Native animals in a Non-nativist forest: results of a brief and random sample

Last Saturday, I took a break from fencing on the Braidwood Common and went for a half hour wander in the willow forest at Flood Creek. I walked (and crawled, and clambered) within the confines of the riparian vegetation on the southern side of the creek, and took some photos on my phone as I went. I started at about 11:30am and finished at midday as I had to get to the CRT before it closed. It was a hot and windy day in Braidwood, with a recorded maximum of 33.6 degrees C (92F), less hot under the willows, but, nevertheless, midday on a hot summer’s day.

I thought readers of the Flood Creek Non-Nativist Landcare Group blog would be interested to see what this very brief and random exploratory sample revealed. In particular I want to share some of the observations I made in regard to existing habitat value of the riparian vegetation.

I’m not claiming this vegetation is ‘better’ habitat than dense riparian vegetation anywhere else, what I am claiming is that there’s a considerable number of native animals utilising parts of this peri-urban forest. They aren’t living in Hassall’s reserve, they aren’t in the carpark outside the supermarket, they aren’t marching up Wallace St, but they are occupying the wild non-nativist ecosystem* at Flood Creek. This is especially remarkable considering what a small patch of forest it is and how close it is to the urban centre of Braidwood. A small bastion of the wild; a corridor of biodiversity and carbon.

I can’t help but to frame the observations that follow in light of comments by Mr Rainer Rehwinkle at a recent “bush regeneration” field day held at Flood Creek, where he was an “expert presenter”. His suggestion was that for most ‘revegetation’ project sites you wouldn’t just send in the bulldozers, but, for a site like Flood Creek, a bulldozer would probably be the best course of action! (I had to go for a quiet little walk by myself shortly after hearing this ludicrous and painful comment. Words can’t describe the frustration and sadness I feel when I hear statements like this from “environmental experts”. We are truly on a highway to hell if this kind of blinkered perspective continues to hold sway.)

To begin with, here is an aerial photograph of the Flood Creek willow forest site (courtesy Google Earth 2014). I’ve added a measure of the approximate length of the site and roughly indicated the route that I followed during my walk. I traveled from the northwest to the southeast, that is, heading upstream towards Archer Bridge (towards the bottom right of the photo).

Aerial of Flood Creek showing walk

An aerial view of the Flood Creek willow forest, showing approx linear length of the site and the route of my walk.

To set the scene a little further, here is a photo of some of the vegetation as seen at ground level, it’s not all as closed as this, there is a diversity of structure throughout.

Dense vegetation at Flood Creek

Dense non-nativist forest at Flood Creek

One of the first indications of animal presence I came across was an occupied wombat burrow. I found two more during my walk, a photo of each appears below.

3 wombat burrows at Flood Creek

Three occupied wombat burrows

I assume it was the wombats that were mainly responsible for the numerous crisscrossing animal trails running through the ivy, honeysuckle and rununculus, as shown in the next image:

Animal trails at Flood Creek

Animal trails

At one point I came across a little ‘bower’ in a nook under some fallen willow branches. Here, an animal had pulled individual leaves from nearby ivy and left them lying on the ground. I suspect this is where a swamp wallaby (Wallabia bicolor)  has been sheltering and sleeping. This usually-solitary species tends to rest through the day in dense vegetation (like at the Flood Creek willow forest) and emerge at dusk and dawn to graze and to browse (1). I know they occupy Braidwood’s creeks because I’ve seen them occasionally over a period of 7-8 years (including one road-killed juvenile at the Cowper St. low-level crossing).

Swamp wallaby bower at Flood Creek

Small bower, probably used by a swamp wallaby

It’s hard to judge how recently this bower had been occupied, but the plucked leaves were still green; almost, but not quite, fresh.

Ivy leaves in Wallaby bower

Some of the detached ivy leaves at the base of the bower

The next thing I came across was a small pool (about 8x4m) where a freshwater turtle was sunning him/herself on a partly-submerged branch.

Freshwater turtle at Flood Creek

A freshwater turtle basking at Flood Creek

It hung around long enough for me to take the photo above and the video shown below. Note my deliberate pan at the end to illustrate the non-nativist forest context of this pool.

In the same pool was a school of what I suspect are some kind of galaxid. I’ll try to trap some of these in future to get a better picture and see if they can be more precisely identified. This cropped picture isn’t the best, but you can see there was a mix of sizes. They definitely were not gambusia, nor were they feral gold fish (both of which I have observed in Flood Creek in the past). They were a pale muddy-brown colour, long and slim. When viewed from above, the gills of the larger fish protruded slightly outside the line of the body.

Galaxids at Flood Creek copy

A school of Galaxids in a pool at Flood Creek

As I continued my walk I passed more pools with fish, but didn’t get any better photos. Below the elms near Archer Bridge I spotted positive signs of swamp wallaby presence in the form of tracks.

