Sunday, 5 April 2015

Activism drives land clearing exaggeration

Mulga woodlands, photo sourced [here]

‘Drought drives mulga hunger, an article published late February in the Queensland Country Life warned of extremist environmental groups using the increased tree clearing rates in the Statewide Landcover and Trees Study (SLATS) report due in August to pressure the Palaszczuk Government to introduce new restrictions on vegetation management. We didn’t have to wait that long as in late March a group of “concerned scientists” had the opinion article published, ‘Land clearing in Queensland triples after policy ping pong’ published on The Conversation web site,  that used the QCL article dishonestly as they omitted the reasons given for the increased rates.
To wax lyrically about Queensland’s woodland and forests being lost is deceptive when there is no breakdown yet available between remnant and non-remnant vegetation.

No mention was made of the largest contributor because of drought, with 80% of Qld drought declared, the feeding of the regenerating acacia, mulga, as invaluable fodder to livestock.

The coal seam gas industry has made a contribution with the construction of three export pipelines that take the gas to the port of Gladstone, 2 of which are around the 540 km’s in length and extensive infrastructure including the clearing for gas wells, in field pipelines, very large water storages, compressor stations and water treatment plants. Other contributing factors include mine sites and urban encroachment. This did not fit the environmental paradigm as the article falsely claimed that the Vegetation Management Act had been rapidly watered down by the Newman government bringing back broadacre land clearing for agriculture.

To the contrary the Newman government amendments were modest including the restoration of basic tenets of our legal system, civil rights that the wider community take for granted but were denied to landowners under the Vegetation management Act.  The clearing of remnant vegetation remains extremely restricted. The “concerned scientists” berate the removal of high value regrowth from the Act which is a nonsense invented by environmentalists and ignores that their high value regrowth is encroaching on high value pastures.  In the research report, ‘Recent reversal in loss of global terrestrial biomass’, published on March 30 2015, vegetation in Australia has actually increased with the encroachment of trees into grassland a key factor. The report states:
“We also found unexpectedly large vegetation increases in savannas and shrublands of Australia, Africa, and South America. Previous analyses have focused on closed forests and did not measure this increase.
On average, Australia is “greener” today than it was two decades ago. This is despite ongoing land clearing, urbanisation and the recent droughts in some parts of the country”
Mean annual change in vegetation biomass between 1993 and 2012. Blue represents an increase; red a decrease.
Image modified from Liu et al., 2015.                          image sourced [here]

The “concerned scientists” article, ‘Land clearing in Queensland triples after policy ping pong’, is alarmist and attempts to make very broad associations to pull at the heart strings. For example:
“There are 778 species listed as “Vulnerable” or “Endangered” in Queensland. Loss of habitat is a major threat to most of them. In addition, 45% of Queensland’s ecosystems are threatened because of land clearing”

The opinion article fails to give any data at all that any clearing has been allowed where there is endangered fauna and flora.  It also pulls out a favourite trump card of the environmentalist of a calamity about to fall upon cute and cuddly, in this case the koala, with no substantiated specific data in direct correlation to the projected increase in SLATS figures.

 The core proposition by the “concerned scientists” and where they are seeking political action is:
“But in 2012, a newly elected Liberal-National government rapidly set about watering down many aspects of environmental legislation. The Vegetation Management Framework Amendment Act 2013 brought back broadscale land clearing for agriculture, and the protections for high-value regrowth on freehold and indigenous land were removed.”

Again this can clearly be demonstrated as an exaggeration. The Newman government elected in early 2012 did not bring its first amendment to the Vegetation management Act until May 2013. Hardly rapidly! Far from a complete “watering down” of the Act, the amendments in May and December 2013 were in the scale of things modest and most certainly necessary.  Amongst the amendments was the restoration of civil rights denied to landowners under the Vegetation management Act and improvements were made to how the Act worked such as the application for fodder harvesting of mulga which retained a code of how drought feeding to staving livestock was to be conducted. Also the introduction of guidelines for vegetation thinning to counter the environmental and production problem of thickening as authenticated by a lifetimes work by internationally renowned woodland scientist Dr Bill Burrows. The term high value regrowth was always without foundation and was rightly removed. This is after all land that had been cleared and is being maintained for agricultural production.

The article recites the so-called “litany” of perceived problems of land clearing as if they are automatic in every instance and without background which points out instances where improved grass cover from clearing actually decreases erosion and improves water quality but that does not fit within the environmental paradigm. There is not much science to this article but much environmental activism.

Most agricultural land clearing is undertaken on land that had been cleared once before. The fact is that most agricultural production essential to feed our population by necessity occurs off land that is thinned of its vegetation or a large percentage cleared.  Land has been set aside for different purposes and its time environmentalists reserve full conservation management to National Parks only and don’t transfer these expectations to agricultural production systems.
Editorial 26th March 2015 Queensland Country Life

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