Australia hasn’t been known for it’s environmentally friendly policies in recent years especially with UNESCO’s warnings over their failure to protect the Great Barrier Reef. Unfortunately it appears that the spate of land clearing hitting Queensland in recent years is just another catastrophe in their poor green record as figures show the sheer scale and detrimental impacts on native wildlife.
Researchers were already worried as the Government announced policy changes in 2012 as land clearing was resulting in tens of thousands of hectares of rainforest being lost. However after the announcement that vegetation protections were being revoked and that investigations into and prosecutions of illegal clearing would be halted, this worry has turned to outcry as land is no longer being cleared in the tens of thousands but rather by hundreds of thousands of hectares. 296,000 hectares of bushland was cleared in 2013-14, that was three times more than between 2008-9.
The majority of the land being cleared is now used as pastures. However before it was prime habitat for around 200 threatened species, including koalas, greater bilby and northern quoll. Of course to many it is obvious that land clearing especially in hugely biodiverse places such as rainforests is going to be detrimental, yet it is not just the destruction of these ecosystems that is worrying.
Land clearing can lead to increased erosion, a reduction in nearby water quality, heighten impacts of drought, and of course land clearances significantly contribute to carbon emissions and thus global warming.
Even more alarmingly the new Government data shows that clearing in the catchments which drain into the Great Barrier Reef have increased dramatically. This is having a huge knock on impact for the UNESCO site as the water quality in the reef’s lagoon deteriorates and with it so does populations of seagrass, coral reefs and other marine organisms.
As a blog in The Ecologist stated this morning, “Land clearing affects all Australians, not just Queenslanders”. The federal Government has pledged millions of dollars to improve water quality in the Great Barrier Reef, however without the foresight to control land clearing further up river, this is the equivalent of just throwing money into the oceans in the hope it will clear up pollution.
Not only is the Australian Government throwing money down the drain with its short sighted approach, but it threatens a huge variety of wildlife. The loss of forests along waterways is created ever more fractured habitats for species like koalas, as well as putting them at higher risk of drought. All in all this is leading to a huge decline in wildlife populations. Land clearing along with drought has been attributed to the 50% decline in koala populations witnessed in Queensland since 1996.
To sum it all up, the land clearing of 50 million trees in just one year has smothered the projects to help reverse the impact of land clearing which saw 20 million trees planted over 4 years at a cost of $50 million. Australia’s current policy is not sustainable and is threatening wildlife, key habitats and ecosystems and in the long term, their economy.
Featured Image by Bill Laurence
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