Re-establish land-use plans or expect more carbon farms

View From the Paddock: Rangelands policy must stay on agenda

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Royal Society of Queensland vice president Geoff Edwards.

Royal Society of Queensland vice president Geoff Edwards.

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Queensland urgently needs to re-establish a land-use planning capability at some scale larger than individual properties or landholders will be left on their own to haggle with carbon marketers or banks.

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Few rangelands graziers think of themselves as planners, but decisions on where and when to spell or to burn, the width of riparian strips to fence along watercourses and whether to clear native vegetation all derive from land-use planning.

Since early settlement, most of Queensland's pastoral estate has been managed by private family businesses who have enjoyed wide autonomy to conduct rural operations.

From 1987, Landcare groups have supported landholders in planning their operations by assembling knowledge from a broad range of sources and tailoring it to local conditions. Unfortunately the Landcare movement has lost momentum because of a lack of interest by governments in funding it adequately.

Then from 2002 regional natural resource management groups underpinned landholders' property management by planning at the catchment and regional scale. But from 2008 the federal Rudd government seemed to lose interest in land-use planning and steered its NRM funding towards on-ground works, hardly the role of the national government.

Then in 2012 the Queensland Newman government dismissed the entire team engaged in the parallel function of regional planning for growth management.

The scope for graziers to make autonomous decisions is narrowing rapidly as policy decisions made in George Street or Canberra or Beijing cover more and more aspects of rural production: trade agreements, environmental regulation, the telecommunications maze and water trading are only some examples.

Carbon trading will add another level of complexity and will cause many landholders to ponder whether grazing stock is even worth continuing compared with carbon sequestration.

Decisions on whether to retire properties from grazing using carbon credits can have far-reaching consequences for the vigour of local communities and should not be left to carbon marketers who are already knocking on doors.

Queensland urgently needs to re-establish a land-use planning capability at some scale larger than individual properties - whether cluster groups, catchments, local governments or NRM regions. If it does not do this, landholders will be left on their own to haggle with carbon marketers or banks, and a legacy of under-managed landscapes will be recycled.

As part of the Rangelands Policy Initiative co-organised with AgForce and NRM Regions Queensland, the Royal Society is keen to hear from rural people how Queensland can re-establish a land-use planning capability that will both aid pastoral families in their decision-making and will guide the industry to sustainability.

- Geoff Edwards, vice president Royal Society of Queensland

This article does not necessarily reflect the views of the society or its members. The society welcomes feedback at rsocqld@gmail.com

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