You might consider deforestation an issue synonymous with Brazil or Indonesia, but Australia is also busily killing forests. According to the environmental watchdog, Mongabay, Australia lost 2.5 percent of its forest cover between 1990 and 2005, or around 4.25 million hectares. That may not seem huge, but it is when you consider that the majority of that loss was concentrated to a single state. Queensland.
The early 1990s were the state's bad years. Of the 1.2 million hectares of native forest lost nationally between 1991 and 1995, over 80 percent was logged in Queensland . This was why in 1994 Queensland amended their Land Act to better protect native vegetation; a law that was strengthened in 1996. Finally in 2009 Queensland adopted an enforceable system to regulate the clearing of native vegetation, which meant deforestation was significantly lowered from 2009 to 2011.
So why did things change the following year? That was when the Liberal National Party were voted into power and set their sights on thinning most pieces of environmental legislation. In April 2013, Andrew Cripps, the Natural Resources Minister at the time, announced that the government before them had swung towards " extreme green politics" and introduced the Vegetation Management Framework Amendment Act 2013, which brought back wide-scale land clearing for farming.
Queensland tore up 275,000 hectares of forest in the last financial year—a tripling of rates since 2010.
Basically, the Liberal government at the time thought it economically unviable to protect one of the nation's richest stretches of remnant forest, instead opting to give farmers and agricultural stakeholders the opportunity to manage their land free from pesky red tape.
As it stands, Queensland is again the worst state for deforestation. 275,000 hectares were torn up in the last financial year— a tripling of land clearing rates since 2010. A new Labor government has been elected, partially on their commitment to conservation, yet the new minister for natural resources, Dr Anthony Lynham, has told landholders that lax forestry laws will remain until further notice. As he announced in a media release earlier this month, "I intend to get my boots dirty to see the laws in action for myself and consult broadly. I want to see what works well before I consider any options." Unfortunately he declined our request to comment further.
Someone who would talk to VICE is Environmental Science Professor Bill Lawrence from James Cook University in Cairns. Bill also attributes the combination of Tony Abbott's "very conservative federal government" with Campbell Newman's "very conservative former Queensland government" to the growing rates of forest loss. As he reiterates, "Australia has had one of the world's highest rates of forest and woodland clearing. In fact I saw a recent talk at a conference where Australia was in the top three worldwide behind Brazil and Indonesia."
Professor Lawrence describes the current regime as unsustainable and "quite frankly, myopic". He describes sending ecosystems into oblivion by a thousand cuts, and his sadness at living in an era of vanishing species. Mostly though, he says that he's frustrated that Australia is "regarded as an industrial country among the world's worst forest destroyers."
Despite the downers, Professor Lawrence is confident the situation will improve. "Absolutely," he says emphatically, but acknowledges that the road ahead won't be easy. He admits there will be reluctance to change as well as anger. "I'm hopeful the new Labor government will have the courage to enforce policies that have allowed deforestation rates to fall", he says.
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