Public Statement of Concern from Queensland Scientists

As scientists with expertise in biodiversity conservation and sustainable development, we wish to express grave concerns about the future impacts of proposed changes to Queensland’s Vegetation Management Act and the Water Act.

They include allowing a new category of broadscale native vegetation clearing for some types of agriculture, and removing the protections which previously prevented clearing of mature regrowth of threatened plant communities, and of vegetation along many watercourses. These changes appear set to increase, not decrease, the rate of land clearing.

Land clearing is the greatest current threat to Australia’s biodiversity, and is also a major contributor to greenhouse gas emissions, degradation and reduced water quality in waterways and estuaries, and dryland salinity.

Queensland is the most biodiverse state in Australia, but has already seen too many species becoming extinct or threatened. Ongoing losses caused by vegetation clearing increase the chance that more species will disappear from particular regions or become globally extinct. And the effects of clearing now will continue to increase long into the future, because habitat loss that occurs now can lead to extinctions many years down the track.

Regrowth of threatened vegetation types must be allowed to mature to enable recovery and eventual removal from the threatened list. This regrowth is also important habitat for many species, and plays an important role in carbon uptake, soil protection, and the maintenance of water quality. There is significant public investment in planting trees to restore habitat, but these efforts are negated if native vegetation is simultaneously being cleared.

We understand the need for multiple uses of land, and for a balanced approach to land use conflicts. However, a continuing loss of native vegetation with no end point planned is neither balanced nor sustainable. We urge the government to consider the irreversible and pervasive environmental consequences of the proposed changes, and avoid reducing protection of our State’s native bushland.

Signed

Dr Greg Baxter Senior Lecturer The University of Queensland
Associate Professor Yvonne Buckley Associate Professor The University of Queensland
Professor Carla P. Catterall Professor Griffith University
Dr Diana Fisher ARC Future Fellow The University of Queensland
Professor David Gillieson        Adjunct Professor The University of Queensland
Professor Jean-Marc Hero Professor Griffith University
Professor Marc Hockings Professor The University of Queensland
Dr Alan House Principal Ecologist Ecosure
Professor Roger Kitching AM     Professor Griffith University
Dr Frederieke Kroon Adjunct Lecturer James Cook University
Professor William F. Laurance Distinguished Research Professor & Australian Laureate James Cook University
Dr Susan Laurance Senior Lecturer James Cook University
Dr Andrew Le Brocque Senior Lecturer University of Southern Queensland
Dr Simon Linke Senior Research Fellow Griffith University
Dr Martine Maron                     Senior Lecturer The University of Queensland
Dr Tara Martin Adjunct Senior Lecturer The University of Queensland
Professor Hamish McCallum Professor Griffith University
Professor Richard G. Pearson Emeritus Professor James Cook University
Professor Hugh P. Possingham FAA Professor The University of Queensland
Professor Bob Pressey FAA Distinguished Professor James Cook University
Dr Jonathan R. Rhodes Senior Lecturer The University of Queensland
Dr Cynthia Riginos Senior Lecturer The University of Queensland
Mr Phil Shaw Managing Director Ecosure; Avisure
Professor Steve Turton Professor James Cook University
Associate Professor Peter Valentine Adjunct Associate Professor James Cook University
Dr David Westcott Adjunct Senior Lecturer James Cook University
Dr Kerrie Wilson ARC Future Fellow The University of Queensland

Additional signatories

Mr Jon Brodie Team Leader James Cook University
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18 thoughts on “Public Statement of Concern from Queensland Scientists

  1. Pingback: Public Statement of Concern from Queensland Scientists | Land Clearing Action QLD

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  4. Thanks to all those scientists who put pen to paper and were willing to say something. There are so many more people out there that I am sure feel the same way, but like me, don’t know how to or where to express they’re frustration. After reading the news from Queensland last week I was dumfounded that our government is taking what seem to be obvious backward steps and making decisions without regard to future generations. You have, by your actions, encouraged me to put my thoughts in writing too and send them to someone out there…..
    .

