Shires fear green monoculture

Kate MatthewsCountryman

Two Great Southern shires have moved to limit the number of trees planted for carbon amid concerns over the impacts of wall-to-wall plantings on their communities and food production.

Farmers in the Jerramungup shire can plant up to 30 per cent of their farm to trees no questions asked while in Plantagenet, carbon sinks across most of the district have to be planted in conjunction with traditional farm activities.

The high-rainfall shires are concerned tree plantations and carbon sinks will affect agricultural production, bring an extra fire risk and could spread weeds.

Tree plantations, harvested every eight to 12 years, are seen as less of a problem than carbon tree sinks, which lock the land away for 70 to 100 years.

Jerramungup shire president Bruce Trevaskis and chief executive Bill Parker said the crux of the policy, drafted two years ago and introduced last year, protected the area’s high-yielding farmland.

They said it was not a blanket ban on trees — farmers or applicants such as carbon companies wanting to plant more than 30 per cent of the land to trees needed to apply to the shire.

“The policy looks at different criteria such as water levels and suitability of the site for trees and in the past couple of years, we have approved several applications for entire farms (to be planted to trees) because the land was degraded, ” Mr Parker said.

In Plantagenet, the policy is being finalised and will restrict carbon plantations to the north-east of the shire at the 500mm isohyet to protect broad scale crop and intensive horticulture.

South of the 500mm isohyet, Plantagenet chief executive Rob Stewart said carbon sinks could be approved if the land was still used to produce food or livestock.

“The shire doesn’t object to carbon sink plantings but what we don’t want is wall-to-wall carbon plantings, ” Mr Stewart said. “The issue with carbon sinks is that you are potentially giving away good agricultural land for something you cannot eat, you cannot cut down and cannot dig up.

“Most people are happy if there is a good compromise.

“We are not carbon deniers and are saying there is a legitimate use but if we went to a carbon sink monoculture it wouldn’t be good for the district.”

Plantagenet hasn’t put a specific cap on carbon plantations but says if food production is the main use of the land, it may be a 70 to 30 split.

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