This article has been peer reviewed and accepted for publication. It is in production and has not been edited, so may differ from the final published form.
Ecological consequences of land clearing and policy reform in Queensland
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 at 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. 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.
PC17001 Accepted 12 May 2017
© CSIRO 2017