Fears about continued large-scale land clearing in Queensland, Australia

Assoc. Professor Martine Maron at the University of Queensland and Professor Carla Catterall at Griffith University in Brisbane, Australia, are very concerned about large-scale land clearing Down Under.  Here they offers their views on current happenings in the vast state of Queensland:

A relaxation of environmental protection laws by the former conservative government in Queensland has spurred an alarming increase in rates of land clearing in this Australian state.

  Forests and woodlands are still falling fast in Queensland.

Forests and woodlands are still falling fast in Queensland.

Despite a new, progressive government being elected early this year amid promises to reinstate direly-needed habitat protections, nothing has changed.

And growing concerns voiced by senior environmental scientists from across Queensland are being ignored.

In 2013, over twenty scientists spoke publicly of their fears that changes to legal protection of native vegetation would lead to a rise land clearing -- possibly even returning to previous record levels from 2000 to 2005, when Queensland had among the highest rates of vegetation clearing of any region on the planet.

The changes formerly introduced by conservatives removed vital safeguards for riparian vegetation and mature regrowth of endangered ecosystems, and reversed a ban on broad-scale vegetation clearing for agriculture.

At the time, the scientists’ concerns were dismissed.  But leaked figures this year show a dramatic spike in land clearing -- a tripling of the rate since 2010.

It seems likely that this recently reported surge in deforestation is connected with the relaxed safeguards and a cessation of prosecutions for illegal clearing.

Hundreds of thousands more hectares of native vegetation have now been approved by the Queensland government for conversion to agriculture in Australia’s north.  There are also worrying suggestions of ‘panic clearing’ of old-growth habitat.

Earlier this year, the group of concerned scientists again wrote to the newly-elected Premier of Queensland, Annastacia Paluszczuk, urgently seeking to discuss the situation.

In addition to their concerns about the many serious ecological impacts of reduced vegetation protection, the scientists are asking why there has been no release of 2012-2014 data from the government's vegetation-monitoring program.

Previously, these data were released publicly each year, enabling independent analyses of land clearing rates and causes.

Four months later, there has still been no response from the Premier’s office. 

Queensland's Minister for Environment and Heritage Protection agreed to discuss these issues with the scientists, but his office has little say in matters of regulating native vegetation clearing (which, somewhat paradoxically, is controlled by the Queensland Department of Natural Resources and Mines).

Whether the new government in Queensland keeps its promise to reinstate habitat protection remains to be seen. 

But in the meantime, the alarming damage to Queensland's native ecosystems continues apace.