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International Programs News & Views Volume 7

Feb. 1998

Landcare Australia, Scientific and Technical Exchange

A U.S. Team commissioned  by former Chief Paul Johnson was assembled to evaluate the Landcare movement in Australia and to provide recommendations on any elements which could add value to conservation efforts in the U.S. through our infrastructure which has a number of similar elements to the Australian model.  

This team consisted of: Jon Anderson, Past President, NASCA; Larry Clark, USDA-NRCS; Michele Eginoire, USDA-NRCS; Diane Gelburd, USDA-NRCS;  Ruth McWilliams, USDA- Forest Service;  Max Schnepf, USDA-NRCS;  Reggie Skains, President, National Association of RC&D; Gerald Vap, President, NACD; Bill Wilcox, NASF.

The U.S. Team attended the National Conference on Landcare Changing Australia held in Adelaide, South Australia, from September 14-19, 1997; met with Australia Landcare, Ltd; officials and corporate sponsors; and reviewed Landcare projects with landowners and other project volunteers.  Site visits, attendance at seminars, and literature reviews were also conducted by the team.

The U.S. Delegation met with various Australian Landcare officials, including:  Brian Scarsbrick, Chief Executive of Australia Landcare, Ltd; Andrew Johnson, Manager of Planning and Strategic Development, Primary Industries; and Primary Industries employees and Landcare Group members.

In 1995 and 1997 previous scientific and technical exchanges in Australia were achieved to evaluate Landcare.  These exchange work groups recommended further evaluation of the many facets of Landcare and the many values for applying aspects of Landcare, as developed in Australia, for use in the U.S.  As a result of these first exchanges, the Oxford County SWCD (Maine) is now a partner with Landcare Australia through a signed declaration.

Background

Australia has a very fragile environment, whose ancient shallow and infertile soils are susceptible to floods and droughts with limited water resources.  Australia is approximately the same size as the continental U.S.;  and is the driest continent in the world, having only three major rivers.  Australia’s natural resource concerns also include: deforestation, habitat degradation, animal extinction, soil structure decline, erosion, salinity, and acidity issues effecting more than half of Australia’s farmland.

In 1989, Prime Minister Bob Hawks pronounced the 90’s as the Decade of Landcare. Initiated by the Australian Soil Conservation Council, with support from the Australian Conservation Foundation and the National Farmers Federation, the aim is to encourage people to work towards sustainable land use by the year 2000.  The Commonwealth Government has committed funding for Landcare activities until that time.

Landcare Australia grew out of the need to address serious environmental problems in Australia in a positive way.  Earlier attempts by the government to address severe problems through narrow and segmented programs were largely unsuccessful.  The aim of Landcare is to make care of the land a national cause in which all individuals, groups, communities, and companies have roles to play.  The concept is one of community-based groups working in partnership with government.  It began in the 80’s with farmers addressing land degradation due to inappropriate farming techniques or practices which were producing serious economic and environmental problems.

The concept began to become more popular as more communities of people became concerned about the environment.  Today Landcare groups are addressing environmental issues from urban, coastal, river, office, and other perspectives.  Programs have been formed to respond to the varying concerns, such as Bushcare, Coastcare, Rivercare, and Officecare.  Surveys report that 70% of the Australian citizens are familiar with this nationwide environmental movement.

Landcare is considered a “middle of the road” approach to conservation of natural resources by encouraging land owners and users on a group basis to take responsibility for local problems by joining together to tackle issues.  It is a partnership of land holders and others in the community with industry and government to promote sustainable management of land, water, and living natural resources for the benefit of the whole community.  Landcare groups now number more than 4,000 and represent a powerful network influential in rural affairs.  Greater numbers of non-landowning citizens in municipal and regional urban areas are becoming involved as well.

Local Landcare groups apply for funds from numerous sources, but much of the work is done by volunteer labor.  Projects are varied and include completing water catchment management plans, restoring original creek beds, revegetating areas with native plants, planting trees, installing conservation buffers and the necessary fencing along creeks, relocating fence lines, reclaiming parking lot runoff and sewage effluent, stabilizing eroding dunes, restoring wetlands, developing recreational paths to keep people off fragile areas, and getting business to manage their wastes.  The broader societal benefits also include community cohesiveness and awareness about the environment and sustainable land management.

Corporate involvement in landcare includes the promotion of sustainable management of natural resources by adopting sustainable practices.  A Landcare Foundation was formed by Landcare Australia Limited (a non-profit company) to raise money for marketing and project activities.  Through the Foundation major donors can “adopt” a group, a project, or a catchment.

Support of Landcare efforts by corporate sponsors is seen as an opportunity to reach wide ranges of groups, develop good working relationships, create customer bases, and concentrate community efforts on landcare activities as well improve their own management practices.

Team lessons learned

U.S. Work group participants identified the following issues :

  • Self sufficiency will take time to attain, especially when coupled with economic realities and high costs of repairing degradation.
  • Landcare is about local action planning, not national consistency; but local area plans do need to be linked to regional plans.  People need to be compensated for setting aside preserves for biodiversity.  Solutions must be suited to the environment where people live.
  • A tax regime is being viewed as a possible way through levies in the food system to broaden funds for provisions of environmental benefits.  A program in Victoria contemplating a new tree planting program to address global climate change could encourage up to $A25 (Australian dollars) per citizen a year in tax-deductible contributions.
  • Local Agenda 21 is a charter for local authorities to promote sustainable development.  Cooperation and participation of local authorities is seen as vital in education, mobilizing, and responding to the public.  About 100 local government councils support Agenda 21.
  • Volunteers/Local ownership is an essential element of the Landcare movement, based on local citizens getting directly involved in the conservation of their natural resources.  The locally led conservation efforts in Australia are accomplished through Landcare projects by citizens with or without the support of government or corporate sponsors.

Recommendations

The U.S. Team has briefed the National Conservation Partnership Leaders regarding Landcare Australia activities.  Several recommendations have been made to this leadership body and will be considered over the coming months for implementation in strengthening conservation delivery efforts in the U.S.

The team has recommended (a) investigating establishment of a private, non-profit foundation [modeled after Landcare Australia] to lead marketing efforts for conservation; (b) strengthening the Earth Team Volunteer Program in such areas as environmental education and locally led conservation initiatives; (c) creating a mechanism to provide seed grants to local conservation groups in addition to the traditional incentives provided to individuals; and (d) encouraging local groups to support planning on a watershed basis.