Lines in the sand

Dr. Suzanne Prober, Prof Richard Hobbs, Prof Hugh Possingham and I have recently had a paper entitled ‘Lines in the sand: quantifying the cumulative development footprint in the world’s largest remaining temperate woodland‘ published in the journal Landscape Ecology. You can view the article online here or contact me to send you a pdf and/or any appendices.

In the paper, we quantify cumulative anthropogenic development footprints for the Great Western Woodland and expose the large proportion of this that is made up of unmapped linear infrastructure. We highlight the crucial importance of explicitly accounting for the ecological impacts of linear infrastructure in impact evaluations – impacts that typically pass under the radar of impact evaluations.

We also present an analysis of key drivers of development footprint extent, both at the regional and landscape-patch levels, and provide key insights, such as the mitigative effect of pastoralism on development footprints in mining landscapes, and investigate the implications for edge effects. Our approach and methodology provide information and insights that are useful for cumulative and strategic impact assessment as well as landscape planning and conservation, and can be applied to other relatively intact landscapes worldwide.

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Fig. 3 Contribution of different anthropogenic disturbance types to total direct development footprint, with some examples. a) Contribution of different types of infrastructure to total footprint. b) An example of ‘hub’ infrastructure: an abandoned gold mine. c) Aerial view showing both hub and linear infrastructure of a mine and associated exploration grids. d) Aerial view of exploration grids passing through shrubland and woodland vegetation, the white dots are drill pads. e) A mapped track leading to Helena-Aurora Range, one of the banded ironstone formations where mining is currently proposed. The track was probably initially built for mineral exploration purposes and is now used by miners, conservation agencies, and tourists. f) A ground-truthed unmapped track with abandoned exploration drilling sample bags to the left. An abandoned hydrocarbon drum was found further along this track.

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Overview of Keren’s PhD research

Enigmatic impacts of mining and linear infrastructure development in Australia’s Great Western Woodlands

Background and aims

Extensive developments, such as mining, and oil and gas extraction, in relatively intact landscapes, can have numerous ecological impacts that affect the ecosystems within which they are situated. These impacts are often poorly understood and even more poorly accounted for in impact evaluations, biodiversity offsets, and regional conservation or land-use plans that are intended to mitigate impacts and protect the ecological assets and natural values of the landscapes in question.

This research is directed at improving our ability to conceptualise and account for these ‘enigmatic’ impacts in order to improve the decisions that we make in planning, approving, managing and offsetting extensive developments in relatively intact landscapes, with a focus on mitigating the ecological effects of mining and exploration Western Australia’s Great Western Woodland.

The Great Western Woodlands

The Great Western Woodlands is an internationally significant area of great biological richness, owing partly to its 250 million year continuous biological heritage, its location at the interzone between the moist southwest corner of Australia and the arid interior, and its relative intactness. At 16 million hectares, the Great Western Woodlands is larger than England and represents the largest remaining temperate woodland on earth. The region comprises a mosaic of woodland; shrubland; mallee; casuarina and melaleuca thickets; rocky outcrops; halophytic vegetation; salt lakes; and banded ironstone formations, and is the driest place in which such tall woodlands grow. The area is home to almost one third of Australia’s eucalypt taxa and well over 3000 flowering plant species (more than twice the number that occur in the whole of the UK), as well as many species that occur nowhere else in the world.

The Great Western Woodlands is also a very rich and productive mineral province, with 134 operating mines and 119,303 ‘abandoned mines’ registered within its boundaries, as well as more than 5000 current mineral tenements covering more than 60% of the region. Mining in the region mainly targets gold, nickel and iron ore, but commercial quantities of silver, copper, cobalt, gypsum, salt, and construction materials are also extracted.

