Wednesday, 17 August 2016

For over 200 years in Australia we've been destroying the land that feeds us and we refuse to stop

"There's No Task Too Big · 24 Hour Service · Reliable Land Clearing · 25 Years Experience
Services: Crane Work, Land Clearing, Stump Grinding, Tree Surgeons, Tree Chippers, Tree Cutting,….."
[Online advertisement for an Australian business, 13 August 2016]

We have sand hills in Australia which were caused by overgrazing sheep and desert boundaries are slowly encroaching in semi-arid zones.

Two million hectares of land and 20,000 farms are affected by dryland salinity because of over clearing for cropping.
In 2000, some 1,600 km of rail, 19,900 km of roads, and 68 towns were at risk of damage due to salinity [Australian Bureau of Statistics, Measures of Australia's Progress, 2010].

Inappropriate land and water management resulted in exposure or drainage of acid sulfate soils on coastal floodplains and wetlands resulting in periodic outbreaks of fish disease and/or large fish kills.

Sections of the World Heritage listed Great Barrier Reef are being smothered by topsoil washing into the ocean from agricultural land.

These are just a few of the mistakes we have made in the last 220 years, yet knowing of the problems caused we still do this with very little thought of inevitable consequences………

WWF Australia, media release, 12 August 2016:

An analysis by WWF-Australia reveals that an estimated 40.7 million trees were destroyed in Queensland in 2014-15.

"That's more than one tree bulldozed every second," said WWF-Australia conservation scientist Dr Martin Taylor.

Crucially, 16.1 million of the destroyed trees were in Great Barrier Reef catchments increasing the amount of sludge flowing out to reef waters and harming coral and sea grass.

"Tree clearing is out of control. If we want to save the Reef and stop the decline of koalas we cannot continue to destroy trees at such an alarming rate," he said.

Dr Taylor said the official Queensland Government figures for clearing in 2014-15 contained a disturbing statistic: 71% of the clearing was mature forests that had never been cleared or bushland and forests over 28 years old.

Methodology for the estimate of the number of trees destroyed

Dr Martin Taylor examined the SLATS map and removed any area that was not forest or woodland before the 2014-15 clearing.

Dr Taylor also removed any area of trees destroyed by natural processes such as cyclones (which is categorised by SLATS)

Then Dr Taylor applied the peer-reviewed eco-regional tree density model of Crowther et al and calculated the number of trees cleared.

What 296,000 hectares looks like

On 3 May 2016 the NSW Government released a draft Biodiversity Conservation Bill and draft Local Land Services (Amendment) Bill.  These bills will repeal and replace the Threatened Species Conservation Act 1995, the Nature Conservation Trust Act, parts of the National Parks & Wildlife Act; parts of the Environmental Planning and Assessment Act 1979, and the Native Vegetation Act.

A report on vegetation clearing quietly released by the Baird Government has highlighted a disturbing trend of increasing illegal land clearing in NSW.
The data provides a report card on the status, regulation, protection and extent of native vegetation in NSW, and clearly shows the rate of land clearing is increasing even as Mike Baird readies his destructive reforms to weaken land clearing laws.
The report shows clearing skyrocketed from 40,500 ha in 2011/12 to 105,900 ha in 2012/13 (the most recent data available).
Illegal clearing that is defined as "unexplained" agricultural woody clearing is has increased, jumping by 52% in the last two years alone:

"Unexplained" agricultural woody clearing (hectares)

In 2012/13 there was 9,100 ha of clearing on private land, and a massive 60% of that clearing is unexplained.
Clearing is also increasing across the board, including clearing on farms, infrastructure, mining, forestry, and the impact of fire on vegetation.

The state's farmers have lopped paddock trees at an accelerating rate in the past 18 months even before a new land-clearing law eases controls further, government data shows.

The new figures, which reveal the rate of clearing of paddock trees has more than doubled since November 2014, come as the Wentworth Group of Concerned Scientists wrote to all MPs to call for a reversal of "retrograde changes" planned in the new Biodiversity Conservation act.

NSW farmers used a new self-assessment code to remove 21,716 paddock trees – or more than 50 a day – over the past year and a half.

The rate, at an average of about 50 per day, was 140 per cent more than the average over the previous seven years, data from the Office of Environment and Heritage showed. Paddock trees, judged to be single or small patches of trees, make up 40 per cent of remaining woodland cover, OEH says.

Satellite monitoring by OEH would probably have detected even more clearing but the public has been left in the dark because the O'Farrell-Baird governments had failed to release a native vegetation report since 2013, Mehreen Faruqi, the Greens environment spokeswoman, said.

