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A true-colour Sentinel-2 satellite image of Charleville and surrounds in south-west Queensland. This area is in the Mulga Lands Bioregion where active management of Mulga (Acacia aneura) is undertaken as a fodder source for livestock, particularly in drought periods. This can be seen in the narrow strips in the vegetation in the centre and lower right of the image. SLATS monitor these and other land cover changes in woody vegetation across the entire state of Queensland.
The image was supplied by the European Space Agency and processed by the Queensland Government's Remote Sensing Centre

The Statewide Landcover and Trees Study (SLATS) is a scientific monitoring program undertaken by the Department of Environment and Science’s Remote Sensing Centre in partnership with the Queensland Herbarium, Department of Resources and the Joint Remote Sensing Research Program.

SLATS uses satellite imagery and field data to monitor and report changes in woody vegetation extent in Queensland and provide information about other woody vegetation attributes such as foliage density and age.

SLATS monitors woody vegetation as defined in the Vegetation Management Act 1999; essentially woody native trees or plants, except for mangroves which are protected under the Fisheries Act 1994.

Native vegetation is critical for maintaining biodiversity, preventing land degradation, and improving water quality.

Due to the difficulty of discriminating native and non-native woody vegetation in the landscape using satellite imagery, non-native woody vegetation change is also included in SLATS.

Why SLATS reporting is important

The data from SLATS reporting supports the vegetation management and environmental protection laws in Queensland. The data and information also support and inform a range of sustainable land management, biodiversity and conservation initiatives, including Great Barrier Reef catchment programs, fire management, conservation planning, the Land Restoration Fund, and emerging natural capital markets such as carbon farming.

SLATS’ science has also helped facilitate the development of other statewide land cover change monitoring programs including for ground cover and fire scars. SLATS methods have also been adapted for more regular monitoring of land clearing activity through the Early Detection System; a proactive, early engagement compliance tool used by the Department of Resources as part of its ongoing vegetation monitoring and compliance program.

Enhanced methodology and scientific capabilities

In 2018, Queensland adopted an enhanced SLATS methodology incorporating the latest satellite technology and scientific capabilities to provide a more comprehensive and accurate representation of the state’s woody vegetation extent.

This new methodology was used to develop the 2018 Woody Vegetation Extent Baseline map and report, and commencing from the 2018-19 period, will be used for all future SLATS reporting.

SLATS reporting now uses the latest, higher-resolution Sentinel-2 satellite technology, which can capture images at a spatial resolution of 10 metres. SLATS reporting prior to 2018 used medium-resolution Landsat satellite imagery which has a spatial resolution of 30m.

The enhanced SLATS reporting also introduces:

  • a revised definition of woody vegetation as areas with a crown cover of greater than 10% and a stand size of at least 0.5 ha. It includes native and non-native woody vegetation, and woody vegetation is included regardless of its height or age.
  • improved mapping of woody vegetation extent, as a baseline for ongoing monitoring, reporting and accounting (accounting is important to track the age and location of vegetation regrowth, and to capture the benefits this provides for biodiversity and carbon sequestration).
  • woody vegetation regrowth mapping and monitoring, also based on Sentinel-2 satellite imagery, commencing from the 2019-20 reporting period.
  • a vegetation condition assessment framework, that has been developed to map and monitor the BioCondition of Queensland’s terrestrial ecosystems.

Ensuring the new approaches are robust, valid and as accurate as possible has meant the release of the first suite of reporting and data products has taken some time to finalise.

Prior to the release of SLATS reporting, a scientific peer-review was conducted, led by CSIRO, to ensure the new methods are reliable and scientifically valid.

Due to the transition from Landsat to Sentinel-2 satellite imagery for the woody extent change monitoring, SLATS reporting from 2018-19 will not be directly comparable with previous reporting.

Comprehensive monitoring and assessment framework

The enhanced SLATS program provides a comprehensive vegetation monitoring, assessment and reporting framework for Queensland.

It enables enhanced accounting and reporting of vegetation change and associated biodiversity values across the state. It also provides important foundational data products that can be used to support a range of environment and natural resource management applications.

It builds on the Queensland Government’s investment in satellite imagery and computing technologies, as well as long standing programs such as Regional Ecosystem mapping and the BioCondition framework.

Combined, these initiatives provide a spatially- and temporally-comprehensive account of Queensland’s vegetation and ecosystems based on peer-reviewed science.

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