Keeping the faith on rangeland rejuvenation

Rueben HaleThe West Australian
Mt Magnet pastoralist Jorgen Jensen says southern Rangelands pastoralists have not had any significant help from the government to maintain the health of the region in more than 20 years.
Camera IconMt Magnet pastoralist Jorgen Jensen says southern Rangelands pastoralists have not had any significant help from the government to maintain the health of the region in more than 20 years. Credit: Lara Jensen

Mount Magnet pastoralist Jorgen Jensen is hard at work building what seems like endless kilo-metres of boundary fences on his property.

Mr Jensen, who has been running the 105,000ha Yowergabbie station since taking over from his parents 10 years ago, is a staunch advocate of the value of WA’s southern rangelands.

Yowergabbie was one of the many stations to be forced out of sheep by ravaging wild dogs.

The dogs — combined with drought, drier-than-usual winter rainfall, rising inputs and declining profits — almost drove the Jensens from the land in 2006, but Mr Jensen’s steely determination has fuelled his resolve to keep going and prove the doubters wrong.

The cattle will be coming soon, and Mr Jensen is looking forward to finally getting some income from livestock once again, after taking contract work for the past seven years to balance the books.

Having spent most of his life on the station, he is still inspired by the challenges of managing a rangelands grazing system and is committed to staying in the industry.

“I would prefer it if we could run sheep but we’re now trying to move into a cattle enterprise, only because it is the last option that we’ve got; when we get rid of the wild dog predation problem we will return to small stock, or a combination of the two,” Mr Jensen said.

“It’s an average size place for the southern rangelands, with average carrying capacity and above ordinary country type and it still should be a very productive property.”

Mr Jensen said he had grown up on the station thinking it would always rain.

“The 1990s was an incredibly wet decade for this area,” he said.

“That’s been the biggest driving change for us on this place since then because for the last 17 years we’ve by-and-large missed out on winter rainfall, although we’ve still managed to get our average rainfall for most years during the summertime.

“These lands will grow feed in summer but not the same degree as the winter rain will.

“But management practices can and have changed to suit the seasons as well as the advent of newer technologies to aid management of a lease, specifically Total Grazing Pressure managed to suit seasons.”

Mr Jensen said the release of the Auditor-General’s report into the Management of Pastoral Lands in WA last week underpinned his belief that the southern rangelands had been particularly neglected by the State Government for more than 20 years.

He said the southern rangelands seemed to have been unfairly condemned by various government agencies.

“I think they just considered it too hard, especially during the dire sheep and wool price era following the wool crash,” he said.

“In the southern rangelands, the State Government has played almost no role in support programs to protect and enhance it.

“It is a bit of a running joke around these parts that the government pulled out of the southern rangelands.

“What I mean by that is any outback area south of the Gascoyne River, and including the Goldfields, they obviously considered it not productive enough to justify investing any time, effort or money into it.

“Their assessment has been proven wrong because a lot of us are still out there making a go of things.

“It’s harder and harder to run small stock, but there are many people instead running cattle.”

Mr Jensen said from that angle, the attention seems to have been mistakenly focused entirely on the Pilbara and the Kimberley.

“It’s a shame the southern rangelands seems to have been forgotten in the process because it seems to have become a lost opportunity in the middle part of the State. I welcome the continuation of the Pastoral Lands Board,” he said.

“The PLB needs to be changed to give it more authority than it has had in the past. It requires the power to act when landholders are doing the wrong thing.

“But I also think there should be support for people who are putting the effort in and doing the right thing by their country, by improving the land each year and still grazing livestock.

“It’s certainly better than what had been proposed by the former lands minister Terry Redman, who was trying to get rid of the PLB, meaning you would have to report directly to the minister’s office over pastoral lease issues.”

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