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EMUâ„¢ takes flight in the Rangelands

Posted by Bestprac on Feb 07 2012

By Liz Guerin
EMU™ numbers are taking off in the arid lands of South Australia – and according to Coober Pedy based NRM officer, Janet Walton, this is a good thing!

We are of course referring to the number of pastoral properties participating in the Ecosystem Management Understanding (EMU)™ project, and not the long legged, feathered variety.

Left - HARD AT WORK: Warren & Barbra Fargher from Wirrealpa station undertaking EMU mapping with Kurt Tschirner and Lisa Taylor, SA AL NRM officers, looking on. 

Since 2009, when the project started with two participating properties, the project is now operating on 15 properties across the region – this is despite very little publicity or advertising.

“The success of the project has been largely due to word of mouth and neighbours ‘looking over the fence’ and talking and being willing to try new ideas” Ms Walton said. “It is built on trust and confidence and is totally voluntary.”

EMU™ is a unique land management process which formally combines land manager knowledge with scientific expertise. It simply introduces the ecological management of landscapes and habitats through learning to recognise the land condition, trend and processes.

Ms Walton explains that expertise is available and on tap but not on top.

“The whole process is driven by the landholder at the landholders’ pace. EMU™ operates across all land tenures and boundaries and nurtures self reliance and interdependency.”

The evolution of the EMU™ process began in 1968 when Dr Ken Tinley’s approach to preparing management plans to address competing land management issues in the Gorongosa National Park in Africa. Originally a process used by geographers, the strategy built on using mapping overlays to record ecosystem framework. In 2000 after coming to Australia, and meeting up with landscape ecologist Dr Hugh Pringle, the process was refined and applied to areas in the Gascoyne Murchison and the Goldfields Nullarbor regions of Western Australia.

The principles surrounding EMU™ stem from basic ecology, namely that everything is connected, that relationships are dynamic and symbiotic, and that everything has a role to play in a healthy, functioning earth.

Ms Walton says that these principles come through when working with the EMU™ process.

“There are six steps involved with the EMU™ process involving an initial two days of a land manager’s time” Ms Walton said. “In an initial meeting we find out what peoples’ objectives are and what they expect to get out of the program. We then sit down with them and go through a mapping overlay exercise.”

Starting with a satellite image of the property as a base, a series of overlays are used to identify the values of the property including the most and least productive country, reserve country, the aesthetic and cultural values (both indigenous and European), feral animals, fire and other adverse history, and history and legacy of the property.

“Identifying things during the mapping process is a very intense process. It isn’t just a case of sitting down with overlays and a set of crayons for half an hour - third or fourth generation people on the property have a lot of information to download.”

After the mapping exercise, the land condition is examined together with any trends, to determine whether the landscape is functioning in a healthy way. This stage of the process involves a low level aerial flight.

Ms Walton says that it is this stage that she finds the most exciting.

“We are working with people who fly and muster at low levels (500 feet) and who are looking at their country all the time. Despite this, it is often at this stage that they make connections between what has been in front of them all along and the landscape processes” she said. “It’s about reconnecting with what is going on in the land - we’ve got eyes to see but we have lost our ability to look. The older generation say that it used to take them two months to move stock from one area to another on horseback and it was second nature for them to be looking at the land condition and the trend, whereas nowadays they are doing things much quicker on motorbikes or by plane and things are so much more hurried.”

Once the flight has been reviewed, additional on-ground site visits are planned and priority areas identified.

“It is all about bang for buck” Ms Walton said. “What we want to be doing is looking at your good country, your most productive country and ensuring that it is not getting any worse.”

EMU™ participants include Indigenous communities, mining companies, pastoralists and conservation reserves (eg Bush Heritage Australia) the Centralian Land Management Association, and the SAAL NRM Board.

“Project activities in the rangelands have included sustainable enterprise management planning, fencing of swamps for conservation values (and also conveniently to reduce stock losses), soil conservation works to protect valuable floodplain country, vegetation filters in the Alberga catchment in the Marla Oodnadatta NRM region to slow and spread the water and reduce siltation and also catchment scale weed control,” Ms Walton said.

Participants in South Australia have said that they value the EMU™ process because information is totally voluntary and confidential. Ms Walton said that from an environmental perspective the harnessing of local knowledge, the sharing of information and the ability to upskill produces landscape literate managers and communities resulting in more productive and healthy landscapes.

“EMU™ is a holistic approach,” Ms Walton said. “One of the highlights is going back to properties and having the land managers telling me their process and how they have changed things, and their techniques.”

For further information please contact Janet Walton SA ALNRM Board on 08 8648 5977

Last changed: Feb 08 2012



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