By Matt Ruchel and Dr Bruce Lindsay
REMOVING large, mature trees from agricultural land means continuing and exacerbating the irreversible decline of remnant vegetation on private land in Victoria — already Australia’s most cleared state.
Comments by the Victorian Farmers Federation on the Native Vegetation Review seem to fly in the face of scientific evidence and run contrary to good practices many farmers have been employing for decades.
Clearing “some” trees, which is to say old paddock trees, cannot be compensated for by planting seedlings and revegetating degraded areas.
It can take a century or more before many native trees are mature enough to produce the hollows that much-loved Australian wildlife such as red-tailed black cockatoos, sugar gliders and other species use as nests.
For more than 30 years Landcare groups and wildlife corridor incentive schemes have been protecting and restoring important bits of bushland.
The VFF seems to be proposing practices from previous centuries that would contradict and in some cases undo years of community effort in landscape restoration.
Leaving mature habitat trees on farm land is an important aspect of ecologically sustainable farming.
As for offsetting — clearing some trees here, but protecting some trees somewhere else or in some cases planting seedlings — a growing body of evidence suggests this does not halt biodiversity decline.
Paddock trees are critical for biodiversity and farm productivity. The bees, bats and small birds that feed and breed in big, old trees help with pollination and pest control on the land.
The VFF has been involved in the Native Vegetation Review all the way through the process, including as a member of the stakeholder reference group. Why try to undermine it now?
The reforms proposed are in fact very modest — many conservationists would even say lenient.
For the sake of biodiversity and productive farm land Victoria simply cannot afford to be taken back to 19th-century land-clearing practices.
Matt Ruchel is executive director of the Victorian National Parks Association; Dr Bruce Lindsay is a lawyer at Environmental Justice Australia
This piece was published in the Weekly Times on 5 July 2017