Queensland’s terrestrial landscapes are wholly subject to human influence. The impacts are direct, occurring through peri-urban expansion, agri-business activity or the exploitation of natural resources. However, indirect impacts follow the influence of altered fire regimes, the spread of exotic plants, animals and diseases, as well as the less definable effects of altered climate regimes and atmospheric chemistry. There is no part of the state, including the most remote remnant landscape or national park, which is free from these impacts.
This is a global phenomenon and professionals suggest that we are in a new epoch; the Anthropocene which is characterised by human impacts. While geologists and stratigraphers debate the status and definition of a potential Anthropocene epoch, the concept has been widely adopted by ecologists and natural resource managers. CSIRO ran a symposium on this matter in 2013 and the presentations and reports provide a good overview of the subject.
Whatever the academic debate, it is clear that the fate of the regional environment is almost wholly within our hands. Our approach to living in, and utilising the regional environment, determines which landscapes, ecosystems or biota persist alongside us. A critical element of our approach is the balance among community aspirations, economic goals, and regulation, as well as government visions for regional development.
Recent governments have promoted visions for the regions (e.g. in the Agriculture Strategy and the Queensland Plan), and ultimately providing a legacy of regulations that leave both the environment and rural communities more vulnerable to the actions of individual landholders or development proponents. For example recent changes to Queensland’s land clearing regulations has resulted in a dramatic increase in the area of vegetation being cleared. The former government argued that “landholders more control over their land and allow them to sustainably grow their farm businesses” (more on this topic); however, academics and conservationists expressed concern for the “irreversible environmental consequences”. There are analogous debates around the practice and regulation of resource exploitation in rural communities. The debate between contradictory visions of a sustainable regional environment is multifaceted, lacks consensus and is not generally well informed.
In this theme our goal is to seek informed consensus, and in the process, explore what constitutes a sustainable regional community and how the natural environment, upon which the regional economy and its culture is founded, can be maintained. We will start by examining some of the current regulations and the policy setting applying to the regions. This is not to criticise previous governments. Rather it is to build an understanding, the foundations from which we may move onto future frameworks.
In parallel with this on-line discussion, we are looking forward to some face-to-face debate. In partnership with the Royal Society of Queensland, it is intended to hold a symposium on the theme of sustainable regional environments in June 2016.
Details of this symposium, including a call for presenters, will be posted over the next few months.