The Great Western Woodlands

This research consisted of:

  1. A review of ecological impacts that are frequently overlooked in impact evaluations but that continue to cause ecological loss and degradation, with a proposed framework for conceptualising and addressing these issues published in the highly-ranked journal Trends in Ecology and Evolution.
  2. A spatial analysis of ground disturbance in the Great Western Woodlands using GIS and remote sensing to identify and characterise cumulative impacts and areas within disturbance buffers, as well as associations between disturbed areas and disturbance types, land tenure, tenement history, and selected environmental values.  A key outcome of this work has been the identification of roads, tracks and other linear infrastructure corridors as major components of the disturbance regime, despite their impacts being particularly poorly understood (the following sections go some way toward addressing this knowledge gap).
  3. An observational field investigation using motion-sensor cameras and spoor (scats, prints, etc.) surveys to understand the effects of roads and tracks on predator activity within relatively intact landscapes.
  4. A survey of ephemeral drainage lines, erosional features, and water pooling features, and their association with linear infrastructure corridors to characterise and quantify the type and extent of impacts of linear infrastructure on water movement across landscapes.

Prudent strategic assessment and comprehensive mitigation that accounts for all impacts — even enigmatic ones — could provide improved environmental and land-use planning outcomes while potentially benefiting development proponents by providing greater upfront guidance and certainty of access to specified areas, and enhancing their ‘social licence to operate’.

This research contributes to efforts to conserve in perpetuity a relatively intact ecosystem that dates back to Gondwanan times and is internationally significant for its biodiversity and wilderness values. It is also an area cherished by its traditional owners in the cultural and spiritual connections they have with the land, and by many others who prize the region and its unique landscape.

This PhD project was supervised by Professor Richard Hobbs (University of Western Australia), Dr Suzanne Prober (CSIRO), Professor Hugh Possingham (University of Queensland), Dr Leonie Valentine and Dr Kerrie Wilson (University of Queensland), and has been supported by the UWA Gledden Postgraduate Research Scholarship, the Australian Research Council’s Centre of Excellence for Environmental Decisions, the National Environmental Research Program Environmental Decisions Hub, and The Wilderness Society. It runs in association with the Terrestrial Environmental Research Network’s Great Western Woodlands Supersite and the work of GondwanaLink and Pew Trusts.

Keren’s full PhD thesis is available at: http://research-repository.uwa.edu.au/files/10146368/THESIS_DOCTOR_OF_PHILOSOPHY_RAITER_Keren_Gila_2016.pdf

 See my publications for papers and datasets that have emerged from this research.
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Being quoted

I just came across an interesting book recently published by Random House in the UK called Linescapes: Remapping and Reconnecting Britain’s Fragmented Wildlife, by Hugh Warwick. In the book, the author discussed some of my research, published a few years ago in an article called ‘Under the radar: mitigating enigmatic ecological impacts‘ (contact me if you’d like a copy).

I really like the discussion, even though he’s misquoted me a little (still, the point I was making is unchanged). What a nice feeling to see my research quoted as an example of ‘recent thinking’ and incorporated into the global discourse in such an obviously well-researched and thoughtful book. I hope to have more of my reasearch on the ecological implications of the lines that we draw through wild landscapes published soon too!

Click on this link to see the discussion: https://books.google.com.au/books?id=REEtDQAAQBAJ&pg=PT150&dq=keren+raiter&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwjck5aRmOjUAhWDabwKHbWuDKYQ6AEIKDAA#v=onepage&q=keren%20raiter&f=false

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Here is the book’s blurb: It is rare to find a landscape untouched by our lines – the hedges, walls, ditches and dykes built to enclose and separate; and the green lanes, roads, canals, railways and power lines, designed to connect. This vast network of lines has transformed our landscape.
In Linescapes, Hugh Warwick unravels the far-reaching ecological consequences of the lines we have drawn: as our lives and our land were being fenced in and threaded together, so wildlife habitats have been cut into ever smaller, and increasingly unviable, fragments.
I’d love to hear any comments from anyone who has read it!

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Jungkajungka Woodlands Festival

jungkajungka_poster_final.jpgDon’t miss being a part of the inaugural Jungkajungka Woodlands Festival, held over Easter in Norseman, Western Australia—the Heart of the Great Western Woodlands. This event is organised by the Wilderness Society in collaboration with the Shire of Dundas, GondwanaLink, and with support from a number of other organisations.

