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I am 7th Generation in the Australian Cattle Industry. I grew up on a cattle station in North Queensland. My husband and I run a Livestock Agency (hence the reference to mobile phones)as well as a small hobby farm with our two young children.

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Thursday, 29 January 2015

When Politicians Can't See Sense for the Trees

Well it’s election time again in Queensland and once again farmers are finding themselves as pawns in the political arena, once again being sacrificed by political parties telling half-truths or just not giving out the real information about what farmers do.

The Election promise that has really annoyed me this time is the ALP’s promise to repeal the LNP’s vegetation management laws.  Meaning that once again farmers may lose control of their ability to care for the environment in which they farm.  Hang on a minute I hear you say, how is tree clearing good for the environment?  Well read on and I will explain it to you

Firstly I must point out that what I’ve written in this blog is how we did it on our own farm, every farm and every region is different depending on the type of vegetation and the region they are in.  So this blog isn’t a one size fits all, but all farmers would have followed a very similar process in obtaining permits etc.

The most important thing I’d like you to note, that it’s not about wholescale clearing, ripping in with massive dozers and wiping out anything that sticks it leaves up above the ground.  What we are doing is tree THINNING and very selective thinning at that.  I still can see no further than 50m from my house despite using a tree thinning method all over our 100 acres.

Why did we do it you ask? 
Because the trees couldn't grow properly.   I hope I’m not confusing you!  But please bear with me.

See, our little piece of paradise "Clancella Downs" (and most farms these days) have thousands upon thousands of young trees growing.  We don’t let fire rip through the country like we used to, so the trees no longer have any natural selection process.  So we have all these saplings all vying for nutrients, water and space.  Because they are so malnourished they don’t get any bigger than 5-10cm in diameter.  And then they die.  The grass also can’t grow and healthy grass is vital to healthy rangeland ecosystems. 
A before shot: Hundreds of small trees crammed into a small space

Now most of our trees are bloodwoods and ironbarks, natives and members of the eucalyptus family.  They grow in the millions in my area and the more they go uncontrolled the less biodiversity we have as they smother out other plants.  They should be able to grow to 40-50cm in diameter.  But very very few reach maturity.  If they aren’t healthy, they aren’t sturdy so they get knocked over very easily in a gust of wind.   Because they aren’t sturdy they don’t provide safe homes for birds and other animals.  And because they can’t put good, deep roots down, little trees are very ineffectual at stopping erosion.   

So we decided to thin them out and give them a better chance at reaching maturity and give biodiversity a better chance.  
But as I said before it’s very selective and we couldn’t just wipe out every tree even if we wanted to. 
 Every region is different but there are some non-negotiable rules that every farmer has to adhere to.  These include:

  •          Any tree about a certain diameter cannot be knocked down, this measurement varies.  For us we couldn’t knock down anything above 30cm in diameter.·      
  • Any habitat tree must remain untouched no matter what the size.  A habitat trees is classed as anything with a bird’s nest or a hole that a possum or birds may live in.

  •    No tree is to be knocked over within 50m or a creek bed.

  •  Depending on your area,  not all trees under the specified diameter can be cleared, you must leave a certain number per hectare.

  •         A chain between two dozers or tractors is under NO circumstances to be used.

·         The only exceptions to these rules are when clearing fence lines, but they must be done within reason.  We pegged out a few new fencelines and got them totally cleared.  But we went as far as pegging some out to miss large established trees!  Having the property divided into smaller paddocks will allow for rotational grazing, making sure that no one area is eaten bare.
·         Some farms are in areas where no trees can be thinned AT ALL.  They usually contain a protected species of tree or animal.
Leaving habitat trees, can you see the birds nest?

So for us, our farm was divided into two timbered areas, plus two creek areas.  The creek areas could not be touched at all.  The two areas which were mostly bloodwood and ironbark could be thinned to 40-70 saplings per hectare (plus every tree over 30cm diameter).    Before we even started we had to apply for permits and count trees in sample patches.  Now that it’s done, we possibly could be audited by the Department of Natural Resources.   Which doesn’t worry us because we did everything by the book.  Not because we are scared of getting fined, but because we genuinely care for the environment that comes under our stewardship.

We can now fit the tractor through to plow!

After the dozer had thinned the trees, we were able to actually take the tractor around (it fit! It wasn’t blocked by all the trees), and plough about a third of our little farm.  We didn’t plough it all because we wanted to ensure plenty of grassed areas remained, even though right now there’s not cattle here.  Ploughing/ripping enables the water to soak right down into the soil and minimizes top soil run off and erosion. We then sowed HEAPS of grass seed, all different varieties from improved pastures, to natural species to legumes which help with soil health by putting nitrogen back in the ground. 

After shot: Would you believe there is a house 100m away?  Can you see it for the trees?

We also ejected thousands back into our local economy by doing this work on our farm.  And with more nutrients in the soil, the grass will also grow better making our little farm more efficient.   So not only does tree THINNING have positive environmental impacts, it also has positive social impacts that will continue for many years to come.

So please, when you see the ALP saying that these vegetation management. laws are bad for the environment, please remember this blog and share it among your friends so they can make an INFORMED decision.  Please remember that they aren’t as harsh, scary or uncaring as they sound.  Because Farmers really do care about the environment and look after it to the best of our ability.

As always if you have any questions, please leave them in the comments below, ask me on Twitter @Kylie Stretton or @AAAFarmer
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Creek Beds and 50m either side are untouched.