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Central Land Council urges NT government to act on fire threat posed by buffel grass

Giovanni Torre -

The Central Land Council has urged the Northern Territory government to declare the main fuel of the bushfires burning all around Alice Springs a weed.

As large surrounding fires blanket the town in smoke for the second week in a row the Council called for a weed declaration on Wednesday to assist with the management of the invasive and highly flammable buffel grass that is fanning the flames.

Central Land Council sent a resolution outlining their appeal to NT environment minister Kate Worden and a working group advising her on the management of the grass.

The Council's general manager, Josie Douglas, said the resolution "shows how strongly our elected members feel about the extremely destructive cultural, health and environmental impacts of this introduced species".

"On some days last week the air quality in Alice Springs was on par with some of the most polluted cities in the world," she said.

With an area five times the size of Tasmania already destroyed by fires and more than 80 per cent of the Territory predicted to burn this season, residents of remote towns and communities have months of smoke and fires ahead of them, the CLC warned.

"Buffel is not just a danger to our health, homes and critical infrastructure, but threatens our sacred sites and is one of the main drivers of native species extinctions in Central Australia," said Dr Douglas.

"Because it burns much hotter than native grasses it pushes our native plants and the animals that depend on them to the brink.

The CLC urged the NT government to follow the lead of South Australia, where the grass is already being managed as a weed.

"A weed declaration would be a catalyst for action and help to attract resources for buffel grass control," said Dr Douglas.

"We stand ready to develop a weed management plan with government agencies and the traditional owners we represent and to better protect country that is still intact."

Dr Douglas said investment in research and development, such as biological controls of the weed, is a matter of urgency.

The CLC is a member of the NT government's buffel grass technical working group and part of a broad chorus of voices urging that the weed declaration apply to all land tenures across the Territory.

Acting Minister for Environment, Eva Lawler told National Indigenous Times that the Territory government takes environmental protection "very seriously", with "some of the strictest regulations in the country, including best practice weed management".

"In 2021 we launched the NT Weeds Strategy 2021-2026 which takes a regional, scientific and strategic approach to prioritising weed management investments across the NT," she said.

"A technical working group was established to directly assess the impacts of, and approaches to Buffel grass management in Central Australia, of which the CLC is a member. The technical working group will evaluate and make recommendations if change is required, acknowledging its role in heightening wildfire intensity.

"Should the technical working group recommend declaring Buffel grass as a weed, this will be done."

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