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The natural world. Looking pretty for 3.5b years.

Repairing Cars and Environments

Author: Hugh Bollinger/Wednesday, December 27, 2017/Categories: natural history, wildlife conservation, sustainability, environment, adventure , climate change

Land restoration in the wheatbelt of Western Australia wheatbelt is the subject of a fascinating book, Lifting the bonnet on Western Australia’s Ancient Woodlands, published by World Wildlife Fund-Australia. 

      Lifting the Bonnet on Wheatbelt Woodlands by Nathan McQuoid  (credit: WWF)

 The book showcases native WA woodlands and their inner ecological workings as reference points for restoring degraded areas. It uses obscure locations in this vast and complex landscape and compares the conservation of these ecosystems to restoring classic cars.

Repairing damaaged environments presents a large undertaking and involves much of Australian history. Beginning at the end of WWI and continuing until well after WWII, the national government established a program known as  soldier settlements that offered land to returning military people. In little inhabited and remote areas, the main requirement was the requirement that soldiers must clear and occupy the land by planting crops in return for ownership. Land clearing commenced over millions of acres of bushland.
In Western Australia, this meant that soldiers were settled in regions now called "wheatlands" for the primary crop produced. These semi-arid landscape had been covered by woodlands, shrubs, and sparse grasses that had survived millions of years untouched except by fires.

         Land Cleaning, WA, 1959 (credit: NAA)                     WA's Wheatlands  (credit: WWF-Australia)

While the settlement schemes were good public policy, the unique ecological and environmental characteristics of the region were not appreciated. Like similar efforts in the western USA where short-grass prairies in Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, and eastern Colorado were converted into wheat production, this eventually led to the epic Dust Bowl of John Steinbeck and Woody Guthrie stories. The conversion of the native landscapes in Western Australia produced unforeseen consequences as well. Soil salinization, land degradation, and farm abandonment are now common. According to Australia's Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization (CSIRO), nearly 2.5 million acres of once wooded Western Australian wheatlands were affected by salinization and now abandoned.

                     WA Soil Salinization                                            Abandoned Farm, Wheatbelt, WA 
                     (credit: CSIRO)                                                          (credit: The Australian)

With this mix of history and ecology, the new guide to restoring WA woodlands likens the management of this complex landscape to the restoration of a classic car. Lifting the Bonnet on Wheatbelt Woodlands author Nathan McQuoid offers a practical and pragmatic approach to management and restoration of these lands by suggesting:

“Ecosystems are essentially complex organic machines and by understanding their connections, functional elements, and processes we can keep them going, and begin to repair many from a broken-down state to a restoration success story. To restore a classic car, we need to know how the original looked and worked, as well."

1962 Ford Utility Vehicle, Western Australia (credit: WWF-Australia)

I don't know much about iconic vehicles but I do know everyone appreciates them. Likewise, the same should be said about the unique plants and ecosystems that once covered the landscapes of Western Australia. They too could use a bit of loving attention that this land restoration guide provides.



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