By Paul Hemsley
The Queensland government will deploy unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) on missions to more accurately drop payloads of herbicide on noxious weeds including prickly acacia, mesquite, parkinsonia and rubber vine to help halt their spread across the state.
Commonly referred to as “drones”, the machines better known for firing lethal payloads at enemy combatants in the Middle East are now being deployed domestically because they can to cover one hectare every eight minutes in the air and can hit targets within one metre of accuracy.
The robot aircraft offer the government a distinct advantage over traditional weed control measures like crop dusting or sending in crews in land vehicles because pests can be more precisely targeted in often inaccessible areas. At the same time, non-target plants are spared, thereby reducing the amount poison needed to get a kill.
The UAVs are being used as part of the Campbell Newman government’s new Area Management Plan (AMP), which was established to not only allow for more effective weed control but to untangle rural landowners from the previous Labor government’s “mountain of red tape”.
Minister for Natural Resources and Mines Andrew Cripps claimed these landowners under Labor were “drowned in paperwork” attempting to carry out the most routine property management tasks such as weed control.
“Now they will be able to get on with the job of killing weeds to maintain the productivity of their pasture lands,” Mr Cripps said.
According to the state government, the AMP will cover shires in Western Bioregions code areas prescribed under the Vegetation Management Act 1999.
These areas will include the Mt Isa, Richmond, Cloncurry, McKinlay, Flinders, Barcaldine, Winton, Boulia, Longreach, Blackall, Tambo, Murweh, Quilpie, Diamantina, Barcoo, Bulloo and Paroo shires.
Mr Cripps said these sites have been problematic in the past because of varying topography, vary high density weed infestations and the presence of native species.
To combat this vegetation menace, the government announced that community-based natural resource management body Desert Channels Queensland (DCQ) will use the drones to be operated by local aviation company PBE Services.
DCQ chief executive officer Leanne Kohler said DCQ would develop five-year property-based weed plans with property owners to ensure long term control of the target weed species.
“It is expected that 250,000 hectares per year will have reduced impacts from weed species as a direct result of work carried out by DCQ through the AMP,” Ms Kohler said.
She said reducing these weed infestations will improve the biodiversity of regional ecosystems, promote suitable conditions for growing native species and improve the water quality and habitat of waterways and wetlands.
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