Land clearing accelerating across Queensland

Land clearing is accelerating across eastern Australia, despite our new research providing a clear warning of its impacts on the Great Barrier Reef, regional and global climate, and threatened native wildlife. (News coverage)

Over 600 threatened species (including both animals and plants) across Australia are impacted by land clearing, habitat fragmentation or habitat degradation. Nearly 500 species are threatened by grazing and the associated habitat changes.

In Queensland, habitat loss is a key threat for 67% of threatened animal species, but a maximum limit to the amount of habitat that can be cleared is only mentioned in 10% of recovery plans.

The endangered Black-throated finch, which has become extinct in New South Wales, could lose much of its remaining habitat under the current vegetation laws.

Queensland has the lowest proportion of land inside protected areas of any State or Territory across Australia. In the rest of the landscape, vegetation management laws are the only remaining protection of habitats.

Worryingly, New South Wales is starting to take Queensland's lead, which is likely to lead to loss of endangered and vulnerable species habitat.

Australia’s farmers provide a service to the community by producing essential food supplies and, of course, they need to be able to make a decent living. Many landholders have kept blocks of native vegetation on their properties, providing habitat for Australia’s wildlife.

While the debate about management of vegetation on private land has unfortunately become polarised, we need to adjust how vegetation is managed on private land so that we can have functioning ecosystems which reduce soil erosion and soil salinity, provide clean water, regulate climate and allow Australia’s unique plants and animals to survive. This will require long term policy certainty.

Effective policy should focus on prevention of further losses but also for incentives for forest and bushland restoration where important habitats and connections have been lost.

Some argue that the clearing is mostly of regrowth, but our research has shown that clearing of remnant - untouched - vegetation has more than doubled, as well as an escalation in clearing of regrowth.

Other myths around Queensland's land clearing are busted here.

We have covered some of the clearing debate in a recent article in The Conversation.

Thanks to co-authors Jutta Beher, Anita Cosgrove, Megan Evans, Leonie Seabrook, Jennifer L. Silcock, Amelia Wenger, Martine Maron; and Stephen Kearney for EPBC info, and all the anonymous expert reviewers for their input.

Ecological consequences of land clearing and policy reform in Queensland

Abstract

Land clearing threatens biodiversity, impairs the functioning of terrestrial, freshwater, and marine ecosystems, and is a key contributor to human induced climate change. The rates of land clearing in the State of Queensland, Australia, are of globally significant levels, and have been the subject of intense and polarised political debate. In 2016, a legislative bill which aimed to restore stronger controls over land clearing failed to pass in the Queensland Parliament, despite the clear scientific basis for policy reform. Here, we provide a short history of the recent policy debate over land clearing in Queensland, in the context of its global and national ecological significance. Land clearing affects regional climates, leading to hotter, drier climates which will impact on the Queensland economy and local communities. Loss of habitat from land clearing is a key threatening process for many endangered animals and plants. Runoff from land clearing results in sediment and nutrient enrichment which threatens the health of the Great Barrier Reef and increases the effect of coral bleaching. Australia has made national and international commitments to conserve biodiversity and reduce our greenhouse gas emissions, but current land clearing policies are not consistent with these commitments. Stronger regulation is needed to reduce vegetation loss, such as target-based regulation which sets a cap on land clearing and could effectively halt vegetation loss over the long term. Lasting policy reform is required, and we recommend an effective policy mix which restricts clearing, provides economic opportunities for vegetation retention, and informs the Australian community about the value of native vegetation.

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