Time for a small slice of good news. The latest official government data shows that Australia’s forest are growing, and I don’t just mean growing taller… but there is more to the story, so read on.
Australia’s record on deforestation is dreadful. It has been estimated that prior to European settlement, as much of 30% of our landmass was covered by forests (Bradshaw, 2012). From 1788 until 1980, approximately “38% of Australia’s forests had been severely modified by clearing (Wells et al. 1984) and by 1995, our forest covered just ~5% of our landmass!
Then, during the 1990’s, attitudes changed, legislation was introduced and the rate of deforestation started to slow down. We began the 1990’s with a clearing rate of 500,000 hectares per year, which is the equivalent of about 400,000 MCGs or 0.39% of our forests each year. This rate of clearing gradually slowed down and in 2009, it flipped into the positive for the first time ever.
With 2008 being the low point, since then our forests have increased in geographical size each year. The improvement was slow at first, but the rate of increase is also on the rise. In 2016, we added 950,000 hectares of forests, an increase of 0.71%.
This can in part be explained by a doubling of plantations. From 1990 to 2015 the area under plantation went from 1 million to 2 million hectares. This 1 million hectares of additional plantation area, makes up about 25% of the total gains in forests i.e. of the 5.1 million hectares of forests that we have gained since 2008, 1 million has been plantation and 4 million has been non plantation forest.
Admittedly, the story is a lot more nuanced that the government data would have us believe. Are they including mono-culture carbon credit plantations in the data? Is that polluted mine site that has been shut down and has a few weeds poking up, now considered forest?
A lot of questions remain, and we should remain (scientifically) skeptical.
Thankfully one thing for sure, is that attitudes towards clearing native forests have changed. Australians by and large do not want to clear our old growth forests. Despite our terrible track record in this area, the next generation of Australians stand to be the first ever (yes, not just since European occupation), who will be able to say that the forests are getting bigger each year.
This in itself is cause for a celebration we think… is it too early for gin 🙂