Australia Tries To Slow ‘Deforestation Catastrophe’

Martin Taylor, a leading authority on land-use change with WWF-Australia and the University of Queensland, tells us about efforts to staunch a deadly tide of deforestation in Australia.

Beginning in 2012, rapid forest loss in the vast state of Queensland pushed Australia back onto the global list of deforestation fronts — placing Australia among the worst forest-destroying nations on Earth.

This occurred after a newly-elected conservative government in Queensland reduced controls over bulldozing of native forests and woodlands — a move later followed by other Australian states.

Bulldozing of forests and woodlands, mostly for livestock pastures, quickly ballooned after the controls were weakened.  Scientists and conservationists, both in Australia and internationally, were appalled.

The results have been a catastrophe for Australian wildlife.  At least 45 million mammals, birds, and reptiles are estimated to die every year as a result of habitat bulldozing, including over 1,000 koalas.

But a more progressive government in Queensland has just proposed new legislation to protect mature vegetation and high-conservation-value regrowth.

The new legislation is part of an election promise to drive down excessive land-clearing rates.

Big Loopholes

A new report by WWF identifies two major loopholes that account for most of the land clearing — and that must be closed to meet the election promise.

First, landowners can clear forests under “self-assessment provisions” — effectively allowing clearing without a permit.  This accounts for up to a quarter of all clearing.

The new legislation will crack down on the worst type of self-assessed clearing — so-called “tree thinning” — but it doesn’t close the loophole entirely.

 So-called “thinning” of mature ironbark forest -- which is legal under current Queensland legislation.  The top half shows intact forest, and the lower half “thinned” forest. So-called “thinning” of mature ironbark forest — which is legal under current Queensland legislation.  The top half shows intact forest, and the lower half “thinned” forest.

Second, vast land areas are mapped as “exempt”, with no restrictions on clearing.  This accounts for nearly two-thirds of all clearing, according to the WWF report.

And while many exempt areas are shrubby regrowth, at least a quarter of these are advanced secondary forest that should not be exempt.

Unfortunately, landholders can ‘lock-in’ exemptions just by requesting a certified property map.

The new legislation will remove exemptions from 1 million hectares of advanced regrowth, a major step forward, but still leaves large areas exempt.

Have Your Say to Parliament

In a state that has seen catastrophic land-clearing, the proposed legislative changes for Queensland are welcome.  But they still leave big gaps.

These gaps might might be partially filled by a promised “Land Restoration Fund,” which seems designed to buy back protection for existing exempt areas, on a voluntary basis.

But will the new legislation and fund be enough to drive down rapid clearing rates and slow the alarming loss of our biodiversity?

You can have your say by making a submission to the Parliamentary Inquiry before 22 March 2018.

Tell them that Australia should not be one of the world’s worst forest-destroying nations, and that it’s essential that we dramatically curtail land clearing in Queensland.

The world will be keenly watching Australia to see what happens.