THE Australian Government Department of the Environment (DE) has come under fire for its recent move to nominate artificial watering points in the rangelands as a key threatening process.
A key threatening process comes under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (EPBC Act) and provides official recognition that a process is a key threat to biodiversity at the national level.
The DE document titled, Biodiversity decline and habitat degradation in the arid and semi-arid Australian rangelands due to the proliferation, placement and management of artificial watering points states that artificial watering points cause habitat degradation and increase the abundance and spread of predators including foxes, dingoes and cane toads.
It calls for a threat abatement plan which could include further research into how artificial watering points can be closed or fenced so the water is not freely available.
The DE defined artificial watering points as any watering points that were not naturally occurring and were accessible to wildlife in the landscape, including bores, bore drains, wells, piped reticulation, troughs, walk-in-dams and storage tanks.
But the Pastoralists and Graziers Association (PGA) has condemned the move.
The DE document stated that artificial watering points facilitated the spread of cane toads through the Kimberley-Pilbara corridor and in the absence of these, toads would be unable to colonise the Pilbara.
In its submission to the DE, the PGA said it was unfair to blame artificial watering points for the invasive nature of cane toads.
"It is clear that selective pressure has allowed cane toads to rapidly adapt to different environmental conditions in Australia," it said.
"While exploitation of artificial watering points may facilitate the spread of cane toads along the Kimberley-Pilbara corridor, there are no major rivers from the De Grey River, north of Port Hedland to the Fitzroy River outflow.
"This supposed 'corridor' is straddled by seven pastoral leases, whose eastern boundaries typically meet desert country that supports little other than isolated mining operations.
"Lateral thinking would suggest that artificial watering points could be better used as bait to capture and kill cane toads."
PGA policy adviser, grains, livestock and climate change, Ian Randles said it was a low blow aimed at the beef industry in Australia.
"It is just another blow to the confidence of those involved in the industry," he said.
"The DE has chosen to engage in a paper exercise that would only undermine the confidence in the future of the northern beef industry.
"While the consultation document seeks to hold responsible artificial watering points as a key threatening process, the Commonwealth Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet has formed a North Australia Taskforce to deliver on the incoming government's election commitment of a White Paper on Developing Northern Australia.
"The PGA is bewildered that while one arm of government is looking to develop the north of Australia, another arm is seeking to list a key component of the pastoral industry as a threatening process.
"It is difficult to envisage any future development of the beef industry in northern Australia without artificial watering points."
The public comment period closes on February 28, 2014.