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Gamba: Mission not impossible

Assessing the prevalence of, controlling its spread and raising community awareness of Gamba Grass were the key goals for a multi-agency taskforce that descended on Cooktown in April; and the verdict was - success.  

A convoy of utes driven by representatives from local councils and other agencies from as far south as Hinchinbrook, took to the roads around Cook Shire during the course of one week, and identified, mapped and sprayed Gamba grass across 37 properties, as well as public roadsides, and reserves.

“The response from landholders has been terrific and overwhelmingly positive,” Darryn Higgins, the Biosecurity and Local Laws Manager at the Cook Shire Council, said. 

 “There is now a much stronger awareness amongst residents as to what Gamba grass is, what threats it poses and how to manage this species. It has also provided us with a much clearer picture of distribution.”

There was a particular sense of urgency in taking down Gamba grass. A restricted invasive plant under the Biosecurity Act 2014, it's a fast growing species which can overrun local ecosystems and fuel fires with intensities well above that posed by native vegetation.

“The precedent we are hoping to avoid is the Northern Territory experience where risks posed by Gamba grass were ignored for years,” Darryn said.

“This has led to a situation where fire management and Gamba control now costs the Northern Territory community tens of millions of dollars annually. In addition, local ecosystems are being permanently altered and carbon farming projects are no longer viable.”

The taskforce was hosted by Cook Shire Council and Cape York NRM, and the teams created under the Far North Queensland Regional Association of Councils taskforce model.

Darryn said Council knew a Taskforce model would work in Cooktown but the sticking point was financial for the remote Cooktown region.  

“When Cape York NRM indicated that they would be able to support a program targeting Gamba grass we jumped at the opportunity.”

Cape York NRM’s Coastal Ecosystems Coordinator Dave Preece said the team work was unique, efficient and cost effective. 

“It’s the first time we’ve seen a collaboration of this kind up here, where councils and other agencies are teaming up to try and stamp out this weed which is affecting Northern Queensland,” he said.

“We’re hoping that with this project, Gamba Grass will not only be reduced, but it will be the start of a more coordinated approach to monitoring and control efforts.”

Others involved in the project included South Cape York Catchments, Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service, Biosecurity Queensland, Traditional Owners, and private landholders.

You can read the full interview with Darryn More Higgins in our new-look biannual magazine, LandSCAPE, out next month. 

The Coordinated Gamba Grass Management Project is funded by the Australian Government's Reef Trust.