17th February 2012
“There has never been any doubt in the minds of Queensland’s rural landowners that many of the environmental imposts placed on them have no basis in science, but the recent charging of a SW Queensland man with illegal clearing of turkey bush (Eremophila Gilesii) has amplified that belief,” said Property Rights Australia Chair, Joanne Rea.
In the transcript of judgment Magistrate Hogan, based on the evidence of Mr. Franks of the herbarium, said,
The clearing of native vegetation tends towards “landscape fragmentation, habitat loss, weed invasion, loss of nutrient cycling and increased greenhouse gases and a range of other effects.”
However these statements take on a different context when the land has already been modified by European settlement and management particularly modified fire regimes.
The work of the Charleville Pastoral Laboratory over four decades makes it clear that rather than causing these environmentally damaging effects, it has in fact reversed them with the turkey bush being replaced with a more ecologically substantive and biodiverse system.
In particular the work of R.L. Miles (unpublished Ph.D. thesis) highlighted the two-stage process of soil erosion in mulga lands by a combination of water and wind and the importance of level of total cover in combating this erosion. The required level of cover is less likely with turkey bush.
The range of native grasses which replaced the turkey bush and indeed the false sandalwood which can also be a woody weed at density has increased biodiversity, increased ground cover with vegetative matter increasing by 300 %, decreased the amount of bare ground for weeds to establish or erosion to occur, increased nutrient cycling, increased rain penetration and provided habitat for flora and fauna starting with the biota in the soil.
The role played by grasses in greenhouse gas recycling has always been underestimated and undervalued.
Also underestimated is the speed with which country returns to a pre cleared state. In the 22 months between the two clearings, according to Mr Anderson of the Remote Sensing Centre for DERM areas seemed to have returned to a state comparable to the pre clearing condition.
Queensland leasehold landowners are required under the Land Act to keep their land free of encroachment of woody vegetation.
Not only is this almost impossible to do but is uneconomic no matter what method is used. With the constraints now put on landowners by permits it will almost never be attempted.
When someone like the present landowner comes along and does a good job of renovation he should be applauded.
Inspections for leasehold land renewals under the Delbessie Agreement require the land to be in “good condition.” Under the inspection guidelines issued by DERM, the variety of native grasses established and the extra groundcover from them should be regarded much more favourably by the inspectors.
In case anyone is in any doubt, this extent and density of turkey bush was less prevalent prior to European settlement. Modifying it is returning it more closely to its pristine state. Mulga and false sandalwood can also become woody weeds under their ideal conditions.
“The decision to prosecute this landowner is surely an error of judgment and a peppercorn fine should have been imposed.”
In contrast, last week’s Queensland Country Life has an article on the contaminated mine water for which DERM has given permits to be released into the Fitzroy Basin Systems.
What I would like to draw particular note to is the paragraph where the DERM officer confirms that a couple of unauthorised releases had occurred “but both releases were minor and early investigations indicate they were unlikely to have caused environmental harm.”
“The question that I would like to ask, as would many landowners,” said Mrs. Rea is, “if DERM can decide that a breach by a mine is of minor importance, why then can it not show an equal measure of common sense with regard to landowners and decide that operations that they have carried out may have improved the environment and that prosecution is therefore inappropriate?”
For further information contact:
Joanne Rea, “Edangarry” KUNWARARA QLD 4702
Ph: (07) 49 356 231 Mobile: 0407 143 664 Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
PRA is a non-profit organisation of primary producers and business people from rural
areas defending the rights of property owners