Three days after hundreds of primary producers marched in Brisbane to protest planned tree clearing laws, the Queensland Government has released new figures which it claims bolsters its case for tougher legislation.
An estimated 250 producers attended a rally in Brisbane on the opening day of the Royal Queensland Show on Thursday, opposing the laws that they say will drive up food prices and stifle regional development and jobs.
However the Queensland Government showed on Sunday it has no intention of backing away from its proposed laws, releasing a new study which it says indicates that tree clearing levels in the Great Barrier Reef catchment have returned to “disturbingly high levels”.
Acting Premier Jackie Trad said the 2014-2015 Statewide Land Cover and Tree Study (SLATS) showed a 46 percent increase in the rate of clearing in the Great Barrier Reef catchments since 2011-2012.
“The latest SLATS report confirms tree clearing is continuing at the unacceptable level of almost 300,000 hectares per year since the LNP gutted Labor’s responsible tree clearing laws in 2013. That is approximately 360,000 Rugby League football fields every single year,” Ms Trad said.
“Alarmingly, 108,000 hectares was cleared in Great Barrier Reef catchment areas in 2014-15. This represents more than a third of the vegetation cleared statewide and requires immediate action.”
She said the the Palaszczuk Government ‘s proposed vegetation management laws were effective and balanced and would protect the Reef from “reckless clearing”.
“They will protect the environment and allow our agricultural industry to thrive with the majority of farmers unaffected by the reinstatement of our nation leading laws.
“In fact, the sector grew by more than $2 billion in sector profitability under the decade of Labor’s tree clearing laws.
“The LNP should stop scaremongering and playing politics. They need to join us in safeguarding the Great Barrier Reef before it’s too late.”
Environment Minister Steven Miles said the figures rammed “how urgent it is that we reduce clearing right across Queensland, and especially the Great Barrier Reef catchments.”
“Sediment making its way to the reef, settles on the coral and suffocates it. It also clouds the water, reducing the amount of sunlight reaching the coral and both of these reduce the ability of the coral to be resilient to other threats.
“We know that land clearing is a key contributor to greenhouse gas emissions and at a time when the rest of the world is reducing their emissions, Queensland is driving up Australia’s rates thanks to the LNP’s land clearing laws.”
Palaszczuk Government continues to mislead: AgForce
Agforce says the Palaszczuk Government is selectively using statistics and ramping up their Reef rhetoric in a desperate bid to shore up support for proposed vegetation management laws.
AgForce General President Grant Maudsley said the 2014/15 Statewide Landcover and Trees Study (SLATS) report revealed that only about 0.2 per cent of woody vegetation cover is being cleared annually in Queensland.
“The primary focus of this report is measuring vegetation clearing, which is only part of the story. It’s akin to measuring how many people mowed their lawn. The reality is you have to mow your lawn regularly or it overgrows and similarly, farmers have to manage and maintain vegetation on their properties to prevent thickening,” he said.
“More than 80 per cent of Queensland is still gripped by drought and this report has shown that the Brigalow Belt and Mulga Lands continue to record the highest woody vegetation clearing rates in 2014-15. This is largely farmers sustainably harvesting mulga to feed their starving livestock – a fact even one of the Queensland Government’s own scientists has acknowledged in media reports today.
“The Palaszczuk Government continues to speak about clearing rates in isolation rather than as total vegetation cover, which ignores the fact that their own data has shown an increase in wooded vegetation cover of more than 400,000 hectares in recent years. Meanwhile, the Government continues to allow clearing of land for urban development, resource projects and infrastructure corridors.”
Mr Maudsley said with the report showing no increase in overall clearing rates this year compared to last year, the Palaszczuk Government had instead chosen to ramp up their Reef rhetoric and unnecessarily attack farmers.
“Like all Australians, farmers want to ensure the Great Barrier Reef is protected and preserved for generations to come,” he said.
“The agriculture sector is doing its bit to improve water quality through the roll-out of Best Management Practice programs which help farmers benchmark their business against the best industry standards using the best available science.
“The reality is that everyone, including farmers, graziers, developers, all levels of government, the resources sector, traditional owners, tourism operators and members of the community must be part of the solution to protect and preserve the Great Barrier Reef now and into the future.
“AgForce will consider this report in detail over coming days, but we maintain our view that the proposed vegetation management laws are politically motivated by a Government that prefers to look at vegetation via satellites rather than on the ground with the people who manage it.”
Qld Govt ‘mischievous in its interpretation’: Property Rights Australia
Property Rights Australia (PRA) chairman, Dale Stiller, said the Queensland Government was being mischievous in its interpretation of the SLATs finding to confuse the Queensland public.
“Queensland land custodians and agricultural producers’ patience is worn thin from continual demonisation by the Palaszczuk government,” Mr Stiller said.
“Ignored is tens of thousands of years of valuable knowledge acquired by Traditional Owners’ vegetation management practices and intergenerational farming family knowledge gained from practical land stewardship, producing food.
“Landowner’s legal rights and future prospects are being discarded for political deals.”
