Salination threatens export

WA FACES the risk of going from an exporter of food to an importer of food if growing salination problems are not addressed.

At an Institute for Research into International Competitiveness business forum, former Department of Conservation and Land Management CEO Syd Shea said there was no question WA’s land had been overcleared.

It is this overclearing that is leading to salination problems.

Not so long ago farmers were told by government to clear their land or lose it but the clearing removed the trees that used up water near the surface.

Without the trees, the water table has risen, bringing with it the salt that is causing a problem.

Dr Shea said the WA wheatbelt was one of the world’s negative biodiversity areas.

“It only has three wetland systems left,” he said.

“We are going to lose three million hectares to salination by 2010/2020 if nothing is done.

“There are twenty-four towns in WA rotting on their foundations due to the rising water table,” he said.

Dr Shea said the WA landscape was 2,700 million years old and yet in about eighty years “we’ve stuffed it”.

However, simply replanting the trees will not solve the salination problem.

It is accepted that the answer to solving salination must be an integrated one.

Dr Shea said increased tree planting would also help WA meet its requirements under the yet to be ratified Kyoto Greenhouse Gas Protocol. Australia has agreed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to 5 per cent below 1990 levels.

That means Australia is only allowed to emit about forty billion tonnes of carbon dioxide.

“The resource infrastructure on the drawing board for WA will consume that alone,” Dr Shea said.

“However, this can be offset by planting trees. Trees are very effective carbon dioxide cleaners. They absorb the gas, using the carbon and releasing oxygen.

“Measuring and auditing the amount of carbon sequestered by trees will be critical,” Dr Shea said.

Alcoa has already headed down the carbon sink route. It is planting trees to offset its carbon dioxide emissions.

Any company that can more than offset its carbon dioxide emissions is then able to trade the resulting credits.

Dr Shea believes up 25 per cent of a farm could be put to forest without losing any agricultural production.

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