Conservation news

Trending tree cover loss spikes again in Queensland

Animals

  • A government analysis of Landsat satellite imagery found that 395,000 hectares (976,000 acres) of tree cover was cleared between 2015 and 2016 — nearly a 33 percent bump over the same time period in 2014-2015.
  • Forty percent of that clearing — some 158,000 hectares (390,000 acres) — occurred in the Great Barrier Reef catchment.
  • The latest year’s clearing is the highest rate in a decade and represents the sixth consecutive year in which rates in Queensland have risen.

The Australian state of Queensland is losing tree cover at the fastest rate in more than a decade, according to a government study released in September.

“It’s even worse than my worst fears for this next round of land clearing data,” Queensland’s environment minister Steven Miles told the Guardian newspaper. He called the findings “nothing short of devastating.”

The report’s authors analyzed Landsat satellite imagery captured between August 2015 and August 2016 of the state, about half of which lies in the tropics. They found that, during that time, 395,000 hectares (976,000 acres) of tree cover had been cleared — nearly a 33 percent bump over the same time period in 2014-2015.

Annual woody vegetation clearing rate in Queensland (1988-2016). Source: Queensland Department of Science, Information Technology and Innovation.

Some 40 percent — 158,000 hectares (390,000 acres) — of that clearing occurred in the area from which water flows into the Great Barrier Reef. That’s a 45 percent increase over the previous year, and it has meant an influx of “more sediment into the Great Barrier Reef, literally suffocating our coral,” Miles said in the Guardian article. The news also adds to a string of reports from the past year cataloging damage to the world’s largest coral reef.

More than a third of the total tree cover loss came at the expense of what the State of Queensland’s Department of Science, Information Technology and Innovation, which produced the document, refers to as “remnant forests.”

These “old growth native” forests are “the most important habitat for native species,” Miles said, adding that their loss is “the single biggest threat” to koala (Phascolarctos cinereus) numbers.

The Guardian reports that clearing rates have risen since the government, led by the Liberal National Party, relaxed “restrictions” on cutting down forests in 2013. According to a July 2017 statement from Miles’ office, rates of land clearing in Queensland “nearly doubled” to around 300,000 hectares (741,000 acres) per year in the first two years that the party was in office.

Rainforest near Daintree, Queensland. Photo by Thomas Schoch, CC BY-SA 2.5, via Wikimedia Commons

Overwhelmingly, much of the land cleared in 2015 and 2016 was for livestock pastures, in addition to agriculture, mining and other uses. Jackie Trad, deputy premier of Queensland, also voiced her concern in the Guardian article about a return “to the bad old days of bulldozing hundreds of thousands of hectares of woody and remnant vegetations in order to make way particularly for pasture for cows.”

Gemma Plesman of the Wilderness Society Queensland told the Guardian that this report means that Queensland is “up there with the world’s worst offenders for forest destruction.”

Trad echoed that assertion: “We know that the current rates of land clearing in Queensland are unsustainable. Australia has become one of the deforestation hotspots in the world — the only advanced economy to be named in the 12 deforestation hotspots in the world.”

A baby koala in Currumbin Wildlife Sanctuary in Queensland. Photo by Erik Veland (Own work) CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

CITATION

Queensland Department of Science, Information Technology and Innovation. 2017 . Land cover change in Queensland 2015 – 16: a Statewide Landcover and Trees Study (SLATS) report. DSITI, Brisbane.

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