Swamp wallaby tracks 1

Swamp wallaby prints

These tracks continued along an obvious animal trail toward Archer Bridge. At the bridge I was delighted to find a narrow spit of sand running alongside one of the tunnels through which the creek flows. On this sand were numerous animal tracks.

Sand spit under Archer Bridge

Narrow spit of sand under Archer Bridge

There were so many tracks that it was hard to make out the individual prints, but among them I clearly saw swamp wallaby, wombat and a cat or fox. The image below shows a small section of this sand spit and the tracks that were present on it.

Animals tracks 1

Animal tracks at Flood Creek

I plan to inspect this location over a regular period in future to get an idea of the frequency of visitations and use of this corridor. The animal trail continued upstream on the far side of the bridge tunnel. I stopped my exploration at this point and retraced my steps.

Animal trail continues

Animal trail continuing upstream

I want to stress that the observations presented here took place over just half an hour. They were made within a small section of a very small stand of wild non-nativist riparian forest within urban Braidwood. The nearest significant woodland of predominantly-native vegetation is at the top of Mount Gilamatong, about 2 kilometers away. The native animals which presently exist as part of this non-nativist ecology at Flood Creek are not casual visitors (although individual swamp wallaby maintain territories which average around 16Ha) (2), these are, in fact, permanent occupants of this non-nativist space.

Do we need bulldozers in here?

With scarcely more than a glance, Mr Rehwinkel told our assembled group of local Landcarers that a bulldozer was really the only option.

It certainly seems to be the only option currently supported by our bureaucratically-entrenched methods of Natural Resource Management (NRM), but is it really the only option?

Perhaps, what we need instead, is to re-examine the ridiculous dualistic mental framework (‘natives good, non-natives bad’) that drives current forms of “environmentalism” to such environmentally destructive behaviour. Maybe we need to recognise and admit that nativism is a horrible, illogical and counterproductive affliction; an affliction now firmly ensconced within an NRM bureaucracy that has lost sight of the true purpose of environmentalism and is simply pursuing its own logic of expertise, compliance, career-paths and promotion.

The destruction that the “send in the bulldozer” approach to environmentalism brings is well illustrated by the photographs in this earlier post. You won’t find swamp wallaby or freshwater turtles in that demolished riparian wasteland.

We must know by now that there will never be a native Australia. That dream is a fabricated cultural construct that exists only in the minds of some oddly disturbed Homo sapiens. The rest of the natural world moves on regardless, but the dream of a native Australia promotes human activity that continues to undermine the function of our urban wilds, our farms, and our biosphere as a whole. Continued belief in an imaginary ‘native future’ for Australia is either a sure sign of an embarrassing mental deficiency, or a sure sign of calculated aspiration to a lucrative career path in NRM bureaucracy.

Haikai Tane’s concept of ‘Ecosynthesis’ (3) presents a far saner and more realistic perspective, one which must inevitably come to guide our interactions with the natural world, sooner or later. Other enlightened environmental practitioners have advocated a similar cogent ecological understanding of this biosphere and its function.

In his book, Gaia’s Garden a guide to home-scale Permaculture, Toby Hemenway observes, “nature adheres to a deep order. It is almost as if living beings “want” to come together into coherent communities. Given half a chance, plants and animals will self-organize into a connected whole” (4).

In another Permaculture discussion, titled “weeds or wild nature“, co-founder of Permaculture, David Holmgren states, “implicit in permaculture strategy is the acceptance that nature is an active designer herself and that it will be the co-evolutionary development of wild systems which may be the real keys to sustainability” (5). David explores this theme in more depth in several other written works (6), (7).

Val Plumwood (1939-2008), a resident of the Braidwood district and a towering giant of Australian environmental philosophy, discussed at length the need for humanity to recognise the intrinsic agency of the non-human components of the land. In words that closely reflect the perspective of many NRM professionals and agencies, Plumwood describes the misguided belief that “human intention operates on a passive, inert land, “which undergoes change” as a patient undergoes surgery” (8). She argues compellingly that, “…the reconception of nature in agentic terms as a co-actor and co-participant in the world is perhaps the most important aspect of moving to an alternative ethical framework” (9).

The assumption that humans are the only active presence on Earth comes from a pervasive quasi-spiritual perception of human separation from “nature”. This same belief guided perspectives of land management and “settlement” during colonial expansion in Australia. Europeans were seen as ‘civilised’ and ‘cultured’ humans, whilst Indigenous beings (human and non-human) were framed as malleable and passive ‘nature’; a nature which required a “civilised” and “rational” human modification and taming.

