I got 99 problems, and the Vegetation Management Legislation in QLD is #1
When you hear the word deforestation, you may associate it with the Amazon or Indonesia, but Australia has some of the highest deforestation rates globally. Australian’s like to call deforestation, land clearing and for some reason, all of a sudden, it makes it ok to go crazy with a couple of bulldozers and some hard-core chain. Ok, that’s a bit of an overstatement, but what I am trying to say is that deforestation happens in Australia, and its bad.
Historically, land clearing in Australia has had widespread impacts on forests and grasslands in every state and territory. Queensland, my home state, has contributed to these rates the highest 8. Legislation to regulate broad-scale clearing was brought in from 2006, which seemed to decrease rates of observed deforestation (Figure 1)8. But, these laws were weakened in 2012 and deforestation rates have been on the rise (Figure 1). The main loopholes in the current vegetation management legislation enable landholders to clear remnant vegetation for high-value agriculture with no offsetting required 2,3. High-value regrowth and riparian vegetation are currently not protected under the current vegetation legislation and landholders are currently not liable for any land clearing they carry out as an honest mistake 2,3. This is alarming as Australia is home to over 400 threatened species many of which, such as the following, rely on private property to persist 11.
Black-throated finch, Poephila cincta cincta
Allan’s lerista, Lerista allanae
Coxen’s fig-parrot, Cyclopsitta diophthalma coxeni
Golden-shouldered parrot, Psephotus chrysopterygius
Red goshawk, Erythrotriorchis radiates
Palm cockatoo, Probosciger aterrimus
Ornamental Snake, Denisonia maculata
Yakka Skink, Egernia rugosa
A team of eager researchers and myself spent the week writing a submission supporting the Vegetation Management (Reinstatement) and Other Legislation Amendment Bill 2016 and here is a breakdown. The amendment can be found here and proposes to regulate broad-scale clearing through vegetation management as well as enforcement. We support the following amendments:
The protection of high-value regrowth
The protection of high-value regrowth was removed following the amendment in 2012-2014 and we support the amendment to protect regrowth vegetation that helps support the resilience of threatened ecosystems and species as well as for international policy agreements on CO2 emissions reductions.
Removal of provisions for permitting clearing for high-value agriculture and irrigated high-value agriculture
We support the removal of the high-value agriculture clause, as it removes the loophole currently allowing easy approvals for broad-scale clearing with no offsets. This clause has resulted in clearing of over 50,000 ha of remnant ecosystems in far Northern-Queensland. The impact on the ecosystems and species within undermines sections 1c, 1d, 1e, 1f and 1g of the VMA as well as current international policy agreements on CO2 emission reductions.
Riparian areas and areas extending into the GBR catchment
We support the restoration of protection for vegetation in riparian areas and extending provisions from some to all Great Barrier Reef catchments.
Sound decision making
Trade-offs between agricultural land-use and conservation of natural vegetation can be necessary for many reasons, but should be assessed and quantified through existing transparent decision frameworks to ensure efficient management and control of consequences.
Reinstating compliance and enforcement provisions
We support the removal of the honest mistake of fact defence for vegetation clearing offences, which deems landholders liable for illegal land clearing of outside of reserve estate. We also support the reinstatement of compliance provisions for the reverse onus of proof.
Deterring panic clearing
We support the retrospectivity of the Amendment Bill to date back to 17 March 2016, as the introduction of new vegetation laws can be met with a state of ‘panic’ by landholders, which can cause a spike in land clearing prior to the reinstatement of new legislation. We support the retrospectivity of this amendment bill will make landholders accountable for any action that could potentially be illegal.
The amendment to the act is by no means perfect, as there has been no attempt to regulate the current self-assessable code for thinning or to address classifying baselines for revegetation, however, the amendments that are being made are a step in the right direction. Please check out the rest of our submission here and if you want more information about deforestation in Australian leave a comment!
1 Queensland Department of Science, Information Technology and Innovation. 2015. Land cover change in Queensland 2012–13 and 2013–14: a Statewide Landcover and Trees Study (SLATS) report. DSITI, Brisbane.
2 Check out Martin Taylor from WWF’s presentation here
5 Maron M, Laurance B, Pressey B, Catterall CP, Watson J, Rhodes J 2015. Land clearing in Queensland triples after policy ping pong. The Conversation, http://theconversation.com/land-clearing-in-queensland-triples-after-policy-ping-pong-38279.
6 Evans MC, Carwardine J, Fensham RJ, Butler DW, Wilson KA, Possingham HP, Martin TG 2015. Carbon farming via assisted natural regeneration as a cost-effective mechanism for restoring biodiversity in agricultural landscapes. Environmental Science & Policy 50:114-129.
7 Reside AE, VanDerWal J, Phillips BL, Shoo LP, Rosauer D, Anderson BJ, Welbergen JA, Moritz C, Ferrier S, Harwood TD et al. Climate change refugia for terrestrial biodiversity: defining areas that promote species persistence and ecosystem resilience in the face of global climate change. In.: National Climate Change Adaptation Research Facility, Gold Coast; 2013: 216.
8 Evans, M. 2016. Deforestation in Australia: drivers, trends and policy responses. Pacific Conservation Biology (In Press).
9 Seabrook, L., McAlpine, C., & Fensham, R. (2008). What influences farmers to keep trees?. A case study from the Brigalow Belt, Queensland, Australia. Landscape and Urban Planning, 84(3-4), 266–281. http://doi.org/10.1016/j.landurbplan.2007.08.006
10 Possingham et al 2003, The Brigalow Declaration, On open letter to the Prime Minister John Howard and Queensland Premier Peter Beattie on the need to end the clearing of mature native bushland in Queensland