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Land Clearing and Its Impacts

Australia is still clearing too much vegetation

Though the extreme rates of land clearing that placed Australia in the top 10 land clearing nations in the world have reduced over the past 5 years, we are still clearing much more native vegetation than is being replanted or that is regenerating naturally. This ongoing net loss and decline continues to threaten Australia’s environment. Clearing increases erosion and sedimentation of waterways and reduces water quality. Clearing removes habitats leading to the direct loss of millions of native animals and plants every year and creates an extinction debt.

Rates of land clearing in Queensland and New South Wales are still unacceptably high and proposals continue for development in northern Australia involving clearing of hundreds of thousands of hectares. There is a risk that the severe consequences of clearing vast areas of southern Australia for agriculture will be repeated in the north.

Revegetating land to a complexity that resembles intact native vegetation is difficult and expensive. Recent reviews of natural resource management  programs have highlighted the expense and difficulty in restoring an area to original condition and the incongruity of continuing to allow  further clearing  given the  existing problems and environmental challenges being dealt with in cleared landscapes.

What is land clearing doing to Australia

European settlement has significantly altered Australia's natural landscape, and with it, Australia's biodiversity. About 90% of native vegetation in the eastern temperate zone has been removed for agriculture, industry, transport and human habitation. About 50% of Australia's rainforests have been cleared and the proportion of Australia covered by forest or woodland has been reduced by more than one third (Source: Creating Markets for Biodiversity, Productivity Commission, Canberra, April 2001). The effect of these changes has been considerable. Around 5% of Australia's higher plants, 7% of reptiles, 9% of birds, 9% of freshwater fish, 16% of amphibians and 23% of mammals are listed as Extinct, Endangered or Vulnerable.

The impacts of clearing 

Death and extinction of native birds, wildlife and biodiversity

Over 5 million parrots, honeyeaters, robins and other land birds are killed each year by land clearing. For every 100 hectares of bush destroyed, between 1,000 and 2,000 birds die from exposure, starvation and stress. Half of Australia's terrestrial bird species may become extinct this century unless habitat destruction is rapidly controlled.

Nearly half our mammal species, including some wombats, wallabies and bandicoots, are either extinct or threatened with extinction as a result of land clearing, habitat destruction and other threats.

Australia has lost more plants and mammals to extinction than any other country and has more threatened animals than 98% of the world's countries.

Salt-blighted farmlands and water supplies

Salt will poison over 17 million hectares of Australian farmlands by the year 2050. As trees and native vegetation are bulldozed and cleared, water, once used by native plants, rises through the soil bringing with it ancient salt deposits.This salinity reduces soil and farm productivity, and seeps into rivers and water supplies.

Salt damage to regional towns, cities and  infrastructure

More than 200 regional cities could be affected by 'clearing induced' dryland salinity by 2050, with a larger number of small towns also at risk. Some of Australia's biggest cities such as Sydney's western suburbs, are also at risk with salinity affecting foundations, parks, gardens, roads, buildings and other infrastructure. Rising groundwater caused by land clearing threatens to undermine 20,000 km of major roads and 1600 km of railways, with this threat expected to double.

Greenhouse gas pollution

The Australian Greenhouse Office has estimated that land clearing contributed 13% of Australia's total greenhouse gas emissions during 1996. