There was a time when African Lovegrass ranked low on Monaro farmers’ concerns.
But now the introduced species is spreading to areas previously thought free, threatening prime grazing land and pristine bush, while posing a bushfire risk.
African Lovegrass had a minor presence on farms north of Cooma during the 1930's, but it's dominating presence on grazing properties and adjacent bush country has been highlighted since the droughts which blighted the area during the 1980's.
The apparently contradictory nature of the grass, is that despite it’s rampant growth following the smallest fall of rain, when it is green, stock find it quiet palatable.
But, as landholder, David Goggin, “Billilingra”, Cooma, pointed out, after the first frost, there is absolutely no value in the plant for his stock.
“We get good grazing when it is green after summer rain, but nothing during the winter,” he said.
And indeed, the dominant growth of African Lovegrass completely obliterates native species as easily as the introduced sub-clover and phalaris species which also provide superior grazing.
Further, the rampant growth of the non-native specie which has so easily adapted to conditions on the Monaro, and is now spreading to adjacent regions is creating hazardous bush fire conditions.
According to information provided by NSW Rural Fire Service, Monaro District Officer, Cooma, Fred Nichols, “there is the potential to have a fire anytime during the year.”
“We now have a 12 month bushfire season because of the African Lovegrass,” he said.
We now have a 12 month bushfire season because of the African Lovegrass- Fred Nichols
“Unlike other grass fires, Lovegrass fires are extremely hard to fight, and especially under windy conditions, but also because it burns in three stages and at different speeds.”
Mr Nichols noted those three stages as (1), burning the top of the plant, (2) burning the stem and (3) continue burning to the ground.
“But the single biggest risk is re-ignition, as the fire can start at any time even though it might be thought to have been fully controlled,” he said.
“Sheep numbers have decreased by at least 50 percent, due to difficulty in taking ewes through the winter.”