regional Agro-technical Centre) 6km NE of Venado Tuerto.  This is a private agricultural training day school that was established in 1968.  The centre has an enrolment of 700 students from P to 12 and includes a 150ha farm which is used for cropping, dairying, beef production and food processing. Students complete their secondary education with qualifications in agricultural production and technical agronomy.  After a school inspection and farm tour including the dairy and slaughter house, the group was treated to afternoon tea and a wonderful student concert of Argentinean music and dance.

This mid-congress tour was one of the highlights of the congress for me.

Future International Congresses

The 10th International Rangelands Congress will be held in conjunction with the 23rd International Grasslands Congress at New Delhi, India in 2015.  There are many challenges in rangeland management in India.  The following facts are mentioned in early promotional material “the livestock population of India is expected to rise from the present 312M head to 656M head by 2025; and 175M ha of the total of 329M ha grazing lands are degraded” – what challenges!!

Closer to home, the 22nd International Grasslands Congress will be held in Sydney, Australia in September 2013 with a series of pre and post-congress specialist meetings and tours held across the country.


Visiting South America and attending the IX IRC was a real pleasure and a great experience.  This is my third IRC (second overseas) and I can highly recommend the congress for ARS members or anyone interested in travel and the rangelands.  They provide an opportunity to visit areas that are off the tourist map and meet many people with common interests.  The contingent of Aussies was either the largest or second largest international group in attendance (parity with the USD helped a lot) plus people from many other nations.  Congratulations go to the Organising Committee chaired by Israel Feldman and Guillermo Chissone for staging a successful congress. Thankyous also go to Gabriel Oliva INTA Rio Gallegos for chairing the Scientific Committee and Guillermo Becker INTA Bariloche for being with us on the South Patagonia pre-congress tour and answering our many questions.  The North Australian Beef Research Committee generously provided me with funding assistance as part of my 2010 Extension and Communication Medal award.  Thank you also to the Australian Rangelands Society for generously providing me with a travel grant; it was greatly appreciated.  I also thank my wife Leean for travelling with me; I can highly recommend that partners/spouses attend future IRCs.


IRC Travel Grant Summary Report 3

Carolyn Ireland
Ireland Resource Management Pty Ltd
13 Woodland Close, Aldgate  SA  5154. 

I was awarded an Australian Rangeland Society (ARS) Travel Grant to attend the IX International Rangeland Congress (IRC) at Rosario in Argentina.  I attended the IRC to both advance my knowledge of international rangeland science and, as a Director of the ARS, to represent and promote the Society in an international forum.

I represented and promoted the ARS by setting up and assisting other Society Members to man a Trade Booth at the Congress which was shared with Rangelands Australia and CSIRO Publishing (the publisher of The Rangeland Journal).  Promotional materials about the Society and the 2012 ARS Conference in Kununurra were distributed to visitors and posters and banners for all three organisations were displayed.  The Trade Booth was located in an area of the venue that received a lot of traffic and I believe successfully fostered relationships with other scientists and land managers.  It was unfortunate that much of our promotional material was stuck in Argentina Customs for the duration of the Congress; however ARS Council President, John Taylor, was able to arrange for very speedy printing of 200 copies of three flyers about the ARS Kununurra Conference in 2012, The Rangeland Journal (TRJ) and the benefits of membership of the ARS.  Visitors were most interested in the Kununurra Conference (180 flyers taken) and TRJ (150 flyers taken) and interestingly, more than half of the membership brochures were taken as well!  In spite of the lack of other promotional materials I believe the Trade Booth was very successful – it certainly attracted a lot of interest; it remains to be seen if this translates into more attendances at the Kununurra Conference or membership applications to the Society.  My thanks go to fellow ARS Members for their assistance with the Trade Booth, a picture of which appears below.

Figure 1.  The Trade Booth shared by the ARS, Rangelands Australia and CSIRO Publishing.

During the conference I attended many of the sessions and a one-day field trip to further my own knowledge of developments in international rangeland science.

As always it was difficult to choose which of the three concurrent sessions to attend!  The opening plenary presented by Layne Coppock (USA) “Achieving Real Development Impact among Pastoralists: Letters from Ethiopia” set the scene for my choice of attending many of the Social and Educational Sessions.  Layne’s theme of pastoral women transforming impoverished communities in rural Ethiopia was both heart-warming and encouraging.  In the late 80’s and the 90’s the future looked bleak with drought and increasing poverty.  In the recently concluded Pastoral Risk Management (PARIMA) project on the border of Southern Ethiopia and Northern Kenya, Layne and his colleagues witnessed the hugely successful effects of capacity building on thousands of pastoralists.  The women of Kenya provided a spark for those of Ethiopia by their example of “pulling themselves up from poverty” by creating highly disciplined small-scale savings clubs.  Money from these was carefully invested in a number of business opportunities; 5000 microloans attracted a 98% repayment rate.  He spoke of the importance of starting on a small scale, creating frameworks for community participation, creating partnerships, emphasizing women in development (the role of women was seen as crucial), building capacity for community members and others and promoting “peer-to-peer” learning.  Altogether inspiring stuff and I commend Layne’s paper to you. 

