Program seeks to reclaim Australia’s missing woodland

The Victorian Government is encouraging farmers to protect and plant native vegetation on private land.
Murray River, Australia (Photo Credit – Tim Philips)

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For thousands of years lush wetlands and dense wooded scrub flanked Australia’s greatest river, until it was largely drained and cut away less than two centuries ago. Now the land is changing again and into what, we do not yet know.

On the banks of a major tributary of the great Murray River, Kerang is a small town, and like other small towns in Australia, many of its young are leaving. The farming the community thrived on for more than 100 years is getting less profitable. There are better jobs elsewhere.

At the same time, Australia’s greatest river system has become a political hot potato. The combined Murray-Darling river system is the island continent’s greatest watershed, and it is highly sensitive to climate change. Four states with booming populations all want a share of the waters that drain into it. In recent years they have been frequently low or absent.

Theoretically, the area around the Murray should be a wooded landscape. But this is woodland that is mostly missing. At the moment much of it is a patchwork of dried-out wetlands and semi-abandoned land.

To protect what is left in trees and biodiversity and promote carbon sequestration, Victoria’s state government has created financial instruments to encourage farmers to protect and plant native vegetation on private land, and promote other environmental uses. One of these new financial commodities has been given a catchy name: ‘BushTender’.

The question is: Do they make financial sense? If there are better ways to make money, they may not be enticing to the landholders …

Editor’s note: This is an excerpt of an article that appears in its entirety on the website of the International Union of Forest Research Organizations (IUFRO). To read the rest of this article — and to cast your vote for this article in a blog competition ahead of the IUFRO World Congress in October 2014 — click here

An earlier version of this story situated Kerang on the banks of the Murray River. It is in fact situated on the Loddon River, a tributary of the Murray. 

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