New pressure to end clearing

27 Nov, 2003 12:00 AM
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MORE than 400 scientists have cranked up the pressure on the State and Federal governments to immediately implement plans to ban clearing in Queensland.

However, the move has been labelled a 'media stunt' by AgForce president Larry Acton, while Shadow Natural Resources Minister Jeff Seeney described it as 'emotive nonsense'.

In an open letter to Premier Peter Beattie and Prime Minister John Howard entitled 'The Brigalow Declaration', 420 ecologists and wildlife scientists argued that "large scale destruction and removal of native woodlands, forests, wetlands and grasslands remains the biggest single threat to biodiversity in Australia".

"We endorse the leadership that you have both recently shown on this issue," the letter states. "We encourage you to implement a solution as fast as possible."

The scientists, headed by director of the University of Queensland ecology centre, Professor Hugh Possingham, said that for every 100 hectares of native woodlands that were cleared, some 2000 birds, 15,000 reptiles and 500 native animals would die as a consequence of losing the habitat.

"A recent study conservatively calculated that in total over 2.1 million mammals, 8.5m birds and 89m reptiles die from land clearing operations in Queensland each year," the Declaration states.

Professor Possingham told the media a number of species, including the paradise parrot in the Brigalow region, had already become extinct as a consequence of clearing and more would be lost in coming years.

However, AgForce president Larry Acton said the Declaration did nothing constructive when it came to solving the complex issue of vegetation management.

"The problem I have is we are dealing with this situation - while those sorts of stunts get media attention they don't resolve the situation for the betterment of the community, the people of the country, or the environment," Mr Acton said.

"Our members and landholders generally recognise the situation they're raising and are trying to deal with it on a daily basis.

"But this is just another stunt from people with questionable authority over the Queensland situation."

Both State and Federal governments are waiting for the finalisation of AgForce's alternative policy and the Productivity Commission's draft report into the economic impact of vegetation policy - both due in coming weeks - before finalising the Queensland's vegetation policy.

But Mr Acton said this process had been hampered by a lack of communication from the State Government.

"I'm frustrated that I've been sitting on my hands for over a month now trying to get around the table with the Premier," he said.

However, the economic sensitivity of regional Queensland was again highlighted this week's with the State of the Regions report from the Australian Local Government Association detailing the fragile state of most rural economies, which are lagging behind in growth and development opportunities.

Most of regional Queensland west of the divide was shown to lack opportunity to generate employment based on population growth and their capacity to export education or business services. The centres most likely to generate employment had strong non-primary industries.

Given the findings of the report, Property Rights Australia chairman Dominic Devine said much of western Queensland would face economic ruin if the state and federal governments accepted the demands of the 'Brigalow Declaration'.

Mr Devine said a ban on clearing would snuff out any chance of much-needed economic development in the region and preferred a 'balanced solution' that allowed sustainable land development.

"It's good to talk about protecting native vegetation and wildlife, but we want a solution that protects the people who live in these areas too," Mr Devine said.

"The level of development in Queensland is nowhere near that of the southern states and we have the opportunity to get the balance between development and conservation right.

"If the ban on clearing proposed by the state and federal governments is introduced, many won't have any economic future. It's that simple."

However, Professor Possingham said native vegetation should be regarded as a national asset and supported calls for farmers to be compensated for the loss of ability to develop their land, but said rural communities faced huge economic costs if clearing went unchecked.

"The $60 billion landscape repair bill for southern Australia could be avoided in northern Australia if we act now."

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