Friday, July 19, 2024

Locking up land is not the answer, NFF said

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With Australian biodiversity under significant threat, the National Farmers’ Federation (NFF) is urging the federal government to look to investment and collaboration with farmers.

The call from the NFF comes after the recent release of the State of the Environment Report which revealed biodiversity across the country is experiencing a massive decline and currently remains under threat of further deterioration.

The government report, which was held back by the previous government until after the May election, identified climate change, habitat loss, invasive species, pollution and mining as major increasing pressures on Australia’s environment over the last five years.

Over the half-decade period since the last report in 2016, rapid changes were found in various ecosystems, with 19 reported as showing signs of or being near collapse.

The NFF is stressing a need for discussion with the government on “locking up” land containing such ecosystems, with the group believing this isn’t the answer to addressing these dire circumstances.

“Farmers are the custodians of 55 per cent of Australian land and not only do farmers want to protect the land, they also want to improve it for generations to come,” said Fiona Simson, president of the NFF.

Simson argues that the agriculture industry has a vested interest in protecting the environment that it feeds upon, with landscape management including the suppression of feral animals and weeds and the minimisation of fuel loads to reduce the risk posed by major fires.

“It’s in farmers’ best interests to care for the environment, as productive landscapes rich in biodiversity mean they can grow the food and fibre to feed and clothe Australians and the world,” added Simson.

Simson also put the blame of the continued impact of feral flora and fauna on the “lack of management on public lands”, leaving farmers to carry out suppression efforts repeatedly.

“For example, feral pigs are wreaking havoc in Australia, including contributing to lamb mortality, trampling crops, destroying water quality, and are a significant vector for disease spread while their impact on native flora and fauna is equally damaging,” said Simson.

The NFF, while acknowledging the impacts of drought on the Murray-Darling Basin, referred to these as “cyclical”.

While the State of the Environment Report revealed that water levels reached record lows in 2019, not just as a result of drought, but from water extraction, with the river just one part of the countries native fish population falling by over 90% since colonisation.

At the same time nearly half of Australian land is now being utilised by grazing, with land for cropping and forestry also increasing. And over 6.1 million hectares of primary native forest being cleared since 1990.

Australia now has the third greatest loss of soil organic carbon, sitting behind China and the US, as a result of changes to land use, with approximately 93% of the terrestrial habitat of threatened species cleared between 2000 and 2017, without assessment.

Australia has also lost more mammal species to extinction that any other continent, with one of the greatest rates of species declines in the developed world and the impacts of the one to three billion animals killed or displaced by the 2019-2020 bushfires yet to be fully taken into account.

The report also found that while 21 priority species have seen improvements under the government’s threatened species, many had not.

NFF has called for a commitment from the government to long-term funding for the Centre for Invasive Species Solution, in order ensure long-term innovation to tackle such challenges posed by feral animals and plants.

“There must be a balance between economic and environmental requirements as well as a clear recognition that landscapes can provider multiple benefits,” concluded Simson.

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