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Bigger taskforce for bigger results

The biggest Gamba Grass Taskforce to date is expected in  Cooktown on April 15 to begin the annual program of eradication of the noxious weed. 

The taskforce has grown to 11 teams made up of representatives from the Far North Queensland Regional Organisation of Councils (FNQROC) - including Hinchinbrook, Cook, Mareeba, Douglas, and the Tableland shires - and includes crews from the Queensland Department of Resources, Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service, Jabalbina Rangers and Melsonby Rangers.

“This is the third time the task force has formed to carry out weed control in what has become a really successful collaboration between councils and other agencies in preventing the spread of a non-native grass,” Cape York NRM Program Manager David Preece said. 

Gamba grass (Andropogon gayanus) is a restricted invasive plant under the Biosecurity Act 2014. It is fast growing and can overrun local ecosystems, impact the nutrient and water availability in the soil, and fuel fires with intensities well above that posed by native vegetation. It was originally introduced from tropical Africa. It is spread by seeds that are dispersed by wind or water, and from mud attached to vehicles and machinery. 

The taskforce was formed in 2021 by pooling shire council resources. Cape York NRM  secured funding to provide assistance in the form of logistical support, including meals and accommodation for the project.

Darryn Higgins, Cook Shire’s Biosecurity and Local Laws Manager, said the taskforce was an ideal concept for the Council.

“We get to conduct an enormous volume of work in a short period by sharing combined resources. It also builds relationships and networks across boundaries, promotes the interchange of knowledge, and allows officers to see unfamiliar species firsthand so that they can be immediately recognised when encountered in a new location,” he said.

“We have introduced a GIS data collection system which has dramatically increased existing knowledge of distribution that is critical to future programs and ongoing monitoring.” 

The taskforce carries out the work over four to five days.  A convoy of utes are equipped with weed sprayers, with the target being gamba grass on or around properties (with landholder permission), roadsides, and reserves.

Darryn said until the teams get out there, the extent of the spread after so much rain is unknown.

“This has been an exceptionally wet year,” he said. “We are yet to observe an increase in distribution post-Cyclone Jasper, but once we get going we will be able to identify impacts, and follow up with surveillance later this year, around June/July.”

In terms of accessing the weed, Darryn said all roads are currently open in the targeted areas.

“Luckily, some crews are also bringing ATVs [All Terrain Vehicles] such as Gators, that can access wetter areas if required. But hopefully, the weather will stay fine for the next couple of weeks allowing taskforce members to get into all areas.”

The taskforce has been focusing on areas around the Annan/Endeavour catchment, and adjoining sections of the Jeannie and Normanby catchments.

This year it will also place specific emphasis on the south, around Mungumby Creek.

“We are hoping for complete eradication in this area,” Darryn said. “We are also hoping to eradicate the species north of Endeavour Valley Rd.”

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