You may remember that some weeks ago the Channel 9 Sunday Program featured a documentary on salinity title ‘Australia’s Salinity Crisis: What Crisis’. While researching the dryland salinity issue, reporter Ross Coulthart got interested in land clearing issues. This Sunday (6th August) the current affairs program will feature a documentary titled ‘Woody Weeds: How Trees Can Be Bad’. I’ve just received the media release:
“This week SUNDAY travels to far western NSW to check out the claims being made by many Green groups and politicians of a looming ecological disaster being caused by land clearing.
What we find overturns many of the alarmist claims that many of Australia’s largely city dwelling environmentalists have taken as gospel.
SUNDAY reporter Ross Coulthart details the strong evidence to show that current Government policies restricting land clearing, pushed by a powerful environmental lobby, are in fact causing serious environmental damage.
As several eminent scientists reveal this week too many trees in that landscape can actually be bad for the environment.
As recently as six years ago, Australia’s peak science body, the CSIRO, was warning of the ecological threat posed by invasive native scrub – the farmers call them “woody weeds” – that has taken over what was once largely, sparsely-treed, open grasslands across far western NSW and southern Qld.
Even the Wentworth Group of Scientists, in their 2002 ‘Blueprint for a Living Continent’ warned that laudable restrictions on broad-scale land clearing needed to be clearly distinguished from the “need to control shrub invasion in the semi-arid and pastoral areas of Australia.”
As local Nyngan aboriginal elder Tommy Ryan explains, for 45,000 years these largely open grasslands were managed by indigenous Australians using fire. But since European settlement that lack of burning has caused a huge growth of invasive scrub that has taken over between 15-25% of NSW alone.
Now tens of millions of hectares of that once open grassland are effectively being locked-up by Native Vegetation laws that NSW farmers claim are excessively restricting their clearing of what they say is environmentally harmful woody weeds.
Farmers are commonly demonised as the villains responsible for broad-scale land clearing, and that’s what the farmers of Nyngan and Cobar are now accused by the Wilderness Society’s public campaign of doing.
But the farmers claim the plants and animals that evolved to depend on those open grasslands are under threat because of the very trees the Greenies are fighting to save.
And, as SUNDAY details, they have some heavy-weight scientific backing for their arguments. As former Western Lands Commissioner and soil scientist Dick Condon tells Coulthart:
“We don’t need forest. We need open space for the species that use that grassland.”
Mick Keogh, Executive Director of the Australian Farm Institute, says the evidence is there to show that the magnitude of vegetation loss across Australia has been grossly over-exaggerated. Yet the official estimates of 650,000ha being cleared a year in 1989-90 went on to become the cornerstone of Australia’s negotiating position at Kyoto, where limits on greenhouse gas emissions were negotiated. He believes that in order to ensure the reduction in land clearing occurred, the Federal Government made State funding dependent on the States banning land clearing. Keogh argues that a misguided effort to meet those inaccurate targets has led to the current highly restrictive Native Vegetation laws.
Also, current land clearing estimates don’t take into account the extent of regrowth and replanting of trees. When this is taken into account, reafforestation far exceeds even the official, exaggerated, estimates of land clearing.”