If the state of Queensland, Australia was a country, it would be the ninth-highest forest-destroying nation in the world. Due to the dominant and expanding agriculture industry, Queensland is tearing down approximately 1.7 million acres of forest each year to make room for new pastures, causing rapid forest degradation and fragmentation. This is despite the fact that Queensland forests are home to many critically endangered species that are endemic to this area, including Southern cassowaries and tree kangaroos. That’s why our study abroad program collaborated with local reforestation organizations in an effort to lend a helping hand to the cause.
Why is reforestation so important in the far north of Australia? The Wet Tropics is a bioregion along the northeastern coast of Queensland with some of the highest levels of rainfall in the world—up to nine feet of rain a year—containing a vast variety of flora and fauna, many of which are endemic, endangered or threatened. Splitting up large swaths of rainforest into small, isolated patches with pastures, roadways or new development forces many species to cross busy roads or farmland in order to move through the forest. Many species die or are critically injured attempting these crossings, or else face the dangers of isolation, such as a lack of food, other individuals of their species to mate and interact with and higher extinction risk from random events, such as a cyclone or disease. Fragmentation also vastly increases the amount of vulnerable edge forestry, which advantages non-native predators, increases chance run-ins with dogs and exaggerates the effects of natural disturbances. As such, it’s no surprise that fragmentation is the leading cause of endangerment and extinction for Queensland wildlife.
In an effort to mitigate the effects of fragmentation on native fauna, many organizations are attempting major corridor planting projects in Queensland. Wildlife corridors are areas of vegetation that connect previously separated forests, allowing animals to safely move between larger swaths of land. This is especially important for species that occupy a large home territory, like the Southern cassowary, or arboreal species that are particularly vulnerable to both cars and predators when forced to come to the ground, like tree kangaroos. These plantings are long-term investments that are necessary to combat deforestation and species isolation and ensure the survival of Queensland wildlife and plants.
Trees for the Evelyn and Atherton Tablelands, better known as TREAT, is the organization we joined to help with one of their many tree plantings. They are a community-based organization that grows seedlings and replants native rainforest species in the Wet Tropics bioregion of northern Queensland, Australia. Established in 1982, TREAT is renowned for their extensive and knowledgeable nursery, growing seedlings for the majority of the rainforest plantings in the surrounding area. The facility welcomes community members to help with odd jobs necessary to keep the nursery running, providing plenty of social time that brings people together. Every Saturday during the wet season, which lasts from January until early April, TREAT manages and facilitates community planting events. With gloves, trowels, trees and even temporary bridges across flowing creeks provided, those who show up bring the manpower and the hope needed to tackle a task so large. Plantings usually take only an hour or two and boast up to 3000 new trees in the ground by the end of the morning.
Through our study abroad program with the School for International Training (SIT) Australia: Reef, Rainforest and Cultural Ecology program, this semester we were able to plant 1,415 new tree seedlings over the course of three days. We planted mixed rainforest species in Massey Creek to finish off a major corridor in the Atherton Tablelands. We’re so grateful to have had the opportunity to contribute to something so much larger than ourselves. TREAT and its volunteers are working every day to restore landscape function to this incredibly diverse and unique region, for the species that need it now, and for the future. We look at how far they have already come and we can see their vision for a greener future.
Here are some ways to get involved in your community!
- Consider donating to TREAT or your local reforestation efforts
- Reach out to your local organizations—this is also a great way to connect with your local community!
- Plant native vegetation in your yard (this both benefits your local wildlife and will save you costs on water and fertilizer)
- Ask about planting native species around your school or community spaces