Land Clearing Act Now
William Blake opined that a robin redbreast in a cage puts all heaven in a rage, and he was not wrong. Fortunately for Blake, he never had to listen to a tree-eating machine, one of the worst sounds in the world. The first time I heard it, I rushed outside, unable to imagine what was responsible for such a monstrous noise. It's a familiar sound in a city bursting with new development, but I will never cease to be profoundly disturbed by it.
A vast continent of harsh conditions and impenetrable vegetation has produced a race who excel at gadgetry to bring wild landscapes under control. Wood-chippers and stump grinders can clear an urban block before you can find Council's number to ask if they're allowed to be doing it. Tree equipment companies boast 'aggressive feed' and 'massive chipping capacity', concepts that make me pale.
Felled trees means fewer birds and other critters, greater run-off, eroded soils, warmer micro-climates and fewer objects of beauty. Trees live for longer than humans, if they're allowed to. They are mighty, benign and the powerhouses of the natural world. We destroy them at our enormous peril.
Every Aussie bloke seems to think he can wield a chainsaw. My neighbour took his to a beautiful variegated fig tree on his property's boundary. It affords us shade and privacy, and has a resident possum and Blue-faced Honeyeaters, but he doesn't care. He didn't have a clue about how to prune, and a year later the tree still has a weirdly empty centre, because that's where the most accessible branches once were. The idiot climbed up it in thongs (flip-flops), of course, waving his gadget around until he noticed me glowering: we've had issues in the past and don't talk unless in an emergency. Unfortunately, he didn't fall off his perch despite the inappropriate footwear.
For larger-scale land clearing, the Aussies have developed an even more terrifying method: namely, dozers and chains. It's hard to watch the footage at the start of this ABC piece from 10 months ago.
Tim Seelig of the Wilderness Society described what was going on at Olive Vale as Joh-Bjelke-Petersen-era land clearing, referring to the method pioneered by Queensland's notorious 31st premier on his peanut farm near Kingaroy (see picture at top).
Decades of rampant clearing were reined in by the Vegetation Management Act 1999. It used a series of maps to determine which vegetation was regulated and where clearing could not occur. Further attempts to curb broadscale clearing followed in 2004 and under the Sustainable Planning Act of 2009. Progress was seriously undermined by Campbell Newman's destructive land clearing efforts, during which, in just one year, 2013/14, 300,000 hectares of native woodland were destroyed in Queensland, the kind of per-annum figure from the bad old 1990s. Clearing on that scale means the destruction of threatened species' habitats and increased run-off to the Great Barrier Reef; not to mention the release of 36 million tonnes of carbon.
The Olive Grove land clearing in Far North Queensland was supposedly for high-value agriculture. One look at the dry earth once the tree debris was cleared away proved the fallacy of that intention. Now there's even more of Australia for cows to eat.
Ten days ago I attended a briefing by the Environmental Defenders Office in Brisbane. Speakers including Dr Seelig encouraged us to make a submission to the Agriculture and Environment Parliamentary Committee in support of the Labor government's Vegetation Management (Reinstatement) and Other Legislation Amendment Bill 2016, VMROLA to its friends.
The legislation is by no means fully comprehensive, but it will go some way to undoing Newman's damage. Please consider making a submission, the cut-off for which is 25 April. It should be in your own words, but it doesn't need to be long or complex. Here, here and here are links to provide background, answer questions and help you write a submission.
Speak from the heart and don't be afraid. Just list the points you consider to be most important, as clearly and concisely as you can.
My friend and I have travelled extensively in Queensland. When we're driving through the ever-changing landscape, or looking out from a viewpoint, we often ask ourselves, 'I wonder how much of this is original vegetation?' Thankfully, it's a rhetorical question: I suspect we wouldn't like the answer most of the time.
I know many environmental protectors who would like to see tighter regulation to protect high-value conservation areas and remnant ecosystems, and to restrict resource and urban development. Land clearing is often the start of all sorts of slippery slopes, so the reinstatement of vegetation management laws is a vitally important first step to achieving some of these aims.
Please take time to write a submission. Thank you for your support.