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Measuring the impact: Exploring damage from feral ungulates on Country

Gundjeihmi country (Gagagdju)

ICIN’s Science Advisor Sherie Bruce and CEO Anna Boustead joined the University of Queensland Project Team, led by Professor Catherine Lovelock, for the initial scoping and gathering of the Feral Ungulate damage surveys. The team spent 10 days with Traditional Owners and Parks rangers in Gagagdju (Kakadu National Park), carrying out transects to measure impact from buffalo and pigs in wetlands; conducting sampling of floodplain wetland soil carbon using a soil corer, sampling of floodplain ants using small pitfall trap jars, surveying vegetation structure and composition, and sampling of greenhouse gas releases from wetlands using a portable greenhouse gas analyzer. 

Sherie said: “This is important work to measure the impact of feral ungulates and the damage they do to Country. We will be organising workshops with Indigenous land managers later in the year and supporting our Feral Ungulate Working Group to share findings and support opportunities for further activities to manage feral ungulates through emerging environmental and carbon markets.

Yolgnu country

Sherie and Anna travelled to Sherie’s home community, Ramingining, on Yolgnu country in north Arnhem Land. ICIN Director and Yolgnu Traditional Owner Neville Gulaygulay, of the Arafura Swamp Rangers AC hosted the visit and showed areas impacted by the buffalo. 

Gurruwiling, also known as the Arafura Swamp, is the most expansive freshwater ecosystem in Arnhem Land and the largest paperbark swamp found in Australia. Neville describes the physical damage caused to the sensitive soil of wetlands by buffalo, which are a feral ungulate species now widespread across Arnhem Land. "We are at Warrdeke Swamp land, and we can see damages from buffalo around here, and some out further there, there are big erosions," says Neville (pictured left). 

The heavy hooves of buffalo compact the soil and disrupt natural drainage patterns by creating ‘swim channels’ that enhance saltwater intrusion, and their overgrazing leads to soil erosion. Root systems are impacted, causing a loss of native plant species. Buffalo also excrete waste containing excess nutrients that further deteriorate the health of the wetland soil. 

Many of ICIN’s members seek to productively manage the impact of buffalo, pigs and other feral animals on their Country to protect cultural sites, promote important bush tucker and restore country. ICIN's Feral Ungulate Working Group is investigating options to support this important work through emerging carbon and environmental markets.

New research underway 

ICIN are working to support their member organisations to manage feral ungulate species on Country alongside project leaders NAILSMA, University of Queensland, Charles Darwin University and several other universities. The projects are funded by the National Environmental Science Program to inform carbon and biodiversity accounting methods that value the management of feral ungulate species, particularly in coastal and freshwater wetland areas. 

NAILSMA Research Manager Dr Justin Perry and UQ Scientist Dr Valerie Hagger recently presented to the National Feral Pig Symposium in Cairns about this work. There is also a new Integrated Farm and Land Management method in development through the Australian Government that may further support this work. In addition, the new Savanna Fire Management sequestration methods in development through the Australian Government will account for the carbon stored in the living biomass for the first time, and extend the savanna fire management methods to new eligible areas with Pindan vegetation. It is also hoped the new methods will incorporate recently published science that reveals the benefit of fire management to the arid Western Desert (NT) and southern Kimberley regions (areas that suffer from a high frequency of hot fires) to enable improved fire management in those regions. 

ICIN is advocating for the public release of the Savanna Fire Management methods as soon as possible to make these opportunities available to Indigenous land managers keen to get savanna fire management sequestration projects happening on their Country. The Australian Government expects this to occur by the end of the year. 

Thank you to the Arafura Swamp Rangers, particularly Neville Gulaygulay and Dr Otto Campion and the Bininj people of Gagadju for hosting us on your country. We thank our research partners: The National Environmental Science Programme, North Australian Indigenous Land and Sea Management (NAILSMA), Charles Darwin University and the University of Queensland.

Sherie Bruce updates the Arafura Swamp Rangers about the latest carbon research and carbon methods under development.

Prof Catherine Lovelock (UQ) is leading research measuring the carbon and biodiversity impacts of feral ungulates upon wetlands.

Anna Boustead and Sherie Bruce (ICIN) join the research team at one of the research sites on Gundjeihmi country, in Kakadu National Park.

Dr Otto Campion demonstrates the land restoration work he is doing to establish a pond and market garden. Dr Campion has a vision to enhance food security of his local community, which relies upon intermittent delivery of fresh food via barge that can be expensive.

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