Tree-clearing for urban expansion near Ipswich, southeast Queensland © Supplied

Tree-clearing for urban expansion near Ipswich, southeast Queensland © Supplied

Shock clearing figures show Qld must become a leader in reforestation and carbon farming

30 Dec 2021

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The World Wide Fund for Nature-Australia today expressed concern at the area of tree clearing revealed in the latest Queensland Government Statewide Landcover and Trees Study (SLATS) report.

 

The SLATS report reveals 680,688 hectares was bulldozed in 2018-19, showing that land clearing is continuing in Queensland at an alarming rate.

 

WWF-Australia called on the Queensland Government to move the state out of deforestation and into reforestation to ensure the land sector is carbon positive by 2030.

 

This would create a multi-billion-dollar carbon farming sector, support beef producers’ ongoing access to markets and finance, save koalas from further regional extinctions, reduce water pollution to the Great Barrier Reef, and cut climate pollution by tens of millions of tonnes.

 

“This report is a carbon bomb that threatens to blow up the commitments to net zero emissions by 2050 made by the Queensland and Australian governments,” said Dr Stuart Blanch, WWF-Australia conservation scientist.

 

The 2017-18 SLATS report found 392,000 hectares were cleared, which used a less accurate satellite monitoring method than used for the latest 2018-19 report.

 

“It shows clearing has likely been significantly under-reported in previous reports. The latest SLATS data was compiled using satellite images that are three times more accurate than the previous imagery and cover much more of the state. The data provides a new national best practice standard that all governments and industry should adopt,” said Dr Blanch.

 

“The new data reveals the Australian Government’s National Greenhouse Gas Inventory report vastly under-estimates the carbon released from converting forests to grasslands as trees decompose or burn after being bulldozed. The area of land bulldozed in Queensland in 2018-19 is almost double the area of forest that the Australian government estimates was converted to grassland nationally in 2018.

 

“The implication for the climate is that land carbon emissions from Queensland, and nationally, are substantially under-reported.

 

“More forest and woodland is destroyed in Queensland than in any other state in Australia.

 

“Eastern Australia was identified as a global deforestation hotspot by WWF-International last January, and is the only developed nation on that list.

 

“This cannot go on, we need a pathway out of a half century of major land clearing,” he said.

 

The SLATS report shows approximately 71% of the area cleared occurred through the ‘Category X’ loophole in the Queensland Vegetation Management Act, with ‘X’ referring to ‘Exempt’.

 

Almost one-third of the area of vegetation cleared occurred in catchments flowing to the Great Barrier Reef (217, 419 ha). Of this, 85% was exempted from the state’s land clearing laws.

 

“Preliminary estimates indicate 84% of the area of land cleared comprised regrowing trees that were older than 15 years of age, which could be 10 m high, and provide important habitat for koalas and other threatened wildlife,” said Dr Blanch.

 

“Worse still, remnant clearing in the Brigalow Belt actually increased by 58% from 22,460 ha in 2017-18 to 35,550ha in 2018/19.

 

“The Brigalow Belt supports the highest bird diversity of any bioregion in Australia and is home to at least three species of reptiles that do not occur anywhere else in the world, so the spike in clearing here is particularly heartbreaking.”

 

The report shows 93% of tree clearing was to produce pasture for cattle, sheep and other livestock (633,336 ha).

 

But Dr Blanch said with government and industry support there is a brighter future and an opportunity to Regenerate Australia.

 

“Queensland can pivot from being the worst state on land clearing to becoming a leader on reforestation and carbon farming,” said Dr Blanch.

 

WWF-Australia called on Queensland to lead efforts in support of the Australian Government’s commitment in the Glasgow Leaders’ Declaration Forests and Land Use to ‘halt and reverse forest loss and land degradation by 2030 while delivering sustainable development and promoting an inclusive rural transformation.’

 

WWF-Australia recommended the Queensland government introduce the following reforms to become a world leader in reforestation and carbon farming:

 

- Convene conservation, beef industry and science leaders to forge an enduring solution to the tree clearing issue;

 

- Develop its own land carbon accounts, based on the new vegetation accounts provided by the enhanced SLATS, to provide the highly accurate land carbon data that landholders and carbon markets need;

 

- Work with the beef industry to provide highly accurate property-level data on deforestation and reforestation to enable beef producers and supply chains to market deforestation-free beef;

 

- Provide land carbon information on land valuations to help landholders make decisions about vegetation management;

 

- Offer to lead development of a ‘national SLATS’ capacity to provide highly accurate deforestation and reforestation monitoring across Australia;

 

- Develop innovative financial mechanisms to support landholders who increase natural capital on their properties through vegetation management, in addition to the existing Land Restoration Fund; and

 

- Review the Vegetation Management Act to identify legal loopholes that allow too much clearing of remnant and mature regrowth vegetation to continue, such as Category X, exemptions, clearing codes, mulga clearing, and clearing of land subject to degradation.

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