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Towards sustainability for Australia's rangelands: analysing the options

1 Jan 2006

The Australian rangelands occupy approximately three-quarters of the continent. They support diverse communities and businesses and make an important contribution to Australian society. The rangelands are landscapes where land use is dominated by pastoralism - extensive sheep and cattle grazing on native pastures. Rainfall is generally too low or too variable for dryland cropping or grazing on improved pastures. The rangelands include areas of comparatively undisturbed ecosystems - typically tropical savannas, woodlands, shrublands and grasslands - extending across arid, semiarid and some seasonally high rainfall areas. Understanding the implications of alternative land management options for the rangelands is important because of the large area of Australia they occupy and the reliance of rangeland communities and industries on sustainable management of natural resources. The rangelands offer the opportunity to realise substantial natural resource benefits for Australia in terms of vegetation, carbon, water and biodiversity outcomes. Significant economic and social changes are currently taking place in the rangelands, and rangeland ecosystems are under pressure. The task is to ensure that development opportunities are taken up, ecological processes are maintained and options for the future are not lost. Charting the course to a sustainable future for the rangelands presents a challenge because of the extent of the rangelands, the diversity of environmental, economic and social factors affecting outcomes, limited availability of information, and the wide range of community views and aspirations. This means that analysis must be able to accommodate spatial variation in relationships between social and environmental factors. This brief presents a way forward for examining these complex relationships in ways that promote the engagement of takeholders, account for alternative views and enable the analysis of policy options.

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