Purves Environmental Fund

Tree clearing in Queensland

23 September 2019

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Impact case study: A campaign to see tree-clearing controls reintroduced in Queensland has shown how philanthropy combined with smart activism can make a huge difference to our environment.

On 3 May, new laws were passed to control tree clearing in Queensland. Congratulations and thank you to the members who backed the campaign with the resources needed to win.

The stakes for this campaign were high, with tens of millions of native animals, birds and reptiles dying every year due to tree clearing. Sediment and pesticide run off from the cleared catchments were polluting the Great Barrier Reef, already under immense pressure due to climate change. And at the same time as the Commonwealth Government was investing $1.4 million in emission reductions, Queensland’s greenhouse gas emissions were skyrocketing.

Tree clearing controls

At the 2017 conference, Rob Purves spoke passionately about the need to support the campaign to see tree clearing controls reintroduced in Queensland. Philanthropic backing had ensured that earlier land clearing campaigning was successful, resulting in the introduction of tighter clearing controls by the Beatty Government in 2004. But the Newman Government had rolled back the controls and the rates of tree clearing had escalated dramatically since.

We all want wins for the environment more often, so this is a good opportunity to think about the key ingredients that led to success.

The campaign was led by an alliance of key environmental organisations; WWF, The Wilderness Society and Queensland Conservation Council. The Queensland RSPCA also played an important role in highlighting the extraordinary death and suffering of countless animals from tree clearing. Arguably no single organisation working on their own could have achieved the new laws.

The campaign objective was obvious and achievable. Clearing controls reduce the amount of tree clearing. The Queensland Government had tried to reintroduce controls but lacked the numbers to get the legislation through. The numbers changed following the 2017 state election and an opportunity was created.

The alliance planned and executed a professional campaign and they had the resources they needed to pull out all stops. This included big public communications initiatives, citizen science, and direct engagement with government. And this is where the support of members came in, with a crucial role played by Rob Purves and the Purves Environmental Fund.

In 2004 Tree Clearing regulations were rolled back, and the environmental consequences have been devastating.

When Rob Purves announced that he would commit up to $1 million for the tree clearing campaign, to be matched by members, the staff team were very excited — and a little nervous. This was the biggest challenge grant in our history and members only had a few months to raise the funds. But members dug deep, raising $774,500 — which was then matched by Rob.

We are committed to increasing philanthropic support for the environment and this is an excellent test case of what can be achieved when a good plan and competent people are backed by adequate resources.

The tree clearing campaign isn’t over yet, with the clearing controls in New South Wales the next target. In the meantime, the Queensland victory is worthy of celebration and a good reason to open a bottle of champagne.

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