Not so many years ago Australian farmers where forced to clear their land of trees, it was a condition of many leases. Some areas were over-cleared particularly in Western Australia.
Over the last 10 years the pendulum has swung in completely the other direction, with legislation now essentially outlawing tree clearing on both leasehold and freehold land.
In Queensland and NSW the new legislation has been driven, at least in part, by relentless campaigning from the Wilderness Society. As their name suggests, this environment group believes in ‘wilderness’ and is against the active management of landscapes. Yet, to quote, Deborah Bird Rose :
“A definition of wilderness which excludes the active presence of humanity may suit contemporary people’s longing for places of peace, natural beauty, and spiritual presence, uncontaminated by their own culture. But definitions which claim that these landscapes are ‘natural’ miss the whole point. Here on this continent, there is no place where the feet of Aboriginal humanity have not preceded those of the settler. Nor is there any place where the country was not once fashioned and kept productive by Aboriginal people’s land management practices.”
The reality is that before white pastoralists moved into western NSW and Queensland the country was “kept productive” by aboriginals and their firesticks. They burnt the land which favoured some grasses and limited the establishment of what many pastoralists now refer to as “woody weeds” including species of native cypress pine and acacia.
Current land management practices compounded by government regulations, policies and expectations, have resulted in large areas of western Queensland and NSW being over run by invasive native scrub, also known as ‘woody weeds’, and this is having a negative economic and environmental impact in many areas.
While the rural press has run hard on the issue it has been ignored by the mainstream media. It has perhaps been assumed that farmers have exaggerated the ‘woody weed’ issue because they want to keep clearing trees until there are none left? Interestingly when I tried to get a piece published by the Courier Mail some years ago, I was told that my suggestion that there were more trees regrowing than being cleared in Queensland was offensive.
But, at last a respectable metropolitan journalist has discovered the issue. This morning Channel Nine’s Sunday Program ran ‘The Great Land-Clearing Myth’ as their cover story. Ross Coulthart made the comment:
ROSS COULTHART: Another reason to be skeptical about the Wilderness Society’s alarming land clearing figures — they don’t include regrowth in their estimate of 100,000 hectares of clearing because no-one is measuring it.
WILDERNESS SOCIETY CAMPAIGNER: That figure doesn’t include regrowth.
ROSS COULTHART: You say a lot of people say to us if you took the regrowth of native vegetation into account the amount of regrowth would far exceed the clearing.
WILDERNESS SOCIETY CAMPAINGER: Sure but the native bush can’t regenerate at the moment as fast as it’s being cleared.
In fact last time I looked native bush was regenerating faster than it was being cleared. That’s not to say that there is not a need for some restrictions on broad scale tree clearing or that woody weed regrowth is equivalent to high value remnant scrub. But until this morning it seemed not a single respectable journalist would explore the issue – there was not honest discussion in the mainstream metropolitan media.
Earlier this year Ross Coulthart went further than anyone has ever gone in exposing the politics of salinity in Australia. This morning he legitimised many landholder’s concerns about woody weed regrowth and perhaps opened the door to a discussion that needs to be had.
You can read the full transcript here: http://sunday.ninemsn.com.au/sunday/cover_stories/article_2039.asp .