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Articles Reconsidering vegetation management methods Ash Folster


he recent court case against Monsanto in the US has received worldwide mainstream media attention and brought the potential and/or perceived human health impacts of Glyphosate use into sharp focus. The issue is complex to say the least. Glyphosate use is subject to wide-ranging contexts and methods, differing rates of product concentration and combinations with other chemicals, dynamic environmental conditions, varied degrees of user training and experience, as well as the political and commercial interests that prevail. Setting aside that potential impacts of Glyphosate use on organisms other than humans provokes only a fraction of the media attention and subsequent debate, the US court decision has initiated a serious and longoverdue reconsideration of alternative means by which to control undesirable vegetation. Clearly, at the root of this attention is not simply the need to protect human health, but also the desire by certain parties to avoid potential liability and costly legal repercussions where herbicide activities are found to be damaging as a result of negligence. It may come as a surprise to some that a range of effective alternative vegetation management approaches do exist and have been available for much longer than Glyphosate and other herbicides. Unfortunately, there are perceived ‘practical barriers’ to their widespread adoption. They are generally considered to be overly and restrictively

A hellicopter sprays herbicide onto a fruit orchard. Image supplied

resource intensive to implement when compared to the commonly prevailing herbicide approach. For example, undesirable vegetation can often be removed by hand or via mechanical means, managed in situ by suppression with mulch or other materials, or excluded from occupying a niche in the first place by strategic planting or natural establishment of another desirable species. There is strong evidence for the effectiveness of alternative methods, but they typically require a large and sustained investment of resources to implement with success in a government or commercial project setting. This raises a question of values and priorities. Our modern society devotes vast amounts of money, time and physical energy to the construction of smooth roads, comfortable houses, technological gadgets and other aspects of a convenience-based lifestyle. But are we willing to invest the necessary resources to adopt alternative vegetation management approaches that can indeed control un-

desirable species, preserve biodiversity and ecosystem services, and improve the environment that sustains us and our health? Our current reliance on herbicides such as Glyphosate is simply a choice we make and a reflection of our modern, corporate, fastpaced and convenience-oriented society. It may seem ironic and counterintuitive that such a widespread and complex problem such as the management of undesirable vegetation could be mitigated by a simple choice to reprioritise and invest more resources into ‘back-to-basics’ approaches such as mechanical removal and mulching. But perhaps that is the sensible way forward. At least in some circumstances, the perceived need to intervene, control and manage vegetation is a product of our human conditioning. We are undoubtedly a significant and unprecedented vector in the distribution of plant species across the globe and have irreversibly altered many natural environments. However, there are instances all around us where

exotic plants readily co-exist with native species and bring added beauty, diversity and function to our landscapes. Regardless of our desire to control and rectify our vegetation impacts, the environment retains an inherent management mechanism of natural evolution and has tolerated fluctuations in biodiversity long before our intervention. So, in addition to the need for alternative vegetation management approaches that reduce our reliance on herbicides such as Glyphosate, despite their inherent resource demands, perhaps it is also time to re-assess our outlook and embrace, or at very least tolerate, some exotic species in native plant communities and assemblages. This is particularly the case where exotic species pose little threat to existing biodiversity, are well adapted to changing climatic conditions, and make a valuable contribution to life-sustaining ecosystem services. Ash Folster is an environmental planner, ecologist and bush regenerator. Q

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The Byron Shire Echo September 5, 2018 15

The Byron Shire Echo – Issue 33.13 – September 5, 2018  

Free, independent weekly newspaper from the Byron Shire in northern NSW, Australia.

The Byron Shire Echo – Issue 33.13 – September 5, 2018  

Free, independent weekly newspaper from the Byron Shire in northern NSW, Australia.