A new report into the spread of Gamba grass says efforts to manage the highly invasive and flammable weed on public land are failing.
The report says increased effort and investment is urgently needed to manage risks to public safety and the environment.
It also says the greatest increase in the past decades is evident along roads near Katherine and in the Darwin rural region.
"Our research focuses on creating a deeper understanding of which land managers are struggling to manage gamba grass, with an aim of helping the NT Government assess the additional resources needed and where to most strategically apply them to stop further spread," author Techa Beaumont said.
The report Gamba Grass and Land Tenure in the Northern Territory, commissioned by the Gamba Grass Roots Alliance and produced by the Centre for Conservation Geography, outlines known records of gamba grass and their documented spread, by location, tenure and land manager.
In 2019, the NT Government estimated Gamba affects up to 15,000 square kilometres of the NT, but has the potential to affect 380,000 square kilometres.
Originally from Africa, Gamba was introduced to the Territory as highly palatable cattle fodder crop in the 1930's and was planted throughout pastoral and agricultural areas.
Volunteer firefighters across the Top End have also sounded the alarm saying lives will be lost if the weed is not beaten back.
The NT Government currently provides free chemicals in some areas for landowners to spray Gamba.
According to this latest report, freehold and Crown lands show the greatest increase in known gamba grass records, with a particularly abrupt increase on freehold land in the Darwin rural area.
"We've also seen that roads are one of the primary pathways for gamba grass spread. Although roads represent only a small proportion of land area and gamba infestation, they play a major role in its spread to new locations, particularly in the Eradication Zone," Ms Beaumont said.
"It's clear that the current level of funding is inadequate to properly manage the spread of Gamba on public land. This produces twin damages - not only are we witnessing more intense bushfires, but we risk private landholders losing faith in overall control efforts," Mitch Hart, NT manager for the Pew Charitable Trusts, said.
Gamba grass is a highly invasive declared weed regarded as one of the most significant threats to ecosystems and livelihoods in the Northern Territory.
Because it creates a much higher fuel load than native grasses, gamba grass greatly increases the intensity of fires.
"We know that many landholders are working hard to control gamba on their land, but this analysis shows that there are still plenty of landholders that are unable or unwilling to control the weed. It's clear that the issue is reaching a crisis point, particularly in the Darwin, Palmerston and Darwin rural areas," Mr Hart said.
"Even with the best efforts of under-resourced government agencies, the weed is utilising road corridors to spread deeper into the Eradication Zone, highlighting the urgent need for intensified efforts with clear targets to stop its spread."
The report recommends the NT Government:
- 1. Conduct more outreach and provide funding for gamba control by freehold landholders and pastoral leaseholders.
- 2. Provide greater support for the control efforts of NT Parks and Wildlife.
- 3. Increase management of gamba grass on public lands.
- 4. Target areas highly susceptible to new infestations to limit further spread.
- 5. Prioritise sufficient funding to eradicate infestations in the Eradication Zone.
- 6. Apply a coordinated whole-of-government approach to address the growing gamba grass threat.
The Zone B Control Zone extends from Darwin and southwards through the Darwin Rural area to the edge of Katherine. Within this area, gamba growth is to be controlled in containment and reduction in infestation sizes.
The Zone A Eradication Zone is all remaining areas of the Northern Territory. Within this area, gamba is to be completely eradicated.
While you're with us, you can now receive updates straight to your inbox each Friday at 6am from the Katherine Times. To make sure you're up to date with all the news, sign up here.