The Society’s own Jocelyn Davies chaired the session “Land rights and nomad populations: Aboriginal View”.  Participants were treated to a wonderful session including views from as far afield as Australia, Argentina and Tanzania.  Veronica and Magdaline Lynch from the Black Tank Community in the Northern Territory spoke in both English and Arrente about their connection to their country and the land coming alive after good rains, how they have started tourism ventures, how they teach other women and the children about culture and how they graze cattle from neighbouring leases on their land.  They have won several awards for their work.  Navaya Ole Ndaskoi from Tanzania spoke eloquently about the Masai forced off their land in the Ngorongoro Crater in 1974 to make way for mass tourism.  No compensation offered and no alternative land to go to. An age-old problem of competing interests with not much in the way of solution even 40 years on; depressing really.  José Maria Iñet from the Mocovi Nation of Argentina introduced the idea of a sustainable development and shared benefit strategy.  He has worked hard for the Universal Declaration of Indigenous People. His people once wandered large tracts of the Argentinean Pampa and today they are restricted to some of the islands in the Parana River. He spoke impassionedly about the move from hunter gatherers to the Spanish importation of horses and cattle and now large-scale agricultural practices that have turned the deep, black humus across the Pampa to shallow grey soils.  He offers up the hope that today people of all backgrounds can work together to share knowledge and benefits – he said we should “use the land and share the benefits”.  A simple ceremony of gift exchange between Veronica and Magdaline Lynch and José Maria Iñet was a highlight of the session (Figure 2).

Figure 2.  Veronica and Magdaline Lynch (Black Tank Community, NT, Australia) and José Maria Iñet (Mocovi Nation, Argentina) exchanging gifts in the Land Rights and Nomad Populations session chaired by Jocelyn Davies and Karen Braun.

In the Educations and Extension session Romy Greiner’s paper “Establishing a grazier’s environmental code of practice” was inspiring.  She told how graziers in the Northern Gulf Region of Queensland have developed an environmental code of practice as a learning tool to bring about change and improvement on their properties.  She say “landholders who are able to demonstrate their level of environmental achievement are better positioned to take advantage of ecosystem services markets”.  Romy has produced the “four Rivers Document” in collaboration with the Northern Gulf Resource Management Group.

There were many other good papers, too numerous to mention here but all available in the Proceedings.

I attended the “Beef Production Tour” which had delegates travelling out across the Pampa for three hours – a long day, but informative and a good break from the papers.  The countryside is dotted with small holdings interspersed with fields of the ubiquitous soy bean.  Tall pampas grass and eucalypts line the edges of the fields – the land is flat out to the horizon.  Our destination is Estancia “La Blanqueada”, a property of 2,800 hectares divided into 41 paddocks of approximately 60-70 hectares each.  Angel, the owner, and his family have been here for 30 years farming a mixed beef and cropping enterprise on country that receives around 1000 mm of rainfall; he manages with himself and two full-time “boys” and the rest of the labour is hired on an as-needs basis (Figure 3).  Approximately half the paddocks are given over to beef production on native pastures that have been improved to some extent with the addition of small amounts of ryegrass, Agropiron sp. or Medicago sp. He runs about 3,000 head of cattle.  These pastures have never been cultivated for crops.  Livestock is a passion for Angel – he says “if you have green grass on your farm, then you have dreams to follow”.  In the last three years 10 million cattle have been lost to Argentina because of the large expanse of native pasture that has been ploughed up and given over to crops.

Figure 3.  Gaucho and cattle – Estancia “La Blanqueada”

Crops are easier than livestock however, he says. His cropped paddocks are a mixture of soy-bean, maize and ryegrass.  He plants maize and sows aerially with 20kg/ha of ryegrass just before harvest.  Ryegrass is utilised with the maize stubble as extra feed for the cattle.  He then direct drills with soy-bean which he harvests and then sows maize again.  He uses no fertiliser, cycles these crops for 4 years and then rests the ground for a few years.

And then the late barbecue lunch – 20 or so whole filets and loins of prime Argentinean beef grilled to perfection and washed down with good red wine (Figure 4).  All of this consumed under enormous gum trees on the lawns of the gracious old estancia buildings.  We follow this with a visit to the Santa Fé State Agricultural School.  Seven hundred children from the age of 4 to 17 all attend school lessons in the morning and work on the School Farm in the afternoon.  The School is totally self sufficient for food for breakfast and lunch.  They have a dairy, raise beef cattle, pigs and chickens and grow vegetables.  They also produce cheese for the commercial markets.

Figure 4.  Lunch!

I am very grateful to the Australian Rangeland Society for the opportunity to attend the IX International Rangeland Congress.  I had the chance to interact with rangeland scientists from many other countries around the world, listen to some extremely good papers, appreciate the different ways we use rangelands in other places and take the opportunity to promote the Society, our publications and our 2012 Conference in Kununurra.  It was a great privilege to represent the ARS and the Council in Argentina.