The Greens had also sought information on the number of applications OEH received and what if any compliance of the self-assessment codes they conducted, Dr Faruqi said.

"If almost 22,000 trees can be removed under the existing law, then it will be a disaster when new laws that further facilitate land clearing are brought in," she said, adding the latest tree-felling numbers were "the tip of the iceberg".

A spokeswoman for Niall Blair, Minister for Primary Industries, did not address the scale of tree clearing on farms, but said "the proposed Biodiversity Conservation package aims to reverse the decline of biodiversity in NSW because the current system isn't working".
‎"The NSW Government is currently seeking feedback on the draft reforms and stakeholders including environmental groups and farmers are encouraged to put forward a submission before June 28," she said.

Labor's environment spokeswoman, Penny Sharpe, said the figures "ring alarm bells on how far the current biodiversity laws have already been watered down".

"If these laws proceed in their current form, there will be a return to land clearing on a scale unseen for decades in NSW with catastrophic impacts on native animals, soil, water and greenhouse gas emissions," Ms Sharpe said.

Director and Member of the Wentworth Group of Concerned Scientists Peter Crosier writing in The Guardian, 6 July 2016:

Laws to stop the broadscale clearing of large areas of native trees and plants in New South Wales have reduced land and water degradation, helped Australia meets its commitments to cut greenhouse emissions and slowed the rate of species extinction. The Baird government now plans to wind back all of these benefits.
At the 2015 election, the Baird government promised that a review of these laws would "enhance the state's biodiversity for the benefit of current and future generations." It was on this basis that the Wentworth Group of Concerned Scientists supported this review, because we saw an opportunity to modernise the current legislation leading to enhanced biodiversity outcomes, increased financial support for farmers to restore degraded land, while also promoting economic development across NSW.
However, the Wentworth Group has serious concerns about many of the changes announced recently. We believe that these changes, if not addressed, will breach the government's election promise.
Over-clearing of the landscape has resulted in NSW having some of the most degraded land in Australia, with only 10% of native vegetation across the state remaining in close to natural condition. The Native Vegetation Act was introduced in 2003 to address this problem.
This act has been remarkably successful in reducing the level of land clearing from as much as 100,000 hectares per year in the 1980s (the equivalent of half of Sydney's urban area) to less than 12,000 hectares per year now.
This legislation was supported by the NSW Farmers Association as well as environment groups such as WWF, because it brought an end to broadscale land clearing in a way that also promoted sustainable farming. As an example, since the Native Vegetation Act was introduced, approval has been given to manage over 7m hectares of native vegetation on farms across NSW (over 40 times the size of Sydney's urban area), including the eradication of weeds and management of invasive native scrub. This system was designed by farmers and scientists working together. It shows just how effective laws can be in securing the long-term protection of NSW's natural assets while also improving the viability of farming enterprises.
While some of the government's announced changes to these current laws are most welcome, we believe that other elements will substantially weaken existing protections. These retrograde changes risk overwhelming the positive changes, returning NSW to an era of unsustainable land clearing, resulting in more degraded land, more damage to river systems, increased carbon emissions, and the loss of habitat critical to the survival of threatened species.
This would not only be a clear breach of the government's election promise, it will also damage the reputations of those farmers who want to be good stewards, the vast majority of whom are unaffected by the current laws.
One of the positive elements of the announced reforms is a $240m five-year private land conservation fund. This money should be used to help farmers manage native vegetation of high conservation value that should not be cleared, and to offset the cumulative smaller losses that result from route agricultural practices, such as clearing along fence lines. It should not be used to subsidise the broadscale clearing that will result from weakening of the land clearing controls. That is simply a taxpayer subsidy to farmers to degrade land.
The increased greenhouse emissions that will result from these changes means that taxpayers will be hit twice, because it will make our national commitments to reduce Australia's emissions more difficult, resulting in higher costs to taxpayers and other sectors of the economy.
The vast majority of farmers in NSW are, or want to be, good stewards of the land – where healthy landscapes go hand-in-hand with a productive economy. A remarkable 93% of Australian farmers say they practice landcare on their farms.
There are many ways we can support our farmers to manage their land sustainably, by providing them with financial incentives to restore native vegetation on degraded land. This will improve the value of their farms, help reduce Australia's greenhouse emissions, slow the rate of species extinction, enhance rural productivity and create more prosperous rural communities.
We ask the Baird government to amend the draft legislation so that it truly does achieve their objectives of cutting red tape, facilitating ecologically sustainable development, and in doing so honour the promise to enhance the state's biodiversity for the benefit of current and future generations.
Written on behalf of the Wentworth Group of Concerned Scientists

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