By Morgan Erickson-Davis
29 February 2016
(mongabay.com) – The northeastern Australian state of Queensland is home to lush tropical forests, unique wildlife, and rivers that feed into the largest reef system in the world. But researchers write that Queensland’s wilderness is under increasing strain, with data showing a big ramp-up in deforestation over the last two years.
In total, satellite data compiled and analyzed by the Queensland Government indicate more than 296,000 hectares of woody vegetation (ranging from very sparse woodland to dense forest) was lost in the state between 2013 and 2014. This number is up nearly 400 percent from 2009-2010, which saw around 77,500 hectares lost, according to the data.
Scientists from the University of Queensland and other Australian institutions responded to the findings in an article published last week in The Conversation, an academic and research online news source. They write that much of this clearing is the result of pasture expansion, and is occurring despite ambitious restoration goals in greater Australia.
“There’s a strong rural lobby in Queensland that’s simply grown accustomed to clearing lots of land,” Bill Laurance, a research professor at James Cook University and co-author of the article, told Mongabay. “They feel entitled to do this, as though it’s their traditional right. According to them, nobody—especially the government—is going to tell them what to do.
“For example, the Queensland Parliament recently passed an ill-advised resolution opposing any changes to Queensland’s land-clearing laws. This resolution was led by Bob Katter, the Katter Party and the [Liberal National Party], whose positions on these issues are fairly notorious, at least among Queensland’s environmental scientists.”
This escalating deforestation, write Laurance and his colleagues, is counteracting the effects of federal environmental protection programs. They estimate that in just one year of clearing, more trees were felled in Queensland than the 20 million Australia plans to plant by 2020; and in two years of clearing, more carbon was released from deforestation than the country’s Emissions Reduction Fund has been able to offset in industry abatements.
Yet, according to Laurance, Australia’s federal government doesn’t seem to be doing much of anything to stem the clearing of Queensland’s native flora. [more]