Eddie Game, lead scientist and director of conservation at The Nature Conservancy, recently shared the incredible success story of the Ord River Regeneration Reserve (ORRR) in northwestern Australia.
Game raised the ORRR as an example of what good people can do with damaged and degraded land.
“Last month, I shared a study that I conducted with some of Australia’s leading experts … that argues there is such a thing as uncontested land,” he wrote in a LinkedIn post. “So, what can we do with those lands?
According to Game, the Kimberly region was horribly damaged by cattle by the 1960s. A “before” photo of the area shows a wasteland with stretches of bare dirt broken only by dead trees and a few scraggly plants.
However, the after photo is a different story.
“Started in the 1960s because of concern that erosion from heavily overgrazed land would be a threat to the downstream reservoir (Lake Argyle), cattle properties were purchased to form the Ord River Regeneration Reserve (ORRR),” said Game.
According to Monument Australia, 80 members of the Department of Agriculture WA worked to fence off sections of the land so they could herd cattle and wild donkeys out of it to then reseed the area with buffelgrass, birdwood grass, and kapok bush.
“By the start of the 1980s, the ORRR was assessed as being in ‘very good condition,’ with the land once again capable of supporting sustainable grazing,” said Game. “It’s an incredible example of how we can turn degraded environments into thriving ecosystems by identifying these lands, removing the pressure to keep them in production, and valuing the ecosystem service they provide when they’re healthy.”
This outcome is hopeful for communities whose economies and environments have been damaged by the overuse of natural resources.
For example, mining for materials like lithium can devastate the surrounding area, destroying plants and wildlife. The depleted land left behind can’t support life and may be polluted. But as the ORRR shows, even severe damage can be reversed with enough time and resources.
Commenters were concerned that the land could still be at risk, with one saying, “There just isn’t a sustainable way to graze cattle in Australia.”
Game replied, “I don’t believe the ORRR has been restocked, but rather, that was the land capability assessment … I agree that Australian ecosystems would be better with no cattle.”
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