Retarding Australia to an ecological nonsense

It will no doubt become a recurring theme of Flood Creek Non-Nativist Landcare to point out the limited perspectives informing destructive nativist activities in Australia (and elsewhere). These perspectives are dominated by such a narrow form of Ecology that they are effectively a reductionist science (anathema to a broader Ecological epistemology and understanding).

‘Natural Ecology’, as it’s widely practiced by professional and lay-ecologists in environmental groups and NRM bureaucracies, has become simply a “science” of naming, categorising, and compiling inventories, of species. So much so that these preoccupations often substitute for any real knowledge of how bio-physical systems actually function.

In Australia, imaginary “pristine” native systems (fabricated ideals which obscure previous Aboriginal occupation and cultivation of this continent) are considered the pinnacle of focus for “natural ecologists” because anything else is seen as unnatural, and ‘unnatural‘ is always automatically undesirable. Humans and anything to do with them are somehow simply not-natural (presumably, we must, therefore, be ‘Supernatural’; don’t scoff, many people do assume this!). And so it is that dominant perspectives among nativist environmentalists exclude insights from fields like Social Ecology, Agricultural Ecology and Human Ecology, and marginalise them to the periphery of ecological concern as somehow not ‘proper’ or ‘pure’ ecological sciences.

According to nativist ideology, modern humans, domesticated species and exotic “weeds” in Australia all occupy a peculiar ‘meta-ecological’ space (a space beyond, above, or in-addition to any “natural” ecology). They may “disturb” nature, but are never considered as part of it. Given this, it makes perfect sense to simply ignore these meta-ecological aspects of reality when interacting with “the environment”, or dealing with conservation of “natural” (i.e. native) species.

The–quite frankly–stupid outcomes of this deliberately-limited thinking are often very easy to observe.

Consider the ridiculous example of Spinnaker Island on Lake Burley Griffin around which our National Capital, Canberra, is built:

Canberra is a planned city, officially surveyed and named in 1913, and its lake, Lake Burley Griffin, is an artificial lake created by a dam on the Molonglo River. The lake was created because it was felt that the Capital needed a large water body for aesthetic reasons. Below is an early plan showing part of the city with the original Molonglo River and pre-lake landscape shown in faint detail. At the centre of this image is the projecting ridge of a hill which was expected to form a narrow peninsula when the river was dammed and the lake flooded.

Pre-lake planning Burley Griffin

Circa 1915 plan for Lake Burley Griffin and surrounds (Courtesy National Library of Australia, 2014).

At some point during the planning or construction of the lake it was decided instead to turn this peninsula into an island and appropriate earthworks were carried out to separate it from the future shoreline. The island became ‘Spinnaker Island”, a feature shown near the centre of this 2014 map of the lake and surrounds (courtesy Google Maps).

Modern Lake Burley Griffin
Below is an aerial image of Spinnaker Island in 2008. It is a small island; just 8600m² (about 2 acres), with a perimeter of around 380m. Like other islands within Lake Burley Griffin, it is mowed by ACT Municipal Services. Note that only the centre is mowed and around the perimeter are numerous willow trees. Note also the dense stands of macrophytes (emergent water plants) growing in the shallows along the western (lefthand) side of the island.

Spinnaker Island 31_3_2008

Spinnaker Island 2008 (Courtesy Google Earth, 2014).

In 2009 a “rehabilitation” project was begun on Spinnaker Island.

In the words of the organisers at that time:

The island has, over the years, become overgrown with a smorgasboard of weed species including willows, blackberry, ivy and on it goes.

So professionals from 4 different organisations plus some volunteers from the Yacht club started work on the island:

“…to remove the weeds and replant it with the open Yellow box-Red gum community it was before the lake was formed.”

OK, now read that last line again.

Now….just think for a minute…does that make any sense at all?!

Sure, it might have been an “open Yellow box-Red gum community…before the lake was formed….”

….but that was before the lake was formed, right?

….and now the lake is formed (or so it seems)…..so…….ahh…..

I mean, sure, this land was once the top of a ridge overlooking a river, but in reality it’s now a small island, in the middle of a large lake, in the middle of Canberra, in 2014.

