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Satellites used in the battle against tree cl -

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Broadcast: 22/09/2004

Satellites used in the battle against tree claring

Reporter: Genevieve Hussey

KERRY O'BRIEN: It's the stuff of science fiction movies - the government using cameras mounted on
satellites to watch what people are doing from space.

But satellite technology, and the ability to use it to see what's going on the ground, is the
latest weapon in the battle against illegal tree clearing in Queensland.

The technology is now so sophisticated, it can detect the removal of a single tree.

The Queensland Department of Natural Resources has already successfully prosecuted 50 landholders
using evidence gathered by satellite monitoring.

But 4,500 more cases of possible illegal clearing are still waiting to be investigated.

And Queensland's farm lobby group, AgForce, accuses the Government of using the technology to
harass farmers who've done nothing wrong.

Genevieve Hussey reports.

GENEVIEVE HUSSEY: High in the sky above Queensland, big brother is watching.

Every 16 days, satellites pass across the State collecting images of the land below.

These photographs show in incredible detail just what's going on, on the ground.

SATELLITE IMAGE ANALYST: We can go through and count the individual trees and we could see a
bulldozer as it's going through the trees and knocking them down.

GENEVIEVE HUSSEY: Satellite images are the latest weapon in the battle to stop illegal
tree-clearing in Queensland.

STEPHEN ROBERTSON, QLD NATURAL RESOURCES MINISTER: It is an eye in the sky.

If you're thinking of running the gauntlet and thinking you can get away with illegal tree-clearing
and hoping that nobody will notice, the simple message is - it will be noticed.

GENEVIEVE HUSSEY: Last year, Queensland Premier Peter Beattie pleased environmentalists with a vow
to get tough on broad-scale land clearing.

Land clearing has been labelled the most serious environmental problem facing Australia - causing
salinity, erosion and loss of biodiversity.

SPEAKER AT DEMONSTRATION: I've always thought that Peter Beattie was a good man.

If he can stop land clearing in Queensland, he'll be a great man.

GENEVIEVE HUSSEY: Farmers were unimpressed.

LARRY ACTON, AGFORCE: We're talking about the future of farm families here.

What we're talking about is delivering the environmental conscience of the whole of the Australian
community.

GENEVIEVE HUSSEY: Despite opposition from farmers, in March the State Government passed legislation
banning all broad-scale clearing of remnant vegetation by the end of 2006.

Five months on, scientists working for the state-wide land cover and trees study are busy analysing
images from 2001 to 2003, looking for changes in vegetation.

SCIENTIST: And this area is intact.

Whereby all the pink area is bare on the 2002 image.

DR STUART PHINN, UNIVERSITY OF QUEENSLAND: To use the current satellite imagery to map the whole
State at a broad level you pick an area where there's been clearing then you go in and collect this
high resolution imagery to look at exactly what's going on on the ground.

GENEVIEVE HUSSEY: Stuart Phinn, from the University of Queensland, is part of a team reviewing the
accuracy of the information being gathered.

DR STUART PHINN: What we've found is it's basically world's-best practice research in terms of the
image processing and the field work that's being done to check the resultant maps.

TIM DANAHER, STATEWIDE LANDCOVER AND TREES STUDY: This technology is nothing unless you actually
get out there and check it.

And we've got an actual computer we take out in the field in our vehicle so we can see exactly what
we see in the office.

Overall we're probably looking at about 95 per cent accuracy in the clearing we're mapping.

GENEVIEVE HUSSEY: Department of Natural Resources investigators have travelled to St George, in
south-east Queensland.

Using the satellite images as a guide they look for the extra evidence needed to prosecute cases in
court.

CRAIG ELLIOTT, QUEENSLAND DEPARTMENT OF NATURAL RESOURCES: So the process on the ground is to
firstly look at what has been there, check that it's accurate on the mapping from the satellite
imagery and then look at the actual vegetation to work out how it's been cleared.

GENEVIEVE HUSSEY: At this property they discovered more than 800 hectares bulldozed illegally.

The farmer was fined $10,000.

This is just one of 60 cases to have reached court so far.

Almost all have been successfully prosecuted using evidence from satellite imagery.

CRAIG ELLIOTT: It's highly unlikely that this would have been detected.

It would have been purely by chance that this would have been discovered without it.

GENEVIEVE HUSSEY: But Queensland farmers' lobby group AgForce accuses the State Government of using
out-of-date satellite information to harass farmers who've done nothing wrong.

LARRY ACTON: In a very large number of instances, they're actually approaching landholders with a
view to investigating illegal activity unjustifiably because a lot of the clearing that has been
done has been done either under a permit since the last information was available and it has not
been cross-referenced.

GENEVIEVE HUSSEY: AgForce claims only a small percentage of cases are successfully prosecuted in
court.

LARRY ACTON: They talk about the thousands of potential cases that they have and they don't
acknowledge the very small number of successful prosecutions that they have taken to court.

STEPHEN ROBERTSON: I don't know how they can say 50 successful prosecutions is a small number.

There's another 13 currently before the courts, another 1,000 have been assessed and will be
progressing, probably, to court.

GENEVIEVE HUSSEY: The State Government admits there are 4,000 cases still to be investigated.

And that backlog relates only to data from 1999 to 2001.

Information from 2002 and 2003 is still being assessed.

Investigators admit that's a huge caseload.

With 4,000 cases still to be investigated and new lot of data pending, isn't it the case that your
staff really will have to prioritise?

STEPHEN ROBERTSON: Well, 'probably' is the answer but that doesn't mean that allegations that are
made, or accusations that are made, won't be investigated.

GENEVIEVE HUSSEY: Scientists maintain the more than $1.5 million annual bill for mapping the State
is money well spent, because the images are used not just to spot illegal clearing but to help
manage natural resources.

Is it worth it?

DR STUART PHINN: When you go to the doctor, they check your condition, they measure the
temperature, assess you -- we're doing the same thing with the environment.

GENEVIEVE HUSSEY: The State Government says it could be years before it's sure all farmers have
taken the message on board in regard to illegal clearing.

In the meantime, the cameras will be watching.

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