Beutel, T.S. and Karfs, R.A. and Bull, A.L. and Peel, L. and Wallace, J.F. (2004) VegMachine - putting pastoralists in the picture. Other. Department of Primary Industries & Fisheries. (Unpublished)
Australia’s rangelands are the extensive arid and semi-arid grazing lands that cover approximately 70% of the Australian continent. They are characterised by low and generally variable rainfall, low productivity and a sparse population. They support a number of industries including mining and tourism, but pastoralism is the primary land use.
In some areas, the rangelands have a history of biological decline (Noble 1997), with erosion, loss of perennial native grasses and incursion of woody vegetation commonly reported in the scientific and lay literature. Despite our historic awareness of these trends, the establishment of systems to measure and monitor degradation, has presented numerous problems. The size and accessibility of Australia’s rangeland often mitigates development of extensive monitoring programs. So, too, securing on-going commitment from Government agencies to fund rangeland monitoring activities have led to either abandonment or a scaled-down approach in some instances (Graetz et al. 1986; Holm 1993). While a multiplicity of monitoring schemes have been developed for landholders at the property scale, and some have received promising initial uptake, relatively few have been maintained for more than a few years on any property without at least some agency support (Pickup et al. 1998). But, ironically, such property level monitoring tools can contribute significantly to local decisions about stock, infrastructure and sustainability.
Research in recent decades has shown the value of satellites for monitoring change in rangelands (Wallace et al. 2004), especially in terms of tree and ground cover. While steadily improving, use of satellite data as a monitoring tool has been limited by the cost of the imagery, and the equipment and expertise needed to extract useful information from it. A project now under way in the northern rangelands of Australia is attempting to circumvent many of the problems through a monitoring system that allows property managers to use long-term satellite image sequences to quickly and inexpensively track changes in land cover on their properties
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