Australian Geographic - 09.2019 - 10.2019

(Axel Boer) #1

82 Australian Geographic

Queensland, including Townsville, earlier this year, was worse
than it should have been due to forest clearing.
Jelenko Dragisic, general manager of Greening Australia
(GA) Queensland, warns it’s a sign of what can be expected
more and more in the future with climate change. It’s imper-
ative, he says, that the resilience of the Australian landscape is
safeguarded and reinforced even further by protecting what
tree cover we have and restoring what’s already been lost. GA
has been one of the leading service providers working with
landholders and local communities to help deliver large-scale
landscape restoration projects across the country through the
federal government’s 20 million tree project, which is due for
completion next year (see Under the canopy, AG 147).
In a perverse irony, because it’s largely responsible for
deforestation in the first place, agriculture suffers when the
trees go. “For example, fully functioning woodland has a whole
suite of insect species and many can be beneficial in terms of
taking out crop pests,” Chris explains. Also among these insects
are pollinators important for agricultural production.
In another example, Chris says there have been widespread
impacts caused by reduced numbers of medium-sized marsu-
pials, such as bettongs and bandicoots, in the dry country in
western NSW, due to the removal of woodland habitat to make
way for pasture for sheep. “We’ve got a thin layer of nutrient-
impoverished soil across most of Australia and these marsupial
species would dig in the topsoil and move it about, tonnes of
it every year,” he explains. “It would mean it was easier for
rainfall to infiltrate and get into the water table, rather than
running off and taking the topsoil with it, as now occurs.”
What these marsupial ‘landscape engineers’ did was reduce the
chance of salination and encourage nutrient cycling. Pockets
of organic matter would build up where these animals scratched
in the soil, creating little beds of nutrients where plant germi-
nation could take place.
Then there are the big picture impacts of large-scale tree loss.
Removing large tracts of woodlands or forests affects climate
locally as well as further afield. Globally, that occurs through the
release of carbon into the atmosphere when the trees are destroyed.
Locally, there can be reduced rainfall when large stands of
trees are removed. This is because trees inf luence local water

cycles by taking moisture in through their roots and releasing
it through their leaves into the surrounding air. “So you’re
much more likely to get an increase in the water cycle where
you have trees, simply because of that throughput that occurs
when rain falls,” Chris says. “The dry country is where so
much of this devastation is happening. And to most people it’s
out of sight and out of mind.”


ITH SO MUCH FOREST loss having occurred in
Australia, saving or rehabilitating every last scrap
is now being widely seen as imperative. “We now
regard even a small patch of remnant woodland as being incred-
ibly valuable because that’s refugia for species that are just try-
ing to find homes and eke out a living in increasingly small
pockets of habitat,” says Dr Rebecca Spindler, Bush Heritage
Australia’s executive manager of science and conservation. The
original intent of this privately funded, not-for-profit organisation
formed in the early 1990s was to buy and protect good-quality
native bush on private property. “But we found really quickly
that we also needed to buy some of the areas where there should
have been high biodiversity and start rebuilding that as well.”
To that end, one of the organisation’s most extensive and
successful projects has involved restoring and reconnecting
fragmented woodland habitats between the Stirling Range
and Fitzgerald River national parks. It connects with Western
Australia’s Gondwana Link project, which is aiming to achieve
“reconnected country across south-western Australia, from
the karri forests of the south-west corner to the woodlands and
mallee bordering the Nullarbor Plain, much of which has been
cleared for farming”. Bush Heritage’s work on the Fitz-Stirling
mosaic of reserves will restore and reconnect fragmented
habitats in this global biodiversity hotspot.
Rebecca explains that the current success of the Bush Heritage
project offers hope for rehabilitating many of Australia’s already
cleared treescapes. “Over the past 12 years we have helped
rebuild connectivity in this area and we’ve seen birds come
back that haven’t been seen for generations, including mallee-
fowl,” she says. “But it’s a hell of a lot easier to stop it from
going in the first place.”
Along with Bush Heritage there are many organisations now
working to restore Australia’s lost tree coverage, including Land-
care Australia, Greening Australia and the Australian Wildlife
Conservancy. And there are also many projects at all levels of
government, such as Queensland’s $500 million Land Restora-
tion Fund, which supports carbon farming through various
st rateg ies, includ ing by ‘protect ing nat ive forest by reducing la nd
clearing’. “We’ve all got people on the ground working out the
solutions [for Australia’s declining biodiversity] in the face of
increasing threats from all over the place – climate change,
invasive species, fire and an absolute barrage of land clearing,”
Rebecca says.
The most promising projects are working across all forms
of land ownership and that, of course, includes farmers, who
appear increasingly to be the key to saving and restoring much
of Australia’s forests and woodlands. “So little native vegetation
in NSW remains in a healthy condition, and with 70 per cent
of land in NSW privately owned or leased, Continued page 85 PHOTO CREDIT THIS PAGE: ANNETTE RUZICKA; FOLLOWING PAGE: BROOK MITCHELL / STRINGER

Like many of Australia’s leading conservationists, Bush Heritage’s
Dr Rebecca Spindler is increasingly looking to the country’s farmers as
allies in addressing the nation’s deforestation crisis.
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