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Ben Forsyth recently joined the ARS Council in the role of General Council Member.  Ben is the managing partner of the Forsyth family’s Three Rivers Station operations on the headwaters of the Gascoyne River north of Meekatharra in Western Australia’s Southern Rangelands.  Ben has a passion for regenerating the land he was born to.  With an extensive background in youth based initiatives, including over five years as the Western Australian Director on the Future Farmers Network, Ben brings an enthusiasm for sharing knowledge with all in the Rangelands.  As a 2008 Australian Nuffield Farming Scholar, Ben investigated various rangeland regenerations strategies, including controlling overland flow, in Namibia, South Africa, Southern USA and Argentina.  Since completing his Nuffield commitments Ben has commenced post graduate studies with Rangelands Australia and has multiple commitments in the industry at local, regional and state levels.  Ben is looking forward to the opportunity to serve on the Council and is keen to develop the role of producers within the Society.

Ben’s contact details are as follows:

Ben Forsyth
Three Rivers Station
Meekatharra  WA  6642
Ph:  08 9981 2932

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The AGM of the Australian Rangeland Society was held on 16th May 2011.  During this meeting the Financial Report (incorporating the Directors’ Report, the Membership Report and the Publications Report) for the Society the year ended 31 December 2010 was tabled.

 As part of the Director’s Report, the ARS President John Taylor provided an outline of the key issues for the Society in 2010:
  •  2010 was a busy and productive year for the Society.
  • In April, Dr Tony Pressland was appointed as an Associate Editor of The Rangeland Journal.
  • At the AGM in May, Dr Peter Johnston resigned as President but remained on Council as a General Member. Dr John Taylor was elected as the new President of Council.
  • In July, the Directors initiated an internal review of Corporate Governance.
  • In July, Council initiated a review of membership categories and fees. This will be finalized next year.
  • In July, Council developed Guidelines and a Template for Conference Proposals to clarify the information sought by Council in making decisions about endorsing and providing ‘seed money’ for future conferences.
  • At a Special General Meeting held on 9 September, Members voted unanimously to lift the upper limit for number of Fellows of the ARS from 2% to 4% of membership, thus allowing Members to nominate new Fellows to the Society. Guidelines were revised, advertised and nominations sought.
  • In September, the Society held a very successful Biennial Conference in Bourke NSW. An excellent 4-day program on the theme ‘Rain in the Rangelands’ attracted 217 participants.
  • Also in September, Members from Western Australia made a successful bid to hold the 2012 Conference in Kununurra.
  • In November, in response to a competition to attract producer members, Council awarded Leonard Nutt, a producer from the South Australian rangelands with a complimentary, one-year membership of the Society.
  • At its November meeting Council approved a 1 year extension to the contract with CSIRO Publishing for printing and distribution of The Rangeland Journal.
  • In November, Professor Murray McGregor was appointed to the Publications Committee, and Council extended the term for a further 3 years for Associate Editors – Prof Maria Fernandez- Giminez, Mr Neil Macleod and Dr Brandon Bestelmeyer.
  • In November, Council also endorsed a proposal to partner with CSIRO Publishing and Rangelands Australia in promoting Australian rangelands, the ARS and its publications, and the 2012 Conference at international meetings (eg.SRM, IRC) over the next two years. These would be attended by Council members in other roles. A banner, posters and flyers have been developed for use at these meetings.
  •  In December Council considered applications for Travel Grants and awarded grants to the following Members – Dr Peter O’Reagain, Bob Karfs, Bob Shepherd, Dr Carolyn Ireland and Christine Ferguson. Four of these grants were to assist with attendance at the IRC in Rosario, Argentina in April 2011
  • During the year a review of Honoraria was undertaken – it is proposed that this be finalised in the early part of 2011.
  • Throughout the year, developments in the Global Rangelands Initiative and Repository were monitored, and a preliminary Council position on engagement with this initiative was developed towards the end of the year.
  • Further improvements were made to the website in 2010.
The full minutes of the AGM (and other Council meetings) are available in the members section of the ARS website.


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Caitlin O’Neill – Perth WA

Central West CMA – Dubbo NSW

Fran Lyons – Charters Towers QLD

Kieran Rodgers – Lindfield NSW

Richard Vines – Knoxfield VIC

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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


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


New members are encouraged to join the Society via the ARS website (

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, 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 2011incur 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.

Membership Subscription Rates for 2012

The 2012 Subscription Rates will remain as for 2011, except that the Range Management Newsletter will be available electronically to financial members who have current membership, i.e. payment has been made for 2012.

For members who wish to receive a printed copy of the RMN, an additional $15 membership subscription will be required, except for members who do not have an email address, who will continue to receive a printed copy as part of their standard membership fee.

The new system will be implemented as from the publication of the second RMN for 2012.  Any enquiries relating to this should be directed to Graeme Tupper, Subscription Manager,

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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  For further information contact Carolyn by phone on (08) 8370 9207 or email at


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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