63 6 Developing the desert – potential effects on wildlife Chris Dickman, Aaron Greenville and Glenda Wardle Introduction The dogger and prospector follow the explorer the survey party follows both and makes record of their findings and hard upon their heels has been the stockman with his cattle, horses, donkeys, and camels, his sheep and goats and dogs and the great hosts of the uninvited also – the rabbits, the foxes and the feral cats. The results of all this are hailed by the statistician and economist as progress, and a net increase in the wealth of the country, but if the devastation which is worked to the flora and fauna could be assessed in terms of the value which future generations will put upon them, it might be found that our wool- clips, and beef and timber trades have been dearly bought. (Finlayson 1935) Arid regions of Australia cover ~5.5 million km2 – three-quarters of the continent. This immense area supports a population of ~600 000 people, just under 3% of the overall Australian population (Stafford Smith and Cribb 2009). Pastoralism is the major form of land use and occupies most of the arid land area, but other significant desert enterprises include mining, tourism and conservation, as well as recreation and service industries near major watercourses and centres such as Uluru, Alice Springs and Mt Isa (Dickman et al. 2014). Around 300 000 km2 are designated as Indigenous Protected Areas, occupied by many of the 93 000 people of Aboriginal descent for whom the desert is home (Brown et al. 2008). The vast plains of the interior are often viewed as under-populated and ripe for increased exploitation of their aesthetic, biotic and other natural resources. This has led policy-makers to offer assistance programs (e.g. drought and mining subsidies) to ensure that desert residents remain where they are, and incentives such as start-up packages and tax breaks to attract entrepreneurs to begin new enterprises (Callender et al. 2011). This emphasis on financial capital has often overlooked other capital, such as human, social, physical, cultural and natural, essential for maintaining sustainable livelihoods in desert regions (Stafford Smith and Cribb 2009). In the Australian deserts, two further factors are usually also overlooked in discussions about ‘progress’ and economic development: the ‘boom and bust’ nature of the climate, and the vulnerability of some plants, animals and other organisms to environmental change (Finlayson 1935 Dickman and Wardle 2012 Dickman et al. 2014 Seddon et al. 2016). Native mammals declined dramatically with wide-ranging changes to the environment that accompanied the arrival of European settlers ~19 species of small and medium-sized rodents and marsupials disappeared from arid Australia, within 150 years of settlement (Morton 1990).
Downloaded from CSIRO with access from at 188.8.131.52 on Oct 3, 2022, 11:58 AM. (c) CSIRO Publishing