Rundown by cattle, erosion and sediment, Pilbara Aboriginal corporations team up to restore critical wetlands

Article by Jarred Cross for the National Indigenous Times

Two Aboriginal corporations in Western Australia’s Pilbara region have taken a dramatic change of tact to preserve natural resources to strengthen long-term financial prosperity.

Since 2011, the Ashburton Aboriginal Corporation has subleased Peedamulla from Jundaru Aboriginal Corporation in an effort to stabilise commercial ventures at the station.

Poor water quality has threatened to cripple cattle and livestock industry in recent years.

The CSIRO was brought in to identify issues affecting fresh waterways at Peedamulla and advise on practice going forward to heal the country and protect business operations.

Sediment brought by floodwater runoff from the local Cane River, erosion and an overwhelming number of cattle at the station were confirmed by the science body as damaging factors.

AAC chief executive Steve Sonneman-Smith was hopeful irrigation would solve most of the issues.

“One of the problems we’re looking at is trying to access water, where where could water be dug for irrigation,” he said.

“Part of that was then going back and looking at the Cane River and the aquifers and whether those aquifers stored enough water to be able to then tap into the irrigate.”

The CSIRO and AAC found the aquifers were too shallow and relied too heavily on yearly rainfall to replenish them.

To mitigate immediate concerns attention turned toward controlling cattle and restricting grazing area.

“If you remove cattle from there, how do you then run a viable station if you’re relying on that as a feed and a water source?” Mr Sonneman-Smith said.

“It was then looking at alternative practices around breeding and we’d already started doing some work on breeding with a sort of boil off of the the costings around it.

“Designing where cattle should go, what what areas can hold cattle.

“We actually rotate (the cattle) to build the financial capacity.”

The concerns extend to environmental preservation and protecting the cultural significance of the area.

Jundaru Aboriginal Corporation chairwoman Caroline Parker said the area was traditionally used as a camping area and home to unique plants and animals.

“For the animals that that was always around the wetlands area, even if it did dry out during drought there’s small waterfalls,” she said.

“We used to still be able to see where the kangaroos used to dig for water.”

The destruction of waterways compromised the history of Peedamulla for local Indigenous people, migratory birds and eventual livestock.

Mr Sonneman-Smith said the input from the CSIRO was also an effort to increase attention directed at Peedamulla, hopefully spurring an increase in investment required to effectively carry out continued measures.

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