Modern environmentalism rejects this colonial narrative and now champions the conservation of native species and ecological communities. But, by demonising all non-native non-human organisms as detrimental “invaders”, it still fails to challenge its own delusional belief in the separation of humans and nature on this continent. Non-native species are despised on the basis that they arrived with Europeans; hence they are condemned by virtue of association with the irredeemably disturbing influence of (European) humanity and can never be considered as components of the “natural” world. It seems these nonhuman organisms occupy a strange and mythical ‘meta-ecological space‘ where their interactions with other species are somehow always a form of disturbance, never an ordinary and natural ecological exchange.

As Landcarers we need to move away from this dysfunctional obsession with non-natives which is based on the illusion of separation between humans and an idealised ‘pristine’ indigenous nature. In the context of the observations presented above, we must recognise the presence of a non-native organism for what it is: simply the presence of another organism; an organism that is not ‘good’ or ‘bad’, or ‘natural’ or ‘unnatural’ by virtue of its past relationship with European Homo sapiens.

This brief survey of the Flood Creek willow forest clearly indicates that native animals are presently utilising this non-nativist ecological assemblage for their own benefit. Speaking scientifically and objectively–speaking from an Ecological perspective–these native animals exist as components of a small, but resilient and adaptive, non-nativist riparian forest at Flood Creek.

 

 

* The terms ‘non-nativist ecosystem’, or ‘non-nativist forest’ are used here instead of ‘non-native’ because although this site is composed of many non-native species, many native species are also present. ‘Non-native’ ecosystem seems an inappropriate descriptor for a system containing interacting native components. Instead, ‘non-nativist‘ ecosystem precisely conveys the reality of a natural system which functions in spite of  ridiculous nativist ideological mandates. See the first post of this blog for further discussion.

 

References:

(1) Di Stefano, J, York, A, Swan M, Greenfield, A & Coulson, G 2009, ‘Habitat selection by the Swamp Wallby (Wallabia bicolor) in relation to diel period, food and shelter’, Austral Ecology, 34, 143-155.

(2) Troy, S. and Coulson, G. 1993, ‘Home Range of the Swamp Wallaby, Wallabia bicolor’, Wildlife Research, 20(5), 571-577.

(3) Tane, H., cited in Holmgren, D. 1997, ‘Weeds or Wild Nature?’, Permaculture International Journal, 61, with reference to Nanninga, P., P. Dann & H Tane (1994) Exotics versus Natives – Why Not Both? Proceedings of 1994 National Greening Australia Conference, Perth.

(4) Hemenway, T. 2001, Gaia’s Garden: a guide to home-scale Permaculture, Chelsea Green Publishing Company, Vermont, USA.

(5) Holmgren, D. 1997, ‘Weeds or Wild Nature?‘ in David Holmgren: Collected Writings and Presentations 1978-2006, Holmgren Design Services, Hepburn, Victoria.

(6) Holmgren, D. (2002), Permaculture: principles and pathways beyond sustainability. Holmgren Design Services, Hepburn, Victoria.

(7) Holmgren, D. (2011). ‘Weeds or Wild Nature: A Permaculture Perspective‘. Plant Production Quarterly, 26(3), 92-97.

(8) Plumwood, V. (2006). ‘The Concept of a Cultural Landscape: Nature, Culture and Agency in the Land‘. Ethics and the Environment, 11(2), 115–150, p.119.

(9) Ibid, p.130.

4 responses to “Native animals in a Non-nativist forest: results of a brief and random sample

  1. In my other careers as forester and mycofarmer I have seen how one flip comment from an ‘ expert ‘ / guru / charismatic conman / spruiker / Brigadier General can be taken as gospel by a naieve , unskilled audience .

    One sunrise industry we know well has been nearly completely destroyed by a few ‘expert’ stupid advice .

    I have had people weeping at my kitchen table , bankrupt because they took the ‘experts’ one sentence of advice at face value .

    Experts have a grave responsibility to give understandable , nuanced information , in context and delivered at a level the crowd can understand .

    Mr Rehwinkel is no kind of expert , and has proved himself unworthy of a repeat visit .

    What is more astounding is that the NRM ‘ experts ‘ in the audience didn’t have the knowledge , ethics or guts to call him on his deeply stupid comment .

    These are the people spending our taxes ?

    PM

  2. Animals could not care less if the plants are native or non-native. They do not share the prejudices of humans. Claims to the contrary are ridiculous.

    At the insect level, however, there are sometimes host/predator relationships that are narrow. Even in that case there is usually a chemically similar non-native plant that is a perfectly acceptable substitute. Nativists often deny these substitutions, but whenever empirical studies are done, these assumptions are overturned.

  3. Pingback: Non-nativist progress. | Flood Creek Non-Nativist Landcare

  4. Pingback: Peter Andrews at Flood Creek | Flood Creek Non-Nativist Landcare

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