What is the purpose of the SLATS report?

View From the Paddock: What is the purpose of the SLATS report?

OPINION
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Mark Davie, Australian Beef Sustainability Framework chairman.

Mark Davie, Australian Beef Sustainability Framework chairman.

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In the wake of responses to the latest SLATS report, Mark Davie says we need a conversation on the best ways to manage land.

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The 2018/2019 statewide Land Cover and Trees Study report identified 559,000ha worth of clearing and 121,000ha worth of partial clearing.

These figures were widely reported as an increase from the previous report of 392,000ha.

What was not reported was a change in measuring methodology. The new report measures vegetation from 10 per cent canopy cover as opposed to the previous 20pc.

The SLATS report has no relevance to international standards and definitions of forest, the regulatory framework or the underlying health of the ecosystems it is attempting to measure based on detecting changes in canopy cover from a satellite.

The SLATS methodology and the way it is communicated implies that our landscape should be a thickening forest.

The SLATS report does not provide an effective description or breakdown of the reasons for clearing, creating a perception that producers clear trees because they do not care for the environment.

Acceptable clearing under PMAVs is now referred to as legacy exemptions.

SLATS does not break down the permitted clearing for fence lines, tracks, fire lines, firebreaks. It also doesn't discuss the large amount of tree deaths due to drought conditions that have been reported.

In the majority of cases, landowners manage vegetation because thickening has occurred, reducing the ability of pasture to grow, or where trees have encroached on lands that were predominantly pasture.

Landowners manage vegetation with the full understanding that regrowth will follow, particularly brigalow and mulga, the two species where more than 85pc of clearing has occurred.

Weed management is a significant problem across Queensland, but SLATS does not separate this out.

The environment is more than a tree - our native ecosystems include open grassland and woodlands that are threatened by thickening invasive native and non-native species.

When will the SLATS methodology detail thickening of vegetation cover beyond what the original cover for a bio-region? When will it report on the quality of the ecosystems it is measuring?

Vegetation management practices have been undertaken in Australia for thousands of years through the use of fire, or recently selectively with machinery.

Some media even went as far as to refer to the new SLATS report as a 'carbon bomb'.

A 'carbon bomb' is the 700 million tonnes of carbon dioxide emitted by the 2019/2020 bushfires, which doubled our national carbon emissions for that year and wiped out millions of native species.

The last 20 years have seen global NGOs influence government policy on the practice and reporting of vegetation and fire management with solutions that do not recognise our unique ecosystems and landscape.

Our fires have moved from the forest floor to the canopy.

A failure to implement vegetation management practices across our landscape is the biggest risk to our native flora and fauna and our carbon neutral 2050 target.

The government wants to start a conversation with producers on the best ways to manage land clearing.

I propose we need a conversation on the best ways to manage land.

- Mark Davie, Australian Beef Sustainability Framework chairman

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