In 2008 the island was lined with willows because they’re a riparian species which are well-adapted to life at the interface between land and water. But those aren’t riparian species that are being discussed as part of the “re-vegetation” (cough, cough) being planned here. Yellow box and Blakelys Red gum are commonly listed as occurring as a “lowland” grassy woodland community not ‘riparian’ woodland. They’re expected to occur on colluvial soils on lower slopes. So does it really make any sense to retard the ecology of this island to conform as an “open Yellow box-Red gum community” on what is now actually a levelled two acre island in the middle of a lake?

Is this an example of people refusing to recognise ‘unnatural‘ things (like the lake) as part of the ecological realities of today? Do we really believe that everything in the pre-1788 environment was ‘natural and good’ and that everything since is unacceptably ‘unnatural and wrong’?

Isn’t there a very real danger that this kind of stunted perspective might actually undermine the natural adaptation and functioning of our biosphere? Preventing it from adjusting to the obvious changes we have wrought?

Is this really how ‘environmentalists’ should be thinking and acting?

Where is the logic?

In late 2009 hired contractors began destroying the naturally-functioning riparian forest system on Spinnaker Island. Following this, some well-meaning sailing club volunteers were shipped-in to pile up the felled timber for burning. Below is an aerial image of the island from December 2009. At this stage you can see small piles of material dotted around the inside perimeter of the riparian forest.

Spinnaker Island 07_12_2009

Spinnaker Island, December 2009 (Courtesy Google Earth 2014).

The next image shows Spinnaker Island in 2010 or early 2011. By this stage all riparian overstorey has been removed, save for what might be a few eucalypts (presumably remnants of the Yellow box-Red gum community that once-upon-a-time grew on this once-upon-a-time hill). Around the perimeter of the island you can now see the ash circles left from where the piles of willow trees (and any animals sheltering within them) were incinerated. Click on the image for a larger picture.

Spinnaker Island 2010 or 2011

Spinnaker Island 2010 or 2011

And here is Spinnaker island in 2014.

Spinnaker Island 2014

Spinnaker Island 2014 (Courtesy LPA SIX viewer).

Apart from the lack of a perimeter riparian forest, probably the most noticeable difference between 2008 and 2014 is the clear decline in macrophytes along the western shore in the later image. It seems likely this decline is related to the loss of the previously-occurring riparian forest from this side of the island.

Comparison 2008_2014 copy

Compare the two images above. Which of these islands looks like a habitat for water birds, platypus, water rats and other riparian and aquatic species? And which looks like a pointless windswept attempt at retarding the ecology of this island to a small fraction of the species that might once have existed here when it was a hill, not an island in an artificial lake in the city of Canberra?

The final image of this post is an aerial photograph of nearby Springbank Island taken sometime in 2014. On the southern section near the pontoon/pier, work has begun to remove the riparian willow forest on this island too. There’s the telltale gap in the riparian canopy and two piles of trees getting ready for a match.

Springbank island 2014

Springbank island 2014 (Courtesy LPA SIX viewer).

Where does it end?

2 responses to “Retarding Australia to an ecological nonsense

  1. As an pre-Lake Elder of Canberra living on the shores of the emerging lake while attending ANU, it was my pleasure to undertake the first ecological surveys of the Burley Griffen islands as an honours student. Spinnaker Island was my favourite ~ the water dragons sunning themselves in the willow boughs and platypus family living in the willow root plates were dear friends. While working at the MDBC in the 1990’s I hired a launch and ook the ACT and NCC environment officers to show them where the platypus nest was located and how willows were providing the nursery habitat for breeding water dragons and colonising casuarina (as in Works Bay). Their hate for willows and other riparian wonders in the exciting dance of riparian ecosynthesis made me realise that Nativism is not only the founding tenet of colonial ecofascism, it is also a reliable indicator of ecological illiteracy. These hate-ful people need to be held responsible for the algae blooms threatening the lake because previously they were effectively controlled by the riparian willow communities…

    • ‘Ecological illiteracy’ is exactly right Haikai. So strange that people can think damaging an existing ecology in the name of an imaginary “pristine” one that never existed somehow makes them ‘ecologists’.

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