Thursday, January 22, 2009

A REAL Greenie cause: Brisbane's beloved fig trees

Moreton Bay fig trees are native to the area, are amazingly vigorous and grow to massive size -- and huge numbers of Brisbane people love them. They are trees that inspire. The one in the first picture below is actually rather scrawny compared to some. Such is the outcry at any proposal to cut them down that roadworks have in the past been re-routed to avoid any need to cut them down. But they do have their downside -- with their roots very often clogging drains and their huge branches sometimes breaking off during storms. I had a splendid example of a fig tree right in the front of my house until recently and I was devastated that I had to remove it. It was just too close to my sewer line. Getting into sewer lines is a snack for fig tree roots. So you can see the dilemma behind the story below. My view is that it should be permissible to remove particularly dangerous branches.

(Bigger image of the second tree here)

BRISBANE residents worried about potentially dangerous trees remain in limbo as the city council works out how to deal with them. Brisbane City Council said findings of its tree policy review were three months away but ratepayers who contravened present laws could be slugged thousands of dollars.

Brad Waters, of Ascot, said he faced a $5000 fine if he so much as trimmed two giant fig trees owned by the council, which has branches hanging over his property. He said he feared extensive damage to his house if a storm as severe as the one that devastated The Gap in November last year hit his area. "The limbs that represent a hazard to my family and property are many metres off the ground and are up to 12m long," he said. "In the recent storms, two limbs sheared off and slammed to the ground - luckily not from the parts of the trees overhanging my property. "Council can be assured I'll be seeking damages for any damage these trees cause to my property."

Mr Waters said he'd been trying for up to five years to get the council to remove the danger, which was worsening as the trees grew. "Upon making my most recent call to council, I asked for someone to make arrangements to meet me at my property to assess the trees and to see first-hand the reasons for my concern," he said. "Council's response was to send someone out unannounced, who left a brochure in the letterbox indicating that council does not 'fenceline' council trees, that council does not majorly prune trees, and that council is not responsible for the debris caused by council trees."

A spokesman for Lord Mayor Campbell Newman said a review of "Labor's long-time tree policy, under which this tree is protected, has been under way since The Gap storms". "For every request that the Lord Mayor gets to remove a tree he gets a request to save a tree," he said. "It has always been a difficult and contentious issue that has to be taken on a case by case basis. "Council takes seriously all situations that could cause a threat to a property, but we do err on the side of protecting the greenery of the city."

Opposition Leader Shayne Sutton said the removal of dangerous or oversized council-owned trees should be fast-tracked. "We need to be sure that our suburbs' trees are of appropriate size and species," she said.


More of that drought Australian Greenie "scientists" predicted

As the floods move slowly through the Channel Country in southwest Queensland, the bush telegraph is experiencing its own flood of calls. The talk is all of rainfall and river heights, and the promise of a far more bountiful season. Many towns and properties have received more rain in the first three weeks of 2009 than they did for all of 2008. And it is still raining and the wet season has two more months to go.

David Brook has been checking the river heights bulletin daily, waiting for the flood waters to reach his Birdsville property, Adria Downs. "We have only had 53mm, but there have been much bigger rains (in the Georgina and Diamantina river systems)," he says. "We had some rain, nice rain, and that is good. Ninety per cent of anyone's pastoral land is not flooded, so you still need rain. "But the 10 per cent that can get these quite large floods can probably support 50 per cent of the property for a period afterwards."

North of Birdsville, at Boulia on the Burke River, which flows into the Georgina River, cattle producer and Boulia Shire mayor Rick Britton says he has had more rain this year - 202mm - than he had all last year. "We had 70mm in 18 months (to the end of 2008). We have doubled that in 21 days, and the country has responded. How it is reacting is just awesome; you can nearly hear it growing," he says. Britton is at the southern end of the big wet. "Once you get north of us there have been falls anywhere from (200mm to 650mm) of rain." That rain has brought relief and joy. "You can imagine how happy they are, the pressure is off everyone now." He says the rain is evoking memories of the big wet of 1974. "My dad was running the property when we had the last big wet, and now he is retired. This is my first big fair dinkum wet. We hope it is not a one-in-a-generation event."

The Channel Country is the land of drought and flood, of boom and bust. When it rains and the floods come down the complex braided channels and anabranches of the system, Brook says they provide the best natural irrigation system in the world. He said properties, if they are lucky, will get 75mm to 200mm of rain a year. "But it is nothing compared with a section of land inundated to a metre deep or half a metre deep for one month, or three months at a time. The benefits from flooding are great."

