Monday, 25 March 2013

Betrayal of Trust - Part 1

Reform of land clearing laws in Queensland, NSW and WA is about to become a hot issue.  I’m breaking down a document into manageable blog size bites for you to digest and think about. This document was written in 2010 in response to a Senate inquiry into vegetation management laws. All four people involved in preparing this document were once and one still is deeply involved in either Landcare, Greening Australia or a Basin Association.

There is material in this document that will challenge the concept you may hold about land clearing. I encourage you to respond to this series of blogs with your thoughts and questions but please do so in a civil manner. I do have a lot of extra information and references that I can share on this subject.

The document is not designed to be primarily about the rights & wrongs of land clearing itself but how by abandonment of the cooperative approach against coercion does not work. It’s about a deplorable era in Qld state politics were the urban/ rural divide was used as wedge for political expediency. 

The views in this document are deeply felt by myself. There was so much that was possible thrown out of the window. 

Loss of trust, cooperation and changed mindsets from new laws

Compiled by: Mr Dale Stiller
Edited by Mr Steve Cupitt
In consultation with Mr Jock Douglas and Ms Roxane Blackely


This document aims to bring to your attention a regrettable change in the relationship, and especially trust, between Government agency staff and landowners. This has been to the detriment of maintaining balanced outcomes for farm productivity and environmental values caused by a quantum shift in Government policy, regulations and Acts. The landowners operating farming and grazing enterprises have been impacted by a worldview influenced by extreme environmentalism. This has effectively stopped cooperation with Government agency staff with landowners being forced to comply (with no consultation), with directives manufactured from afar and external to the realities of the landscape in which they have lifetime experience.

Throughout the late 1990’s there was much field research into best practice land clearing that would fulfil the needs of farming families to generate a viable income and to maintain a balance and integration between conservation and production. The most notable and comprehensive was the research conducted by rangelands scientist Dr Bill Burrows. In the lecture, Seeing the wood(land) for the treesAn individual perspective of Queensland woodland studies (1965–2005), Dr Burrows speaks of starting his body of work in 1965. By the late 1990’s Dr Burrows had a wealth of data on the dynamics of the tree-grass relationship that enabled him to clearly demonstrate to landowners that in terms of dollar returns of production that it was best not to clear fence to fence, but to retain 20% of remnant timber in strips or shade-lines. The data from the extensive trial work conducted in the region of Dingo, Queensland, was quite compelling.  

There were others studying the relationships on tree density to grass production with particular reference to the scientific research conducted by Dr Chris Chilcott on properties in central QLD and the Darling Downs where the advantages of vegetation retention and management was demonstrated clearly. I can recall a booklet released during this period of time by the QDNR of case studies of best practice of tree clearing.  

Through my involvement with the local Landcare Group, we completed a study funded by the National Heritage Trust (NHT) on the valuation of variable widths of retained strips of timber left behind by a blade ploughing operation. This study involved a comprehensive collection of data of population densities of fauna & flora, grass growth and temperature variables.

In a grazing situation there are benefits of cooler temperatures in summer downwind of a tree corridor because of leaf transpiration & warmer temperatures in winter because of the windbreak effect and retention of warmer air held captive within the vegetation. The study showed at the correct widths between these corridors of retained trees, that there was a positive benefit for grass yield. Measured in kg/ha, there was close to zero kg/ha dry matter at the tree-line. This amount climbed in amount of kg/ha out to 60 meters from the tree-line. From 60 to 100 meters kg/ha dry matter remained stable & after 100m production fell away again. At the 100 m mark the benefit the timber was having on the grass had disappeared.  

This project of the Taroom Shire Landcare Group (TSLG) aimed to quantify the actual benefits; what was the level of production and what the benefits to the native fauna & flora were. Government agency staff and independent researchers partnered the project. The local rural community identified the need for research, completed the field component and assisted in all technical aspects. The methodology used to set up the research was done by expert partners, who also interpreted the data. To view further details of this project, download this report and refer to page 30.  

TSLG not only had extensive data from our own study but also had compiled research from many other sources. Our group was well down the path in planning the development and implementation of field days and workshops. It was our belief that farmers & graziers would have been receptive to this information as at that time, there was a good relationship and deep trust between agency staff and landowners. The clearing of trees is very expensive and with increased benefits proven to be available in retention of 20% of vegetation, this could equate in a decrease of 20% of the cost.  

The evidence quite clearly showed that it wasn’t tree clearing as such that was a problem but rather how it was conducted and level of planning developed prior to clearing. In the lecture delivered in 2002, page 12, (link provided in first paragraph of submission), Dr Bill Burrows says,
“Frankly, I consider that we would all benefit by concentrating in the future on educating, rather than further regulating rural landholders. Foremost amongst these lessons would be the need for more thought to be given by those clearing land to pre-clearing planning and post clearing management, rather than the clearing operation itself.”
The above quote from 2002 was after the Vegetation Management Act of 1999 came into effect which had placed a blanket ban on all mapped dominate and sub-dominate endangered regional ecosystems. Some regulation was in place; there was a lot of research being undertaken; urban public opinion was changing, in my belief due to campaigns by extreme environmentalists; political pressure was mounting and rural landowners were facing an uncertain future.

Land and Water Australia in its journal Thinking Bush reported ongoing research by Dr Chris Chilcott and others, expressed many of these tensions and dilemmas.

To continue pleased click on the following links

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