Agriculture’s permanent war on invasive species sometimes feels like a version of modern warfare. Despite an immense and growing arsenal of weaponry, the adversary keeps coming, consuming more and more of our time, attention and capital.
The cost is astonishing. Australian agriculture loses between $3.5-$4.5 billion a year to weeds, in lost production and control costs. Invasive animals are estimated to cost somewhere north of $1 billion. Not all pests are introduced, and not all solutions are cutting-edge. A 19th Century technology, fencing, is proving the most reliable defence against wild dogs and swelling numbers of kangaroos and wallabies.
But if we focus on technological solutions, we miss the point — which is the focus of some insightful work done by an Invasive Species CRC team led by Professor Paul Martin of University of New England’s Centre for Agriculture and Law.
In their discussion paper, Effective Citizen Action on Invasive Species, the team points out that above all, invasive species present a strategic challenge. “A landholder who has exercised all possible diligence on their own lands may still find himself or herself with an invasive species problem,” the paper says.
“There may be relatively little that they can do about this by themselves.”
Effective invasive species control requires all of us to be working across the arbitrary, invisible boundaries that we hold in great importance, but which don’t exist to animals and weeds.
Nor do invasive pests care about what we think of government or environmentalists. (The environmentalist view of invasive species is also bleak: 16 of the 21 threats to Australian biodiversity come from introduced animals and plants.)
The Pest CRC discussion paper argues that “citizens” (primarily landholders) be acknowledged as the frontline of invasive species management and the institutional arrangements that sit behind them be reshaped to better facilitate behaviour, improve incentives and resources, and reduce fragmentation of action.
Like most farmers, we do our best to manage feral animals and weeds on our property. We work with our neighbours in a collaborative annual fox baiting program, and mindful of the damage that foxes and cats do to native fauna, we try to keep the place a cat-free zone.
Pigs are also in our sights (or traps), and we have an annual spraying program to reduce weeds, especially those like Bathurst Burr that contribute value-reducing vegetable matter to our wool. This work, which is the work of most farmers, is only ultimately effective if it is being carried out across the entire landscape, across all forms of land tenure. We’re all in this together, with our governments – or else the invaders keep winning.