This is Ngadju country and the festival organisers acknowledge the traditional owners of this part of the Great Western Woodlands and thank them for co-hosting the festival.

I’ll be talking as part of the presentations on Saturday afternoon on Woodlands Knowledge.

For more information, including how to register (for free), go to:

https://www.wilderness.org.au/events/jungkajungka-woodlands-festival-wa

or click here to download the full program.

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The Great Western Woodlands: a biological wonderland, a poem, a movement

I’m pleased to share that I have had one of my poems used as the voiceover for the Wilderness Society’s Great Western Woodlands campaign that they launched last month. The poem is called Biological Cornucopia and is one of a suite of  poems that I wrote about the enigmatic ecological impacts of mining and associated linear infrastructure development in the Great Western Woodlands, the subject of the PhD that I completed last year.

My PhD was focused on the conservation of large, relatively intact landscapes in the face of widespread development such as resource extraction: a challenge of global conservation significance. In particular, ‘enigmatic’ ecological impacts that commonly evade consideration in conservation strategies invariably pervade such landscapes. Keren investigated the significance and ecological implications of linear infrastructure (e.g. roads, tracks and railways) largely associated with mining activity in the largest and most intact remaining temperate woodland on earth. Keren discovered significant effects on attributes of key ecosystem processes, including predator activity and water movement and recommends ways in which these impacts could be ameliorated.

Great cudos to Amy Matheson for excellent editing, and to the amazong team at the Wilderness Society for their great work on the campaign.

If you’re inspired to experience the Great Western Woodlands, consider joining the inaugural Jungka Jungka Woodlands Festival to be held in Norseman in April.

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The Great Western Woodlands Campaign Launch: 3rd February 2017

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All are invited to join the Wilderness Society for a special celebration of the Great Western Woodlands (GWW), one of West Australia’s most significant natural spaces. They’ll be launching a new campaign for the Great Western Woodlands and showcasing the new GWW website and video.

The GWW is the largest unfragmented woodland left on earth. It is vast, beautiful and unprotected. The GWW has remained home to a remarkable richness and diversity of plant and animal life. With over 3,300 flowering plant species, there are more native plants in the Great Western Woodlands than in the whole of Canada! This is a great opportunity to learn more about the GWW, why it’s under threat, and how you can help preserve it for all Australians.

This event will also exhibit work from local artists with a focus on natural spaces and the Australian outback including some  stunning photos of the GWW. I’ll be giving a presentation about the incredible environmental values of the GWW and my research in it, and also presenting a poem that I wrote about my experience doing field research in the GWW and reflections on the magnificent Helena Aurora Range and the proposal to mine it.

RSVP by Wednesday the 1st of February and…

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Friday the 3rd of February 2017.
6.30 – 8.30pm.
North Perth Town Hall.
26 View St, North Perth WA 6006.

Food and drinks provided.

RSVP at: http://wilderness.nationbuilder.com/wa_gww_launch_event

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In defense of science

As a government scientist in Australia, I stand in solidarity with those around the world who are restricted from enabling informed decisions

Being A Better Scientist

I (Pleuni Pennings) endorse the following, which was drafted by Graham Coop (UC Davis), Michael Eisen (UC Berkeley) and Molly Przeworski (Columbia):

We are deeply concerned by the Trump administration’s move to gag scientists working at various governmental agencies. The US government employs scientists working on medicine, public health, agriculture, energy, space, clean water and air, weather, the climate and many other important areas. Their job is to produce data to inform decisions by policymakers, businesses and individuals. We are all best served by allowing these scientists to discuss their findings openly and without the intrusion of politics. Any attack on their ability to do so is an attack on our ability to make informed decisions as individuals, as communities and as a nation.

If you are a government scientist who is blocked from discussing their work, we will share it on your behalf, publicly or with the appropriate recipients…

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