The following remarks from Kimberley Toad Busters came in as a comment on my recent post on the cane toad threat abatement plan. But sometimes the comments get a bit lost and are harder to find later, so I'm posting the remarks as an article in themselves. KTB have done quite remarkable things in the Kimberley and have certainly earned the right to be listened to - I'll also endorse the remarks that it is a part of the world well worth exploring. Unfortunately this trip was again way too short and I'm determined to get the family up there at some stage.
Also, I shouldn't really be credited as "author" of the threat abatement plan. I helped the Department prepare it, but a number of people helped shape it and then it has gone through the Threatened Species Scientific Committee several times and they are the authoritative group that provides advice to the Minister. I do agree with the end product, but encourage anyone to have their say.
Kimberley Toad Busters said…..
Many thanks to Tony for attending the Caring for the Kimberley Environmental Forum held in Kununurra on the 19th – 21st March 2010, we understand Tony spent more time traveling than actually at the forum and appreciate this effort as part of a busy schedule. Tony has made many contributions on behalf of the Government on cane toads including the first Cane Toad Forum organised by Kimberley Specialists and held in Kununurra in March 2005. It was after this forum, after learning of their impacts on wildlife and how little was known about cane toad behaviour, the community decided to form Kimberley Toad Busters. Tony is an author of the recently released TAP, these comments are by no means directed as criticism of Tony’s work, and are only suggestions how data collected by community can fill gaps in scientific knowledge and assist in informing a process like the TAP.
Kimberley Toad Busters has always been as much about gathering information to help scientists find controls for cane toads as ‘toad busting’, hence the large volume of newsletters and cane toad observations published on the website www.canetoads.com.au. Every cane toad caught has had key features including sex and length recorded, samples are dissected for analysis of Lung Worm parasite infection and stomach contents, every ‘toad busting’ trip has a field report of key activities and observations. Many scientific projects have been supported by the efforts of the volunteers. Education is a major role of Kimberley Toad Busters, throughout the Kimberley and WA, especially cane toad identification and the recorded impacts on wildlife. The result over 5 years is a remarkable example of education and community coming together to achieve action on an environmental issue.
Three years ago many volunteers felt the cane toads numbers despite ‘toad busting’ were still overwhelming and decided to increase field efforts in eradicating breeding. In short, now it appears with concentrated efforts in eradicating breeding as well as pulling mature toads out of the system community effort can reduce the speed of the cane toad invasion, cane toad numbers and impact on native biodiversity. The evidence of the impact of varying levels of community control is visible across the cane toad front line, stretching from Keep River on the NT/WA coast to Limbunya Station NT, a distance of greater than 700 km. This front line is regularly mapped by Kimberley Toad Busters volunteers. Each year greater differences in populations, or toad invasion corridors are recorded. As a snapshot example, the corridor running along the coastline has been largely uncontrolled from Bradshaw Military Base and Legune Station. This corridor has traveled at a rate of 45 km this wet season. While the main corridor, along the highway, traditionally the fastest cane toad route and a focal point of more than 100 toad busts during the dry season, has only been 15 km this wet. The important implication of this is the potential of community control in assisting natural biological controls, such as the Lung Worm parasite to play a more important role in reducing the impact of cane toads.
Quantifying this is no easy task. We are looking forward to working closely with scientists such as Dr. Ben Phillips, who has expressed interest in measuring the impact on toad movement and Lung Worm parasite infection rates of this community action. To achieve this in a three month comment period as part of the TAP can be considered unrealistic. The community group has never been in a position to employ a professional for data management or received advice on what are important aspects to record. It takes more than a couple of months to address these issues and allow dialogue between scientists and community to develop and produce a model with confidence from both sides. The three month comment period should be extended if the TAP is serious about including this data. Perhaps the greatest disappointment in the current draft of the TAP is the dismissal of qualitative information from community. Visiting locations throughout the NT people are willing to share the loss of wildlife they have experienced, they are not losses of a single species, but losses of communities including small skinks, dragons, blue-tongue and frilled-neck lizards, goannas, to a point where they are no longer seen. To people that live in those locations it is equivalent to the species becoming extinct, it is not an academic argument for them. The scientific study of select populations of specific species over a discrete time period are only a small part of the overall picture.
Kimberley Toad Busters understands the need for strategies to be built on sound scientific principles, however there are now methods, including Bayesian statistics, where qualitative information can be incorporated to fill gaps in understanding or at least include uncertainty. In a system as variable and diverse as the wet/dry tropics of Northern Australia, the scientific community should be encouraging use of as much information, qualitative and quantitative, to make sound judgment. The social impacts of cane toads appear to be also down played in the TAP, apparently study has shown people, indigenous and non-indigenous, overtime come to accept the cane toad. Education and impact on lifestyle and indigenous culture are critical aspects that have resulted in many examples that do not support the assumption. People do not want to live with toads.
We encourage everyone, globally, if they have ever had the slightest inkling now is the time to visit the Kimberley. The region is a biodiversity hotspot with a high number of species not found anywhere else in the world. The abundance of wildlife is something to be experienced, sitting under a tree delivers hours of entertainment watching the antics and interactions of butterflies, ants, small skinks, dragons, lizards, finches, birds of prey, quolls and bandicoots, to name only a few, each ecological community is different by day and by night. This is a critical component of Kimberley Toad Busters ‘What’s in Your Backyard?’ biodiversity survey program, www.canetoads.com.au/bio.htm and currently funded by Caring for our Country. The program has received huge response from people across the Kimberley since its launch in January 2009. As a community we are trying to ‘put a number’ on the wildlife now present and identify changes overtime with the arrival of cane toads and other environmental impacts including fire management and habitat fragmentation. Kimberley Toad Busters would love to extend an invitation to participate in the ‘What’s in Your Backyard?’ program to everyone across Northern Australia, perhaps then we can supply more of the quantitative information required to inform the TAP. Australia faces an ever increasing number of environmental issues. We are not going to overcome these issues with government and science alone, community needs to be included.