Grass Tree Update: Cholorophyll Nil

I got a call back from the DEC (Dept of Environment and Conservation) regarding the guy selling protected grass trees off the back of a truck. (2 posts down) Much to my surprise the guy is a legitimate licensed dealer, with trees licensed by the Queensland government as salvage (i.e. from land where their habitat is about to be destroyed by alternative development). So he can’t be fined or imprisoned, although I still want to feed him to the trees for his lack of care: most of those salvage-tag trees will die within a few months because those root-balls simply aren’t large enough and most people won’t transplant them into sandy enough soil, so the roots will just wither as they fail to penetrate loam and clay. Still, he’s operating within the law.

This led me to some Googling on QLD’s grass-tree licensing system. Apparently QLD has a different harvest policy regarding grass trees than NSW does: QLD has decided that rigorously monitored sustainable harvesting of indigenous plants doesn’t prevent enough illegal harvesting, and no longer grants license tags to landowners with grass-tree habitat to take a small number of grass-trees annually.

Salvaging plants from lands subject to clearing and logging operations is recognised as a source of plants to reduce demand for plants taken from undisturbed land and therefore the potential for plants to be taken illegally. Conservation and Management of Protected Plants in Queensland 2001.


So QLD will grant license tags to landowners to salvage grass-trees if their habitat is going to be destroyed. QLD has gone from granting 6,000 sustainable harvest tags on continuing habitat to granting 60,000 salvage tags for grass-trees on destroyed habitat. But at least the trees aren’t being harvested illegally.

So: farmer (or indigenous titleholders) with five back paddocks of grass-tree habitat (i.e. poor sandy soil which will not support pasturage or any other crop) can no longer get a license to harvest 50 grass-trees a year and make $5000 per annum in perpetuity for landowner and heirs, in return for doing bugger-all. Grass-trees resent fertilizer and unnecessary watering. They just sit there, slowly growing, and providing a backbone for a habitat of other native plants and small animals, a small oasis of biodiversity that can be enhanced and with the rise of eco-tourism even perhaps generate some added income for the farmer from surrounding holiday cabins etc.

But: if landowner tells the government he wants to upgrade that poor sandy land into pasturage (even though it won’t work), the farmer can get a license to salvage 1000 grass-trees and get a one-time profit of $100,000 and a dustbowl that will never grow any useful crop at all. The viability of the proposed development is scarcely examined as long as bulldozers have been hired.

Salvage harvesting of grass-trees tends to be a lot less careful than sustainable harvesting, thus the inadequate root-balls I mentioned above. Salvagers crop the tops for transport to minimize transplant shock. When planted out, the plants will respond with a flush of new green crown growth, very gratifying to the new purchaser, but unless the root ball is large enough and surrounded by just the right medium, die-back begins within a few months and most trees last less than a year. So salvage tags encourage a landscaper replacement strategy which encourages even more reckless digging up of centuries-old plants on land conveniently designated as undergoing “development”.

Grasstrees are only one of the indigenous plant species affected by QLD’s protected plants policy. Don’t overlook the fact that this salvage-only policy favours developers and loggers out for a short-term profit over sustainable resource management by multi-generational landowners, either.

It seems a very strange way to go about conserving habitat to me.



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