SLATS reported 296,000 hectares cleared in the 2014/2015 period. The majority of this was regrowth control of areas that has been cleared periodically in the past to maintain good grass cover.
“The other key factor is that 80pc of the State was drought declared at that time and there was reliance for livestock fodder on the resilient acacia, mulga, well known for its ability to vigorously regrow after rain.
“There was no clearing of vulnerable vegetation communities.
Analysis of the SLATS data also showed that even with the reported clearing, there was a net increase of tree cover by 437,000 hectares which has been ignored in Ms Trad’s statements.
“It is through a lack of understanding of established soil and woodland ecology science that a conclusion is drawn that the clearing of 108,000 ha in the reef catchments is undesirable.
“It is ground cover not necessarily tree cover that prevents erosion. The ground cover vegetation type that in most eco-systems prevents erosion and thereby sedimentation are the grasses.
“It is more often the case that grasses don’t grow well under heavy tree cover exacerbating erosion.”
Mr Stiller said research showed that the majority of sedimentation in northern reef catchments came from stream bank erosion, especially in sodic soils. Existing High Value Agriculture (HVA) clearing permits do not allow clearing of either watercourses or sodic soils.
He said Ms Trad’s statement the agricultural sector, “grew by more than $2 billion in sector profitability under the decade of Labor’s tree clearing laws” was an unsupported correlation.
“Trying to draw a correlation between tree clearing and profitability is to deny the many complex and unpredictable influences which affect agriculture, most of which Government has any control over, appears spectacularly desperate”, said Mr Stiller.
“The Deputy Premier has confused profitability and productivity. I would challenge Ms Trad to reconcile her statement of profitability in the face of land value collapse that ABARE reports in the exactly same time frame.
“She cannot because unlike her naïve unsupported correlation, it is an established correlation that if land values collapse, profitability has also gone down.”
It was a basic economic principle that a diminution of property rights results in a limitation to the supply of food, Mr Stiller said.
“This government has disingenuously used both the Great Barrier Reef and climate change as tools to meet political deals and is unfortunately spinning untruths to the Queensland people.
“The fact of the matter is, there exists now strong clearing laws with guidelines which protects riparian areas, vulnerable vegetation communities, habitat zones and considers soil type, slope, cultural heritage.” .”
“By all means read the SLATS report, Ms Trad’s claims of reckless clearing cannot be substantiated.”
Source: Queensland Government, AgForce Queensland, Property Rights Australia
Any body who has spent time in these areas can tell you and your own eyes will show you that trees do not of themselves protect soil from erosion. It is grass that binds the soil, reduces the impact of rain droplet energy, provides a denser mulch mat and grows more quickly, densely and stores more net carbon than trees in most landscapes.Looking at any area where tree and woody weed density has increased significantly will show reduced ground cover at the surface, less moisture available to grasses, more availability of vegatative material that will burn at a higher temperatures when fires eventually come. Trees are a significant problem in creating runoff from such areas and do not mitigate sediment loads. Healthy grasslands rarely erode and have the unique advantages of protecting the landscape and providing a resource that can be used to generate economic benefit. Unless the Queensland Government has a secret plan to farm termites as a new protein source then trees will continue to create zones of large scale reduced ground cover which do not benefit the environment or the economy in any significant manner.
Very well reasoned counter points put by Grant and Dale.
It’s perhaps also worth noting that the Commonwealth Government’s most recent (2013) report on catchment loads monitoring has shown an 11% reduction in Total Suspended Solids runoff to the GBR since 2009, well on track for the 20% target at 2020. The two main contributors, the Burdekin and Fitzroy, which leak some 70% of sediment loads, are a long way from the worst of the recent coral bleaching, north of Port Douglas. The reef suffers many stressors, and it’s important that Government spin not be allowed to confuse the story for populist outcomes, particularly at the expense of those private and government programs which are making real gains. Against the substantial rate of vegetation thickening, the political focus on an annual clearing of 0.25% of woody vegetation to maintain increased ground cover, is nothing more than a beat up. It’s far better for governments to keep monitoring catchment outflows, which will still suffer their own yearly variability, than speculate on the doubtful connection between the now minimal levels of tree clearing and reef health or greenhouse gases.
It might be a distraction; but tree clearing (usually maintainance of regrowth) west of the great dividing range would rarely flow uphill and out towards the GBR. Or am I incorrect in saying so? The Belyando flows into the Burdekin (or so I believe); but the Dam Wall should stop most of that; and if the Government looks at previous work done, they will know that alluvial plumes were happening long before White Settlement: and the range of Drys/Wets can be ‘read’ from the dark rings in the corral (just like cutting a tree, and observing the growth rings).
And you know what; the GBR is still there; thousands of years later. You have to stress a system or organism to make it stronger. Simple science …
Did you also measure how much had grown, compared to the pulling. They are not using boots on the ground; but comparing exception reports using satellite photos taken at different points in time.
Regrowth a metre high is quite leafy, and looks like a lot from space: but it isn’t really a tree that is being seen.
Stop the BS and scare-mongering, and let people at least maintain their level of production, Thank You, Ms. Trad and Ms. Palaszczuk