Three-pronged fight back plan

Kate MatthewsCountryman
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Pastoralists in the Meekatharra Rangelands Biosecurity Association (MRBA) are setting themselves up as a test case on how to rebuild the viability of the pastoral industry across the country.

Through planning and careful management, the 74 pastoralists from the shires of Yalgoo, Meekatharra, Cue and Mt Magnet identified three areas that need rebuilding - wild dog control, grazing pressure and using rainfall.

MRBA secretary treasurer Neil Grinham said wild dogs had virtually destroyed the goat industry and there was very little livestock left.

"People who were turning off 3000 or 4000 goats might now be getting 500 or none," he said. "There also was probably 120,000 sheep and today there would be 14,000."

The situation has become so dire, that last week _Countryman _ reported Janet Winter and Graeme Newton were being forced to sell their station because of the devastation caused by wild dogs.

Another key threat is over grazing by livestock and kangaroos causing the death of perennial ground-cover species which need to regenerate.

The group also identified the need to manage the catchments so rainfall soaks in rather than runs off in the gullies.

Department of Agriculture and Food project manager Greg Brennan said the group was addressing industry development as well as biosecurity issues.

"Controlling total grazing pressure is an industry development issue challenging the pastoral industry across much of Australia, mostly due to an inability to control kangaroos," Mr Brennan said.

What sets MRBA apart from other groups, according to Mr Brennan, was the foresight of the group's instigators.

From the outset it was set up to address economic development as well as biosecurity problems.

During a strategic planning workshop three years ago, the group identified that rebuilding the productive capacity of their country was a major challenge.

"It no longer had the nutritional grunt to grow enough meat or milk, largely because too much rainfall was escaping into the Indian Ocean and salt lakes," Mr Brennan said.

"This was mainly because the nutritious perennial ground-cover species had disappeared after 10 dry winters and heavy grazing pressure every dry season since settlement."

Using $10,000 of funding from the Shire of Cue, the group held two planning meetings to identify the key tasks for rebuilding the industry and to elect a management committee.

During November the group hosted a seminar with leading experts on animal behaviour and nutrition. Members learnt how animal behaviour could be used to develop low cost, profitable production systems that improved the productive capacity of the land.

Just as important as the strategic vision is the work behind the scenes.

The committee meets three times a year and uses email in the interim.

To control wild dogs, Mr Grinham said doggers trapped and baited at the same time, with about 100,000 baits laid since May.

With 16 million hectares to cover, Mr Grinham said MRBA was applying for funds to employ an additional six to eight doggers and increase ground and aerial baiting programs.

"With another six to eight doggers, we could control the wild dogs," he said.

MRBA has also received $1.5 million in funding to improve the rabbit proof fence and is applying for funds to create a cell along the vermin fence to keep dogs out.

But for all of these efforts to be successful, Mr Grinham said all station owners needed to be involved.

There are an estimated 27,790 wild dogs in WA including 2108 in the MRBA area.

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