Australia’s rugged outback is being rapidly choked by an invasive grass, which is known to aid the spread of fire.
Capable of destroying entire ecosystems, buffel grass is a declared weed in South Australia where authorities have dubbed it one of the state’s “greatest pest threats” and worked to reduce its spread. But over the border in the Northern Territory, its proliferation is causing alarm.
Images taken five years apart in Central Australia show how this tussock grass species can blanket landscapes, wiping out native spinifex and other native plants that are essential habitat for wildlife that survives in harsh desert conditions.
Photographer reveals extent of buffel grass problem
Wildlife photographer Nick Volpe is frustrated at the lack of action to tackle the problem. After surveying the MacDonnell Ranges this week, he described the situation out there as “pretty horrific”.
“We’re literally watching the beginning of the end of our ecosystems in Central Australia. Buffel grass has completely overtaken so many viable areas of habitat,” he told Yahoo News Australia.
“I visited Alice in 2018, and I was beyond shocked when I went back. It was so much worse than my wildest dreams to see hills that were covered in native grasses just completely covered in buffel grass as far as the eye can see.”
🚨I am absolutely beyond shocked at how invasive and fire-fuelling Buffel Grass has COMPLETELY overtaken eco-systems in central Australia recently. 🔥
Everywhere we go, driving for hours, it honestly beggars belief. This is an absolute climate and biodiversity emergency. 🦎❌
— Nick Volpe (@nvolpewild) November 6, 2023
Call to declare national emergency on buffel grass
The Commonwealth has issued warnings about the spread of the grass, particularly into conservation and Indigenous sites, Volpe wants the situation declared a “national emergency”.
Buffel grass grows quickly and outcompetes native species, particularly after heavy rain or fire. In a video posted to Twitter that’s been viewed over 140,000 times, Volpe calls the grass a “death trap for biodiversity”.
To some conservationists, the plant's rapid proliferation mirrors the red alien weed that spread across the Earth in the H.G. Wells classic War of the Worlds. Killing other plants and clogging waterways, the alien stowaway plant infested landscapes wherever the giant martian invaders roamed and was used by the author as a symbol of their aggressive conquest.
In Australia, cattle farmers have helped spread buffel grass, and Volpe wants it restricted and controlled as a weed in the Northern Territory. “People can still buy it, trade it, spread it, plant seeds. It's mind-boggling, the impacts are just irreversible,” he said.
Yahoo has attempted to contact the Department of Environment, Parks and Water Security via phone and email about the buffel grass issue, but is yet to receive a response.
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