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Gamba Grass taskforce triumphs amid wet conditions

Joseph Guenzler -

The recent Gamba Grass Taskforce weed eradication program in Queensland's Cook Shire yielded positive outcomes including enhanced treatment understanding, decreased density and improved revegetation success.

Over 40 properties underwent gamba grass (Andropogon gayanus) treatment over three days amid intermittent heavy rainfall.

Gamba grass grows rapidly, posing a threat to local ecosystems by depleting nutrient and water resources in the soil and exacerbating fire risks with intensities surpassing those of native vegetation.

Cook Shire’s Biosecurity and Local Laws Manager, Darryn Higgins said the planned eradication was "miraculously" unaffected by weather.

"...spraying was unhindered by weather mid-week - on Monday and Friday it rained incessantly. However, there were 12 separate vehicle recoveries due to boggy conditions," Mr Higgins said.

Nine taskforce teams assembled in Cooktown for the annual eradication effort, targeting the invasive gamba grass, which is restricted under the Biosecurity Act 2014.

Established in 2021, the Taskforce coordinates resources from shire councils spanning from Hinchinbrook southward to form a convoy of vehicles for weed spraying across key areas near Cooktown.

Cape York NRM provides logistical support, including meals and accommodation for taskforce members visiting Cooktown.

Gamba Grass is also naturalised in the east Kimberley region of Western Australia and in the northern parts of the Northern Territory. 

Thamarrurr Indigenous Ranger, Christine Tchemjiri previously said "If you don't do something about it, and if someone lights it up it just goes like 'that' because it's very thick grass. They don't know its gamba." 

Fellow ranger, Louis Boyle-Bryant said the spread of gamba is a serious threat to the group's livelihood. 

"You're looking at losing potentially a lot of revenue over time," he said.

"As gamba grass moves in, if you're looking at losing tens or thousands of hectares over a longer time period, you're looking at losing a significant portion of your carbon business."

The program's effectiveness has expanded, with additional teams from the Far North Queensland Regional Organisation of Councils (FNQROC), such as Hinchinbrook, Cook, Mareeba, Douglas, and Tableland shires, along with crews from the Queensland Department of Resources, Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service, Jabalbina Rangers, and Melsonby Rangers.

According to Mr Higgins, pooling resources is advantageous for the shires, offering a cost-effective approach to addressing a regional issue.

Despite heavy flooding in the region following Cyclone Jasper, this year's positive outcome revealed no significant increase in the weed's growth and spread.

"In fact, there has been a measurable reduction in the density of gamba grass in target areas," Mr Higgins said. 

The annual visits are also an established event, with weed awareness and treatment methods garnering community support.

"Some properties have transitioned to private management of the species as it is now within the capacity of individual landholders, which is great news," Mr Higgins said. 

"We want to continue to foster this transition across additional properties."

Another exciting development was the results of trial revegetation plots. 

"These were established in treated [gamba grass] areas with a combination of humidicola grass (Brachiaria Humidicola)and signal grass (Urochloa decumbens), and have been successful," Mr Higgins said.

"We intend to expand this strategy to larger areas this year."

Later this year, a post-taskforce survey is scheduled to collect additional data on the impacts of the taskforce's efforts.

The taskforce primarily targets the Annan/Endeavour catchment area, adjacent sections of the Jeannie and Normanby catchments, and the southern region around Mungumby Creek.

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