Australia State of the Environment Report 2001 (Theme Report)
Prepared by: Ann Hamblin, Bureau of Rural Sciences, Authors
Published by CSIRO on behalf of the Department of the Environment and Heritage, 2001
ISBN 0 643 06748 5
Secondary salinity and acidity (continued)
What measures are being taken to increase perennial vegetation and cover regionally? [L Indicator 3.5]
In the period 1996-2000 there has been a marked increase in publicising the significance of perennial vegetation in controlling secondary salinity. Large numbers of experimental and modelled estimates of the amount of water leaking into groundwaters from land cleared for agriculture, and supporting short-rooted, annual vegetation have been made (LWRRDC 1994, MDBC 1998, PMSEAC 1997). These have been translated into a range of proposals for re-vegetating agricultural regions with more perennial vegetation. Some government programs have a broader objective than salinity management alone. Popular and well-publicised programs such as Landcare and Greening Australia, which have been established for more than a decade, have additional objectives of improving biodiversity conservation, control of erosion and other forms of land degradation.
In 1997, existing Commonwealth programs were brought together, with substantial additional funding, into a single A$1.25 billion program-the Natural Heritage Trust (NHT). The 21 programs in the Trust cover land, vegetation, rivers, biodiversity, coastal and marine issues. The largest of the new initiatives was devoted to vegetation in the Bushcare Program, with the goal of reversing the decline in quality and extent of Australia's native vegetation cover. A major focus of the program has been investment in on-ground native vegetation management through the conservation of existing vegetation and a substantial revegetation program.
In November 2000 the Commonwealth Government announced the National Dryland Salinity and Water Quality Action Plan, which proposed joint Commonwealth, state and territory funding of A$1.4 billion to address these natural resource issues very vigorously (AFFA 2000). This initiative follows from the experience with the NHT, and the need to target those parts of the country that have the greatest problems with specifically directed investment and action.
There has been other substantial government intervention aimed at stopping further destruction of native vegetation and providing incentives to increase planting. Table 21 lists the recent State and Territory legislation designed to control or stop clearing of native vegetation in Australia. Incentives that have been offered include:
- tax relief for fencing on farms to protect vegetation and riparian strips from stock,
- encouragement of farm forestry through a range of measures, including start-up grants,
- tax rebates on investment in forest plantations, and
- Commonwealth matching funding to the Forest and Wood Products Research and Development Corporation.
- There is a comprehensive network of State coordinators, 50 regional facilitators, and 127 Greening Australia local facilitators.
- The program aims to revegetate a total of 150 517 ha during five years.
- The area of remnant vegetation to be protected is 122 200 ha in five years.
- After two and a half years of the five-year program, Bushcare projects had planted 10 340 ha of new trees.
- Most of the projects are small (1-5 ha) and scattered, and have a limited impact on environmental management.
- The program is building on Landcare's success in raising awareness about the value of native vegetation in local communities, but has limited scope for including individuals and the private sector.
Source: NHT Mid-term Review, Bushcare Program (1999).
The proportion of farmers undertaking some form of farm forestry in the pastoral, broadacre and dairy sectors surveyed by ABARE has increased from nearly 50% in 1993-94 to 68% in 1998-99 (Table 28). The expansion in forestry plantations (Figure 56), some of which is occurring on previous agricultural land, reflects the changes in adapting land use to different market signals and fitness of purpose.
|Date||Pastoral zone||Wheat-sheep||High rainfall||Australia|
|1993-94||6 (49)||46 (4)||54 (4)||48 (3)|
|1998-89||13 (26)||67 (4)||75 (4)||68 (2)|
Note: Figures in parentheses are relative standard errors as percentages of estimates.
Source: Alexander et al. (2000).
Figure 56: Area of new commercial plantations, 1995-2000. A
AStatistics for 2000 estimates only.
Source: NFI (2000)
In some cases land that was classified as agricultural in the early 1990s may now be classed as plantation forestry. Farm tree plantings may however, be established for many purposes. The survey identifies eight categories: land rehabilitation; shelter and shade for stock; conservation of biota; production of sawlogs; production of pulpwood; non-wood products such as oils, honey and wildflowers; production of other wood products (posts, firewood); and fodder browse. By far the largest motives for tree planting on farms has been to improve conservation and rehabilitate degraded environments (Alexander et al. 2000).
According to the National Forest Inventory, Australia had 1 337 283 hectares of plantation by March 2000, of which 71% were softwoods such as pine, and 29% were hardwoods such as eucalypts. The proportion of hardwood plantations is increasing, as the majority of new plantings are in this category. This reflects the greater economic returns from hardwoods, which are better suited ecologically to Australian environments. The fastest rate of increase in plantation establishment occurred in western Victoria, where there was a tenfold increase in hardwood plantations in three years.
Ownership of plantations is mixed, with many partnership arrangements between public and private parties. The NFI distinguishes between ownership of the trees and ownership of land. Tree ownership is almost equally distributed between public and private (46%) with a further 8% in joint ownership. Nearly 58% of land is publicly owned, and 42% is private, but private land ownership is growing, with 90% of new plantings on private land (Alexander et al. 2000).
- Landcare has been a significant influence in raising awareness of the need for integrated natural resource management in rural Australia over the past decade, with about a third of farmers participating at any one time during the Decade of Landcare.
- Since its incorporation into the NHT there has been additional focus on on-ground activities, but these are not yet monitored for effectiveness.
- Landcare has raised local government and land-holder awareness of the need for integrated catchment management, beyond the confines of individual farms.
- However, the relationship between Landcare and other NHT programs is limited.
- While the movement has increased sustainable management farming practices, it has had limited effect on biodiversity or native vegetation conservation.
Source: NHT Mid-term Review, Landcare Program (1999).
In the last decade most jurisdictions have made strides to halt native vegetation clearing, and actively to promote tree planting. Landholders in many areas are vigorously adopting this approach. Nevertheless, despite a large amount of concerted government and community funds, legislation and programs, action to increase perennial vegetation is not keeping pace with natural deterioration or deliberate destruction of remnant vegetation. Action to replace perennial vegetation is in localised areas and small-scale while loss tend to occur across large areas. Government and community action are not yet able to counteract the pressures of natural decline and "development".
In a recent discussion paper, the National Farmers Federation and Australian Conservation Foundation questioned whether restoration will be achievable unless a one-off capital investment of $60 billion and an ongoing maintenance program of $0.5 billion p.a. is initiated (NFF-ACF 2000). Their argument is based on estimates for what the real cost of rehabilitation will be. This would include costs to retire land from agriculture, fence out vulnerable lands, change grazing pressures, replant trees and shrubs, condition soils with lime and gypsum, convert annual pastures to perennials, and adequately control weeds and pests. The most provocative proposals are for retirement of land for biodiversity, for national targets to be set which transcend sectoral vested interests, and for public investment to be at a landscape scale instead of a farm or individual scale.
Unless such bold proposals are adopted in a non-partisan manner, it is highly likely that the money currently being spent on small-scale piecemeal restoration will not achieve its goal. By engendering more awareness without the means to act, there will subsequently be a sense of frustration in the face of insuperable odds. While the NFF-ACF paper briefly mentions structural changes, the issue of land retirement is still highly contentious in many rural communities.