I’m super excited to be sharing this post with you today because just a few weeks ago, when I started drafting it, the title was ‘Queensland clears its forests at a higher rate than Brazil’. Bit of a turnaround, eh?
Australia is often perceived as a vast wilderness of snakes, sharks, spiders, kangaroos, koalas, and by default, the habitats they rely upon. So it may come as a shock to hear that since 2013, the northern state of Queensland has been clearing its forests at a ‘globally significant’ rate. In 2015-16, that rate was about 0.45%. For comparison, in the same period, Brazil cleared the Amazon at a rate of 0.24%.
This was largely due to the scrapping of many restrictions that had protected Queensland’s forests from broadscale clearing in the past. With the relaxing of logging laws, many farmers in the beef and agricultural industry began clearing wooded areas as a land management strategy. Without restrictions, logging rates increased to the terrifying rates mentioned above, pushing many species – including the beloved koala – closer to extinction.
The newly-re-elected Palaszczuk government promised to address this crisis as part of their commitment to protect the Great Barrier Reef, as much of the clearing was occurring in reef catchment areas. Debris was travelling down the waterways into the delicate reef environment, and the removal of trees increased the threat of further riverbank erosion and soil runoff.
However, the first time these laws were proposed, they were voted down. Queensland’s farmers are hugely against the laws and lobby groups have been out in full force. Farmers argue that the restrictions could force them to walk away from their land because they will not be able to maintain vital cattle grazing areas. (Note: grass in Queensland is not like grass in Ireland. It’s a rare, sparse, usually dry thing – that’s why the farms are so big!) Farmer groups have staged protests around Queensland, warning that the laws will decrease the land’s value, prevent producers from growing their businesses and lead to more fruit and vegetable imports.
Environmental groups, on the other hand, are thrilled. They note, however, that the legislation falls short on a few promises: it doesn’t protect all threatened species habitat, nor does it protect all rivers – only ‘reef rivers’. A spokesperson for The Wilderness Society said, ‘The proper test of these laws is whether they bring down Queensland’s globally significant levels of deforestation and the environmental problems associated with it. […] Clearing in Queensland killed nearly 45 million animals in just one year, in 2015-16.’
As for my two cents? I’m relieved, of course, but concerned that the hugely divided opinions surrounding these laws and the outrage felt by the agricultural industry could be the laws’ undoing. A lack of respectful dialogue and the failure to convey the global importance of protecting these forests will not help protect them in the long run. The agricultural industry is inarguably the backbone of Queensland’s economy, and the state needs farmers onside – or at least placated.
Here are a few simple steps you can take to help prevent deforestation:
- Plant trees. Obviously. That’s why we’re here! Click here to get involved in the Afforestation Project.
- Avoid consuming products made with palm oil unless the palm oil is certifiably and provably sustainable.
- Cut down on your meat intake. Most meat is farmed on deforested land, and consuming less of it benefits the environment in myriad ways.
- Reduce, reuse, recycle – but also try to source recycled products, especially plant products such as paper and cardboard.
- Look for the FSC symbol on wood products. FSC-certified products are sustainably grown and harvested with respect for workers and indigenous peoples.
- Use your voice to stand up for the world’s forests: there are always people and companies looking to clear more land, and it’s up to us to speak up as individuals and as collectives to show our leaders that we care.
Whew! That turned into a long one. I hope you learned something! Check out the references if you’d like to find out more.
Until next week,