Land clearing: two million hectares of Queensland forest destroyed in five years, new analysis shows – The Guardian

By March 6, 2024 March 8th, 2024 News

The majority of clearing occurred in regrowth forest more than 15 years old, which experts say would have been rich potential habitat for native animals. Photograph: Auscape/UIG/Getty Images

Research finds almost all land cleared in the state between 2016 and 2021 in areas where threatened species habitat ‘likely to occur’
Aston Brown Wed 6 Mar 2024 01.00 AEDT,Land%20clearing%3A%20two%20million%20hectares%20of%20Queensland%20forest%20destroyed,five%20years%2C%20new%20analysis%20shows&text=More%20than%202m%20hectares%20(4.94,year%20period%2C%20new%20analysis%20shows.

More than 2m hectares (4.94m acres) of bushland in Queensland that included large swathes of possible koala habitat has been cleared over a five-year period, new analysis shows.

The research, commissioned by Greenpeace and conducted by the University of Queensland academic Martin Taylor, found almost all land clearing that occurred in the state between 2016 and 2021 was in areas where threatened species habitat was “likely to occur”.
Almost two-thirds of the cleared area, or 1.3m hectares, was marked by the Queensland government as “category x”, meaning it was exempt from state vegetation laws that regulate land clearing. Some 500,000 hectares of that land was koala habitat, the report said.

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Taylor, an adjunct professor at the University of Queensland and former WWF-Australia conservation scientist, conducted the analysis by comparing state government land clearing data to federally mapped areas of environmental significance.
The majority of recorded land clearing occurred in regrowth forest that was more than 15 years old, which Taylor said made it capable of providing rich habitat for native animals.
“Industry voices like to say this is just controlling knee-high regrowth, so it’s just vegetation management,” he said. “[But] a 15-year-old eucalypt forest can be at least 10 to 15 metres high – they are forests.”

Taylor said that while laws in Queensland allow for regrowth forests to be reclassified as remnant once they mature, the requirements to do so are unclear.
“A lot of regrowth 15 years and older could have already become what they define as remnant, making it more difficult to clear,” he said.

Gemma Plesman, a senior campaigner at Greenpeace Australia Pacific, said the report documented deforestation on a “frightening” scale. She said the state’s annual statewide land cover and tree study (Slats) shows land clearing was driven by beef production.
According to the beef industry, more than 10m cattle graze on Queensland pastures, making it the biggest beef producing state in the country.
“Fast food chains and retailers should be aware that the beef they are selling could come from properties that have bulldozed koala habitat with no government oversight,” Plesman said.

Plesman said environmental law reforms being developed by the federal government needed to address concerns around deforestation in Queensland to be effective.
“This shocking data should be a wake-up call,” she said. “They must address what has made Australia a global hotspot for deforestation.”

The Wilderness Society Queensland campaign manager, Hannah Schuch, said deforestation in Queensland was driving biodiversity loss.
“It’s having an impact on iconic native species like the koala, the greater glider, the red goshawk, it’s tearing down their homes and pushing them towards extinction,” she said.
“We know that erosion and sediment runoff from deforestation is another threat to the already at-risk Great Barrier Reef,” she said.

A spokesperson for the federal environment minister, Tanya Plibersek, said the government was in the consultation process to develop new national environment laws. However, three organisations familiar with the draft laws say they would continue to allow widespread deforestation.

Michael Guerin, the chief executive of Queensland farming body AgForce, questioned the accuracy of the Slats data which was used in Taylor’s analysis. He said deforestation rates were overstated.
He suggested there should be an on-the-ground survey to confirm deforestation rates.
“Let’s come out and ground truth it,” Guerin said. “Let’s get out on the landscape and spend the money and time so we’re confident about what’s happening. The industry and community is up for that.”