Land-clearing slows but Great Barrier Reef fears remain

Tara Cosoleto |

Queensland’s vegetation clearing has been cut by two-thirds in recent years but more nature is still being destroyed than regrown, especially near the Great Barrier Reef. 

The latest statewide land-cover study found clearing of regulated vegetation fell to 61,400 hectares in 2020-21, down from 96,600ha the previous year and 194,800ha in 2018-19.

Some 59,654 hectares of regrowth was mapped as part of the Queensland study, adding to the 42,575 hectares of new growth mapped the previous year.

Resources Minister Scott Stewart said the findings showed a great outcome for biodiversity and carbon emission reductions in Queensland.

But environment groups noted close to half of the state’s clearing activity happened in the Great Barrier Reef catchment areas.

That figure was down 10 per cent on the previous year, but about 90 per cent of the clearing in reef catchments resulted in the full removal of woody vegetation.

The Australian Marine Conservation Society said the state government needed to do more to control tree clearing in reef catchments.

“Tree clearing causes soil erosion and worsens water pollution – one of the biggest threats to the Great Barrier Reef,” campaign manager Lissa Schindler said.

“Sediment can smother corals and seagrasses that marine life such as endangered dugongs depend upon.

“Both the Queensland and federal governments are investing a lot of money in reducing sediment runoff, so it doesn’t make sense to allow this level of clearing to continue.”

The Australian Conservation Foundation also said 350,000ha of bush habitat was being cleared, mostly to make way for sheep and cattle.

“Our forests and woodlands are still being destroyed faster than they can regrow,” campaigner Nathaniel Pelle said. 

“Hundreds of threatened species will have lost critical habitat in this latest catalogue of destruction, including already endangered koalas.

“The Palaszczuk government needs to do more to protect crucial habitat in Queensland.”

Mr Stewart said the government would continue to work with landholders to stop unlawful clearing.

“The majority of landholders are complying with our vegetation management laws but we will hold those to account who do the wrong thing,” he said.