'This country just hangs tight': Perspectives on managing land degradation and climate change in far west NSW

Publication Type:
Journal Article
Rangeland Journal, 2019, 4 (3), pp. 197 - 210
Issue Date:
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© 2019 Australian Rangeland Society. Discussions of land degradation often display a disconnect between global and local scales. Although global-scale discussions often focus on measuring and reversing land degradation through metrics and policy measures, local-scale discussions can highlight a diversity of viewpoints and the importance of local knowledge and context-specific strategies for sustainable land management. Similarly, although scientific studies clearly link anthropogenic climate change to land degradation as both cause and consequence, the connection may not be so clear for local rangelands communities due to the complex temporal and spatial scales of change and management in such environments. In research conducted in October 2015, we interviewed 18 stakeholders in the far west of New South Wales about their perspectives on sustainable land management. The results revealed highly variable views on what constitutes land degradation, its causes and appropriate responses. For the pastoral land managers, the most important sign of good land management was the maintenance of groundcover, through the management of total grazing pressure. Participants viewed overgrazing as a contributor to land degradation in some cases and they identified episodes of land degradation in the region. However, other more contentious factors were also highlighted, such as wind erosion, grazing by goats and kangaroos and the spread of undesired 'invasive native scrub' at the expense of more desirable pasture, and alternative views that these can offer productive benefits. Although few participants were concerned about anthropogenic climate change, many described their rangeland management styles as adaptive to the fluctuations of the climate, regardless of the reasons for these variations. Rather than focusing on whether landholders 'believe in' climate change or agree on common definitions or measurement approaches for land degradation, these results suggest that their culture of adaptation may provide a strong basis for coping with an uncertain future. The culture of adaption developed through managing land in a highly variable climate may help even if the specific conditions that landholders need to adapt to are unlike those experienced in living memory. Such an approach requires scientific and expert knowledge to be integrated alongside the context-specific knowledge, values and existing management strategies of local stakeholders.
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