The creeks and rivers of the Channel Country have never been regulated by dams or pumped for irrigation. "A few of us out here have argued strongly against any damming or diversion of the rivers upstream," Brook says. He is one of 32 partners in the organic beef company, OBE Beef. Between them, they have up to 100,000 head of cattle raised on 64,000sqkm of organically certified pasture in the Channel Country. That business alone means Australia has the largest organically farmed area in the world.

"We are fairly remote from any intensive agriculture, which is important in minimising risk," Brook observes. "Generally speaking, people are like-minded. No one wants to go down the other path of damming or heavy intensive agriculture, or using the rivers for anything other than natural irrigation." Brook explains the rivers and creeks are actually a series of ponds. "Those big ponded areas, they are wide and the velocity of the river slows and it drops the sediments, they are the really good areas for grazing." He says rain is good, but a slow flood is better. "Once you get that some of that country flooded for weeks, the plant life keeps coming up for months after the flood goes. "For us, with our organic certification, it is the bee's knees. You can't get any better." An astonishing 250 species of plants have been identified on Brook's property.

Martin Thoms is professor of Riverine Ecosystems at the University of Canberra. "In the dry times we walk out across the floodplain and we see nothing but dust and dirt," he says. But that dust harbours a huge seedbank and store of zooplankton eggs, "which are essentially fish food". When it rains, the floodwater stimulates the release of nutrients and carbon from the floodplain soils, seeds germinate and the eggs of zooplankton hatch. "The productivity of that plant growth is absolutely unbelievable," Thoms says. "Rain will stimulate plants that can grow up to 1m or 1.5m in a matter of months, particularly the native grasslands out there. The pastoral industry is going to be loving it."

It is not just the pastoral industry that is benefiting. The post-flood wildflowers will bring tourists, and if the floodwaters reach Lake Eyre, there will be a local tourist boom. Thoms says the lakes of the system are biodiversity hot spots. "All this activity in the Channel Country is going to be really great for migrating water birds," he says. "And that gives the floods not just local and domestic significance, but international importance as well. "We have migratory birds coming from China, Japan, Korea that bunny-hop all down eastern Australia through the Channel Country, using these big floodplain systems that are now being inundated by the rain."

The health of the Channel Country is in stark contrast to the state of the Murray-Darling basin. Thoms says Channel Country graziers not only understand, but embrace the natural variability of the climate. "That is why these guys are so resilient, whereas I think in some areas of the basin we have tried to control that variability and that hasn't always worked." He argues the efforts to regulate and control the rivers of the Murray-Darling basin have resulted in the ecosystems, like the lower Lakes and the Coorong, suffering. "Rather than trying to control these highly variable rivers I think we need to embrace their variability," he says.



The $60 billion coal industry is at risk without greater support for clean coal, the Opposition warned yesterday after the nation's only commercial project in the field said it would be unviable under the proposed emissions trading scheme. The Australian revealed yesterday that ZeroGen had warned Resources Minister Martin Ferguson that the Rudd Government's carbon pollution reduction scheme would be a "significant barrier" to the development of clean coal. ZeroGen is understood to have laid off or redeployed staff from its corporate division recently. The company would not comment yesterday, but said in a statement there had been "no reductions from project staffing, and none are planned".

Gas suppliers say they can provide cleaner energy than conventional coal-fired electricity for less than renewables if clean coal is delayed. Coal industry sources warned of a bleak future without greater support for clean coal research. "You run all your coal assets down and build gas, and basically the coal industry is out of business," one industry watcher said. "The only way ZeroGen will work is if someone stumps up and puts a sizeable amount of money under it -- someone being the federal Government."

The Opposition says clean coal technology will never be developed if the Government puts all the revenue raised from selling permits under the ETS into compensation. "ZeroGen was the only project of its type left in the world," Opposition resources spokesman Ian Macfarlane said. "It was the project Kevin Rudd was lauding as his international project. "If the Government doesn't breathe life back into ZeroGen and the project folds, basically there is no zero emission project in a developmental stage.

"The Government is conceding defeat on clean coal, which not only affects the domestic industry and the price of electricity but also says no one in the world is going to develop clean coal technology. The future for thermal coal is bleak."

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