Need for strategic weed response to bushfire crisis

Fenner Conference on the Environment identifies weed management as key in bushfire recovery.

Need for strategic weed response to bushfire crisis

There have been many responses to the current bushfire crisis. But what about weeds?

The recent Australian Academy of Science 2020 Fenner Conference on the Environment recommends rethinking the way Australia manages weeds and making weed management a priority in bushfire recovery.

Weeds are hard to manage at the best of times. They cost the Australian economy around $5 billion every year. This includes the cost of weed control measures to broadacre cropping farms, as well as the cost of production losses among grain, beef and wool producers. Weeds also present a huge cost to the natural environment.

Professor Kris French from the University of Wollongong (UOW) and a member of Australia’s Weeds Working Group, said: “There is a need to act in the next three months to detect and respond to new weeds or fire-promoted weeds to stop them before they have an impact.”

The conference participants also identified a need for national and regional weed management coordinators that span all the regions affected by fire. Coordinators are needed to assist agencies and communities to prioritise weed management efforts, using well considered strategies and collaborative approaches.

“Weeds may have come in on some of the emergency vehicles and machinery during the fire control response, or may have pre-existed but are now exposed by the fires,” said Associate Professor Nick Gill, conference organiser from UOW’s Australian Centre for Culture, Environment, Society & Spaces (ACCESS), which hosted the conference.

“We want to make sure that any post-fire weed funding is applied in a strategic, informed and well considered way to ensure healthy landscapes.”

The conference came at a crucial point in time, as governments prepare their recovery strategies after the fires over the 2019-20 summer. But post-fire weed management was not the only item on the agenda.

“Instead of business-as-usual, more fundamental changes are likely to be required, particularly as environments are themselves also changing”, said Dr Sonia Graham, conference organiser from UOW.

“We need to improve our appreciation of how local communities consider and manage weeds. We need to capture their stories and experiences, as well as improve government coordination of weed responses, and look at how we can better incorporate the costs and benefits of weeds within our economic systems.”

The collaborators from 18 government, non-government and research organisations identified a need to rethink a broader range of ongoing weed management, research and policy reforms.

“How humans think and act is an integral part of the weed problem – and solution,” said Associate Professor Robyn Bartel, an academic at the University of New England and one of the conference organisers.

“Rather than tweaking the old we should not waste these new opportunities to tackle weeds that have long been the scourge of our agricultural industries and our natural environments.”

Six key initiatives are proposed including the establishment of a weed coordination network, a collaborative information and story-telling hub, needs-based transdisciplinary weed research, improved weed prevention systems, and a new, economically sustainable weed management approach as well as an overarching research and policy agenda to reform the role of humans in the landscape.

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