  5. This issue is not about whether agriculture is viable without clearing regrowth vegetation. The statement of concern from these scientists is about the real ecological impacts of clearing this vegetation. A political decision is about to be made as to whether Queensland values agriculture over biodiversity. In the past 10 years we have been working with an informed and sensible balance between the two. Ironically, the ecological consequences of clearing this vegetation may eventually have consequences for the viability of our agricultural industry as we continue to fail to adequately value natural systems. It seems outrageous that such decisions can be made purely on political grounds without taking into account formal, independent scientific advice. I stress the words independent and scientific in reference to the embarrassing consultation document that preceded this bill.

    • PJ – Please be assured that the comments I have made below are independent and based on good science/economics, along with a personal 40+ years of active research studying Queensland’s grazed woodland communities. In short there is some knowledge and experience backing my statements up. Your comments on the other hand avoid most of the issues raised, and reflect the same political paranoia that is common to both sides of the political divide, when one or the other side is not in power. I suggested that the signatories to this document should do a review of relevant literature, dating back to at least the early 1900’s. You might also find such to be an informative exercise. If you do so, your biggest shock will be to discover that the structure and composition of the woodlands you are setting out to ostensibly “save” now, are generally not what was here then. The recent WWF document on this issue (‘Bushland at risk of renewed clearing in Queensland’) even makes the incredible statement that “maximum potential biomass (is) taken to represent the carbon sequestration opportunity from protecting and RESTORING native bushland”. If maximum biomass bushland is what you would like to see also, then we really do have reason to fear for the true remnant native fauna and flora. Bill Gammage’s (2011) “The Biggest Estate on Earth” (Allen & Unwin) is a good opening primer.

    • Balance is now being struck by the Newman Government. I worked in NRM for 9 1/2 years and appreciate just how the pendulum swung far too much in favour of green environmentalist ‘lock-it-up, don’t-touch-it’ views. Freehold land is ‘Estate in Fee Simple’ and Landholder rights were eroded by the Beattie/Bligh Governments with no compensation. Our woodlands are acknowledged to be actively thickening and this in itself is a risk to biodiversity. The changes to the VMA are about good, commonsense pragmatic approaches to sustainable vegetation management and some ‘high value agriculture’ (food security is also important). It is not about further development in areas that have been overcleared in past. It is about re-correcting the balance.

  6. As an ex-Soil Conservation officer, Grazing Land Management Officer and 6 years as Vegetation Management Officer – I must say Vegetation does not protect soil – ground cover does (i.e. a well managed grass paddock). A well-grassed buffel paddock often has less runoff than remnant vegetation. Remnant Brigalow scrub has very little grass – a few sparse scrub grasses like Sporobolus sp. When cleared and grassed to buffel there is more ground cover and increased infiltration. FACT.

  7. This statement is disingenuous. It ignores or glosses over many facts pertinent to the issue. The land targeted by the statement has been assigned by government for agricultural production. For example most GHPL’s have inscribed on the document – that the Purpose of the Lease is for “grazing and agriculture”. There is a compelling literature that shows that tree and shrub cover/ stem basal area is increasing (“thickening”) in intact woodlands (grazed savannas) worldwide – including Queensland, the NT and NW NSW. Pasture production falls rapidly when this happens, because there is usually a negative exponential relationship linking pasture yield and woody plant basal area. The reason landholders remove woody plants from their holdings is to improve productivity and ultimately the viability of their farm business. High value “pockets” can contribute strongly to this. Because of tree/shrub thickening many of the so called “remnant” communities bear little resemblance to those present when livestock grazing commenced. And with ongoing thickening they are still changing – along with the organisms supported by them e.g. seed eating birds are displaced by insect eaters. Regrowth is a normal and predictable consequence of clearing in Queensland’s grazed woodlands. Clearing is expensive, but it is not financially viable for the farm enterprise unless the regrowth is also controlled. The primary clearing operation takes out susceptible species (e.g. seed regenerators) and leaves behind resilient (e.g. root suckering) species. So both plant composition and fauna associated with it are generally different in pre-clearing and regrowth communities. [Continued]

