Scope for landscape change

Part 6

Putting back 10% 

South Australia has more than 10.2 million hectares of cleared land for agriculture. Let’s consider the following example to illustrate the magnitude of a revegetation project.

The recovery, repair, and revegetation of just 10% of the cleared land would result in more than 1 million hectares being devoted to a rural sustainability program.

The report already mentioned previously - Opportunities and Threats for South Australia’s Agricultural Landscapes from Reforestation under a Carbon Market - cited 20% conversion of agricultural land, but let’s see what 10% yields.

And by the way, 10% to protect and sustain 90% would surely not be too unrealistic.

It is difficult to discover the total area that is revegetated in South Australia each year, however Report on the Condition of Agricultural Land in South Australia states that about 4,000 ha for non-commercial purposes have been revegetated in the past from all sources, public and private. If this rate were to be maintained it would take 250 years to revegetate 1 million hectares. The report also mentions about 5,000 ha if non-indigenous species were to be included. 

The State Of The Environment 2013 (SOE) report tells a different story. 

  • Incredibly, in the period 2004-2012 there was still an average of more than 200 hectares of illegal clearing (ref. Table 3 in SOE report) that occurred annually in South Australia, despite Land Clearance legislation.
  • In addition, in the period 2009 - 2012, a total of nearly 3,900 hectares of "degraded native vegetation" was given consent to be cleared (refer to table 2 of the SOE report).
  • Only about 700 hectares of land has been revegetated annually according to Table 8 of the SOE report.

I will examine further this "degraded native vegetation" issue at a future time, however all this illustrates the scale of the problem. In net terms, South Australia is still losing land cover, and this is a very serious matter. 

It only took a few decades to clear 10 million hectares. Quite an achievement, given the technology that was used at the time. With interruptions of war and drought, it is conceivable that the clearance rate could have been up to 200,000 hectares annually.

The Report on the Condition of Agricultural Land in South Australia also stated that up to 50,000 ha of land should be revegetated annually to avert decline in natural resources condition such as dryland salinity, soil erosion, and native habitat restoration. This was stated more than 10 years ago.

In all my readings, and in all the reports referenced here at this website, the only report that I have seen mention landscape revegetation at this scale is in Report on the Condition of Agricultural Land in South Australia. 

A particularly nagging question is - WHY hasn't it been picked up in other reports? 

WHY hasn't it resonated with government departments about agricultural support, biodiversity support, and regional development?

The State Greenhouse Strategy

Here's what the report Tackling Climate Change - South Australia's Greenhouse Strategy 2007-2020 says about "Reducing emissions, sequestering carbon".

Government actions

Priorities for government in reducing emissions and sequestering carbon will be to:

  • establish a voluntary offset scheme as part of the climate change legislation
  • develop and implement a series of pilot projects for adopting commercial and noncommercial perennial vegetation options in the NRM regions of South Australia to promote and achieve biosequestration and deliver multiple NRM benefits.

Support can be provided for these actions by investigating perennial vegetation options for biosequestration.

So, there we have it. A government commitment, but here we are in 2014 (more than half way through the life of the Greenhouse Strategy), and neither of the actions have commenced (to my knowledge), let alone been funded. All words, no action.

Who should be held accountable for this?

Revegetation potential

Let's get back to our 10% agricultural land revegetation project. 

50,000 ha annually is a 20 years project of very large proportions with massive long-term benefits. It is still a long way from the annual rate of historic land clearance, but it does illustrate a measure of the assault on the landscape in the 19th and 20th centuries.

Imagine if 20% of land was revegetated. A 20 years project at 100,000 ha annually, or a 40 years project at 50,000 hectares annually. It would be unprecedented in Australia.

50,000 hectares each year. The number of people required to fulfill a project of this scale, each and every year for 20 years (for 10% recover) or 40 years (for 20% recover), would be thousands. It would dwarf the federal government's "Green Army" that is proposed in its Direct Action Plan

The multiplier effect would conceivably result in another 2.5 jobs for every new job created for the project.

Landowner resistance

This is a very big issue with its roots deep in the human condition, and in the historical context of colonial economic development. I attempted to explain this vexing issue here, and why humans behave the way they do when it comes to matters environmental. 

Given all that has been presented in the reports previously referenced, there is really only ONE CONCLUSION - there has to be a new way, and a new language, to permeate through the whole of the South Australian community about the dire warnings described in the Climate Change Adaptation Framework, the State Of The Environment 2013 report, the No Species Loss report, and all the other reports.

Existing legislation about environmental protection (i.e. Environment Protection Act, Natural Resources Management Act) should be (but never have been), invoked to repair damaged ecosystems and damaged natural resources in agricultural areas. 

This is a failure on the part of all governments, past and present.

Natural resources and environmental repair relies heavily on voluntary involvement. 

This will not happen in a mobilisation of effort on the scale described above. History has proven this. Aside from a few shining lights, strategic larger-scale on-farm revegetation will not happen.

Unless ... the language of money and financial gain is just too overwhelming to resist.

And that is where Part 7, the importance of carbon farming prevails.

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