Time to Fix Your 'Roo Imbalance (the Hidden Environmental Tax on Farmers)

Article excerpt

FARMERS are being accused of shortsightedness for failing to prepare for the present drought. Yet few urban observers understand that the current crisis is caused by a level of hidden environmental taxes that the urban majority would never accept themselves. And instead of doling out begrudging assistance laced with condescension, the community at large may find itself on the wrong end of a very expensive negligence claim.

The current drought provides a once-in-a-decade opportunity for farmers to rid themselves of a hidden environmental tax that is one of the greatest threats to their longterm viability, while at the same time correcting a major ecological imbalance.

On many properties, the excessive kangaroo population will be eating as much feed as the sheep or cattle. All agree that 'roo numbers have multiplied because of added watering points, improved pasture and, yes, clearing. But few non-farmers understand the full consequences of this imbalance.

Indeed, Archer states, Not every kangaroo species was adversely affected by these changes. The modification of much of Australia's semi-arid land into suitable grazing country allowed the Red Kangaroo to go from an uncommon and rarely seen animal to one of the country's most abundant.1

Archer claims that, `Ten species are likely to have benefited from habitat changes occurring since European settlement, and it is mostly these species which figure in commerce and/or pest control: they are mainly the large Kangaroos' (page 234).

And it is worth noting that Burke and Wills, in their 1860-61 journey from Cooper's Creek to the Gulf and back (a 2,000km transect), shot their own camels and horses, scrounged for snakes, rats and birds but appear to have shot no kangaroos. During their final weeks, the local Murris provided them with fish (from the natural watering points) and Nardoo cakes but, again, no 'roo meat.

Yet, at a rather modest stocking rate (for today) of one animal to four hectares, there would be about 700 'roos within a three kilometre radius of `the Dig Tree'. And King, the lone survivor, shot birds to exchange for other foods from the Murris but, again, no 'roos appear to have been shot.

One can only conclude that if starving men with rifles, camped at a watering point, were not shooting 'roos for survival, then there were very few 'roos about.

And today, while farmers must hand-feed their stock to keep them alive, the same number of 'roos will starve. Many farmers will face the heart-rending task of shooting sheep rather than prolong their agony. And the 'roos?

Well, er, um, they're the responsibility of the relevant State Environment Minister and you can bet your mortgage that none of them will be photographed anywhere near a starving 'roo before rain falls.

Farmers are only allowed a limited licence to cull 'roos. The various Ministers have assumed effective control over 'roo numbers but, negligently, have done nothing to ensure their health and wellbeing.

More importantly, as farmers have improved the productive capacity of their land, the relevant Ministers, and the communities they represent, have allowed their kangaroo herd to increase to unsustainable levels.

So where a paddock may have originally supported fewer than 1,000 animals prior to European settlement, it may now support the equivalent of 6,000, made up of 3,000 sheep (or 300 cattle) and 3,000 'roos.

The farmer has produced an unambiguous `ecological profit', in boosting 'roo numbers by 2,000, but the community, through the Minister, has said, `thank you very much, they're all ours, and we'll decide what happens to them'.

Out of a total increase in carrying capacity of 5,000 animals, the farmer has had no choice but to pay an `environmental tax' of 40 per cent of his (gross) new fodder reserves to accommodate the extra 2,000 'roos.

If he could have culled 200 'roos five years ago, there would be 1,000 fewer starving 'roos today and 1,000 sheep that wouldn't need hand-feeding. …