    • Many people are affronted at the suggestion that livestock could be grazing National Parks. Likewise there is no reason for land assigned for agricultural purposes to be deemed a de facto nature reserve. If the latter is required, government has the means to resume agricultural holdings, or provide incentive payments to achieve its objective. Much of our grazing land was subdivided to establish “living areas”. Holdings were selected on their agricultural potential. When this potential is limited by on-going tree/shrub thickening and government fiat, the viability of the holding is at risk. For example, I recently inspected a property where the sustainable carrying capacity of 9000 dry sheep equivalents in the 1950’s had been reduced, depending on the season, by one-half to two thirds. The open grassy woodland depicted in a 1952 aerial photo had been overwhelmed by a dense sub-canopy/shrub layer plainly visible in 2011 satellite imagery.
      A basic tenet of land use is that “the only sustainable agriculture is profitable agriculture”. When production is curtailed (e.g. because of ongoing tree/shrub thickening or the failure to control regrowth) it is not unusual for the owner/lessee to flog the land, his stock and himself, before his property is repossessed or he simply “walks off”.
      These comments are backed up by peer reviewed publications. Perhaps it’s time for signatories to do an old fashioned ‘review of (rangeland) literature’? The 1901 “Royal Commission into the Condition of Crown Tenants – Western Division of NSW” is a good starting point and date.

  8. I remember when tree clearing laws were introduced in Queensland by the Beattie Government – laws which Peter Beattie regarded as one of his most significant achievements. Several agricultural groups predicted they would have diastrous effects on the viabilty of farming enterprises. This never happened and landowners learnt to adapt to the laws.
    If the reforms brought in by the Newman Government to “cut green tape” lead to increased tree clearing then the Government will clearly be contributing to species extinction – a terrible legacy. I know many Liberal party members will be appalled.

    • Carl, how have you determined that the tree clearing laws had no effects of viability of farming enterprises? There are two studies that say otherwise, one by ABRE & the other by the Productivity Commission.
      It is only wild speculation that the reforms will lead to species extinction.

  9. It is vitally important to have balanced debate on matters of such importance. Unfortunately to date only the vested interests within the agri sector and political ideologists have had their views heard. If you are a green group you are dismissed out of hand so it is heartening to see people eminently qualified to pass comment on this proposed legislation stand up and challenge the current government’s proposed new vegetation amendments. Thank you. Premier Campbell please take note.

  10. It’s funny how State laws have a trickle down effect , that then turns into a flood….the Redlands City Council may be considering allowing the clearing of protected conservation land in the Redlands ( SE QLD ) for “development” ….. And currently they are considering approval for a Superquarry at Mt. Cotton by the Barro Group , that will wipe out the last remaining remnant of “cloud rainforest ” in SE QLD , plus totally destroy hectares of koala habitat , and habitat for countless biodiverse flora and fauna . Apart from that , the open cut gravel quarry will eventually be 1 kilometre DEEP , and 5 times the size of the existing quarry , which will release vast quantities of silica dust into the atmosphere whenever they are blasting , right near new housing estates . It will be very interesting to see which way the vote goes on this locally . I only live a short distance from this proposed quarry , and I am extremely worried for the health of my family . It’s bad enough that this Council has allowed a Biomass waste incinerator to be built in Mt. cotton , very close to schools and local residential estates , that will produce toxic dioxins , that are the most carcinogenic matter known to science . The most chilling words I ever heard said were ” I trust my Government ” .

  11. It’s funny, I was speaking with 2 scientists today, one of which has a PhD in Rangeland Ecology, who see no real concern with the proposed amendments. Everyone is entitled to an opinion I guess.

  12. How wonderful to see so many scientists prepared to publicly challenge a government policy or position. Lets hope vested interests don’t play a role in this to convince the public the scientists are wrong eg global warming. What do YOU say, Premier Newman? ….. Premier Newman?

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