250 Scientists Push Australia to End Land Clearing, Exit Native Forestry

ANU's David Lindenmayer, the University of Melbourne's Brendan Wintle, and the University of Queensland's Hugh Possingham among scientists who have signed the open letter.

Thu 10 Aug 23


Pressure is ramping up on the ALP to end land clearing and native forest harvesting, with more than 250 scientists signing an open letter before the party’s national conference in Brisbane.

As reported in the Australian, the scientists have written an open letter to the Albanese government calling on them to seize the momentum from LEAN – Labor’s powerful environmental lobby.

Yesterday, Wood Central contributor Gordon Wilson cited  Measuring What Matters, the latest manifesto published by LEAN. 

LEAN is pushing an end to land clearing, the creation of sustainable timber plantations and the halving of agriculture methane emissions by 2030. 

More than 300 Labor branches have already adopted the draft motions.

“Across the nation, 500,000ha or more of land are cleared annually. For every 100ha of native woodland cleared, about 2000 birds, 15,000 reptiles, and 500 native mammals will die,” the scientists write.

The Australian Conservation Foundation coordinated the open letter, including ANU’s David Lindenmayer, the University of Melbourne’s Brendan Wintle, and the University of Queensland’s Hugh Possingham.

The complete list of the signatories is available here.

“Land clearing and native forest logging exacerbate climate change, affect local temperature and rainfall, degrade soils, increase pollution in freshwater streams and marine environments like the Great Barrier Reef, harm pollinators like ­native bees, and worsen the ­impact of invasive predators like cats and foxes.”

“Our commitment to end ­extinction could be world-leading. But the legacy of this government will be written by its actions to halt the current drivers of nature destruction and repair past damage.”

The role of native forest management in driving nature destruction is contested

In June, Dr Tyron Venn, Senior Lecturer in Agricultural and Natural Resource Economics at the University of Queensland, reviewed the complexity of the production and conservation trade-offs in a recently published paper, “Reconciling timber harvesting, biodiversity conservation and carbon sequestration in Queensland, Australia.”

“The ecological and economic realities of the world suggest Queensland can maximise its contribution to reducing the climate crisis by continuing to manage its native forests for a mixture of timber production and conservation,” Dr Venn said.

“A well-managed conservation estate is essential, primarily to conserve species that require long-undisturbed forest habitat.”

Dr Venn reports that selection forestry plays a vital role in native forests. (Photo credit: Private Forestry Service Queensland (PFSQ))

Dr Venn asserted that the published scientific literature suggests native forestry in Queensland can help to conserve biodiversity and mitigate climate risks.

“Selection forestry can assist in creating habitat mosaics at the landscape scale over time,” Dr Venn said.

“It can leverage private sector resources to maintain important infrastructure such as fire breaks and maintain skills and capacity to manage prescribed fires and wildfires in difficult forest terrain.”

According to Venn, the significant threats to Australia’s 1795 listed threatened species include invasive weeds (31.5% of threatened species), agriculture and aquaculture (22.9%), transportation and service corridors (18.0%), invasive predators (15.4%), urban development (13.5%), suppression in fire frequency or intensity (12.6%), and invasive ungulate (10%).

Existing native forestry codes of practice require the retention of habitat trees to conserve endangered species like the yellow-bellied glider. (Photo credit: Australian Geographic)

“Forestry is the 25th most important threat to Australian biodiversity nationally, and forestry in Queensland threatens 0.8% of Australia’s threatened species,” he said.

The Australian Conservation Foundation is arranging for a billboard with the scientists’ call outside the national conference in Brisbane next week.

Labor’s latest draft national platform says the party will ­develop sustainable forestry and “assist Australian agriculture, fisheries and forestry industries to capitalise on their economic and employment potential by adapting to climate change and consumer demand for high-quality, healthy food and sustainable fibre and forest products”.

The ALP is divided over native forest harvesting

Last month, Wood Central reported that the ALP is divided over native forestry, with the ‘hastened’ decision by the Victorian Government to accelerate its closure led to criticism by federal Labor counterparts.

LEAN claims that “treating native forests as a carbon and biodiversity sink is more profitable than if logged to produce mainly low-value products such as wood chips, pallets and power poles.”

Instead, it is pushing for creating a state-owned national plantation estate to “increase our domestic timber independence” to revitalise and grow Australia’s faltering plantation industry.

The powerful lobby cites last year’s State of the Environment report, which found Australia had one of the world’s highest rates of species decline, with habitat loss due to logging and clearing a key driver.

LEAN says the government should substantially boost forest protection and carbon storage funding at home and in southeast Asia, suggesting 25-30% of Australia’s international climate finance be dedicated to preventing deforestation in the region.


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