Letter: The weeds will probably defeat us

Close up of fireweed flower showing 13 yellow petals. Photo B Trounce, NSW DPI.

Close up of fireweed flower showing 13 yellow petals. Photo B Trounce, NSW DPI.

As a fellow landholder (and former weed activist) in the Bielsdown Hills, I share Clare and Rowley Beckett's pain and frustration with fireweed (‘Seeds of destruction’, Courier-Sun, June 6). Realistically though, they shouldn't expect council to respond with anything more than token gestures.

In theory, there is a legal and policy framework to tackle fireweed on the Dorrigo Plateau. The North Coast Local Land Services' Regional Weed Management Plan lists fireweed  as a State Priority Weed warranting a Regional Strategic Response. This response is to involve:(A) working within existing widespread weed programs for strategic asset protection, and (B) prioritising the application of the General Biosecurity Duty to assist with the management of the species. As council’s general manager stated in your article, the Biosecurity Act 2015 does give council  the power to act.

However, don't expect an effective response from government to the problerms of the Dorrigo Plateau.

At the regional level there is a massive list of weeds which are deemed to pose a greater threat than fireweed, to the environment and agriculture. The current state government has slashed the resources available to tackle agricultural and environmental problems at a regional and local level. The state's noxious-weeds bureaucracy is under-resourced, remote and inwards looking. The Local Control Authority for noxious weeds is Bellingen Shire Council but its Key Performance Indicators focus on weed control processes rather than actually controlling weeds . There is no transparency, no local consultation, nor local accountability … As far as I can see, there hasn't been a formal report to council on noxious weeds activities since at least July 2017. Nor does council publish what it has contracted to do in return for state funding under the Weeds Action Program.

Over the past decade, I have come to the sad conclusion that council's ineffectiveness actually doesn't matter much. In the end, spurred by climate change, the weeds will probably defeat us, irrespective of our own, or government, efforts. Airborne seeds such as fireweed, thistle and fleabane are now everywhere on the Dorrigo Plateau. On land which is not too steep, over a run of good seasons, a careful farmer (like Rowley) could build up and maintain a thick pasture sward. This largely suppressed opportunistic weeds, such as fireweed. Then came a drought, which weakened the permanent pasture, and made it vulnerable to overgrazing. Farmers could not sell stock, because there were no buyers. Pasture grubs ate the weakened roots and helped expose the weed seeds, which are quick to germinate when it next rains. After each successive drought, things are worse than before.

As Rowley has found out the hard way, it is an costly back-breaking undertaking to seek to manage this hilly grazing land for long-term sustainability. If you have the energy, you can make a lifestyle choice to fight the weeds for a period,  However, the harder-nosed options are either (A) overstock for maximum short-term dollar returns and hang the long-term consequences. Or (B) keep the more obvious bits of the property looking pretty; let the rest slide, and hope to sell for a good price to a cashed-up (ignorant) incomer. Of course, if you let things slide for too long, it’s your executors who will have to cope with the mess. 

I believe that climate change is putting severe stress on land management in the hillier parts of the Dorrigo Plateau. The landscape seems to be degrading rapidly. Bureaucracies and the wider community lack the resources, skill, cohesion and leadership to tackle the problems. Its sad that  conscientious landholders like Clare and Rowley may well end up worn down, bowled over by forces they cannot control.

Bob Hawkins

Bielsdown Hills