Savanna scrubland
Australia’s deforestation record is one of the world’s worst. Photo: ©Tony Neilson

Australia keeps bad land-clearing company

It will surprise, and hopefully shock, many to learn that, when it comes to deforestation, Australia is one of the world’s worst.

According to the World Wildlife Fund’s (WWF) biennial Living Planet Report released almost exactly a year ago, Australia ranks alongside Indonesia, New Guinea, the Congo and Brazil for forest destruction.

Australia is locked in an environmental death spiral. Its ruling coalition party is in denial over climate change and Aussie farmers are still being encouraged to fell forest and scrub in favour of livestock pasture – even though much of the land is unsuited to pastoral farming and in the grip of unprecedented drought.

Millions killed

By far the highest rate of land clearing occurs in Queensland, where bulldozers – often pulling huge chains between them – flattened nearly 400,000 ha of native vegetation in 2015-16. And according to WWF conservation scientist Dr Martin Taylor, an estimated 45 million animals were killed in the process – everything, from geckos to cockatoos.

The fund also reports that in the six years to 2016, the annual rate of land clearing in Queensland increased by 330 percent. And if the current conversion rate continues for 15 years, another 3 million hectares of trees will be lost.

A billion trees

The Australian Government announced in February this year that 1 billion trees (mainly pine) would be planted across Australia by 2030. Costing at least $12.5 million, the project is expected to remove 18 million tonnes of greenhouse gases annually from the atmosphere between now and 2030.

Rainbow bee-eaters sharing a branch
Common birds like rainbow bee-eaters are casualties of mass forest clearing. Photo: ©Tony Neilson

But that is almost neutralised by benign state land-clearing laws resulting in the loss in Queensland alone of 400 million trees per year (1000 trees per ha times nearly 400,000 ha). The current state Labor administration has tightened up on wholesale land clearing, but you don’t have to travel far west of to see the skeletons of forests lost.

Common birds

The impact of widespread habitat loss on ‘ordinary’ birds was highlighted in a late October Guardian article, ‘Australia’s beloved native birds are disappearing – and the cause is clear’.

Researchers at the University of Queensland claim the destruction of vast areas of native vegetation is responsible for the loss of untold numbers of common birds.

They say populations of Australia’s ‘threatened’ birds declined an average 52 percent between 1985 and 2015. ‘Alarmingly, populations of many common Australian birds – including bee-eaters, double-barred finches and pale-headed rosellas – are also trending downwards, and habitat loss is a major cause,’ they report.

The scientists are calling for more formal recognition and protection of common birds and animals in conservation and environmental law.

Natural Images 2019

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©2018 TONY NEILSON All Rights Reserved. All images are protected by Australian copyright law and cannot be downloaded or reproduced without my permission. Please contact me.

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