Rangelands Report Card now available

Cattle in the ranglelands
DPIRD’s Report Card on sustainable natural resource use in the rangelands of Western Australia is now available online.

The sustainable productive capacity of rangelands for economic, social and environmental sustainability has come into focus with the release of Western Australia’s first Rangelands Report Card.

The Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development prepared the report, which delivers an evidence-based assessment of the current condition of rangeland vegetation and soil resources and trends over the past decade.

The Report Card on sustainable natural resource use in the rangelands of Western Australia is a landmark resource assessment of the best available data, providing a benchmark to aid future land and water management throughout the rangelands.

The state’s rangelands span about 860,000 square kilometres, from the tropical Kimberley to the arid and semi-arid climates of the Pilbara and southern rangelands.

The assessment was based on a Land Conservation District (LCD) and regional scale.

The Report Card found across the northern rangelands, 57 per cent of the vegetation was in good condition, 29 per cent fair and 14 per cent in poor condition.

In the southern rangelands, the Report Card showed 36 per cent of the vegetation was in good condition, 39 per cent fair and 25 per cent poor.

While there were large variations in condition and trends among LCDs, the regional scale of the assessment masks the very large variations at a paddock scale among individual stations and pasture types.  

It is important to note that rangeland degradation at the paddock scale often occurs first in areas with highly productive vegetation favoured by grazing livestock.

Condition drivers

Rangeland condition is primarily influenced by climate VARIABILITY, seasonal rainfall, grazing pressure and fire.

The interaction between these drivers of rangeland condition, particularly highly variable rainfall, with pastoral business pressures presents an ongoing challenge for land managers to achieve long-term profitability, while maintaining good stewardship of natural resources.

Supporting sustainability

The Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development and other government departments are working together with stakeholders to improve the long term profitability and sustainability of the rangelands for future generations.

In October the State Government acknowledged the Auditor General’s recent report on the Management of Pastoral Lands in Western Australia, which concluded; ‘the ecological sustainability of pastoral lands is not adequately protected by the state’s current system of land monitoring and administration.’

The department is investigating how to make greater use of remote sensing in assessing changes in the rangelands to address this issue.

The department is supporting the state’s rangeland reform efforts to diversify economic activity and land use options for pastoralists to improve businesses opportunities and provide more options for sustainable land and water resource management.  

Activities are underway to explore how to create more flexible pastoral leases that enable pastoralists to diversify their operations and provide greater business agility to respond to seasonal and market variability.  

The department is assisting this endeavour by resource mapping to identify suitable areas for alternative business options.

Carbon farming has been identified as a possible new income stream for pastoralists, providing payment for undertaking management actions to improve rangeland condition.    

However, there are current legal and administrative issues associated with carbon sequestration projects on leasehold land need to be resolved by government. 

Collaboration the key

The Report Card on sustainable natural resource use in the rangelands of Western Australia concludes that global demand for food and fibre will bring new challenges and opportunities to the pastoral sector, with international demand for protein projected to grow, particularly from nearby Asia.

The long term climate forecast for the region is for hotter conditions and, while the changes in rainfall are uncertain, there is reasonable confidence that rainfall variability and cyclonic intensity will increase.

Stewardship of the rangelands will be critical to satisfying these and other demands, backed by credible, evidence-based resource information to aid responsible and innovative land and water management.

It is important that all stakeholders – industry, all levels of government, traditional owners, potential developers and others – work together to build successful pastoral businesses, while protecting and enhancing the condition of our valuable rangeland assets for future generations.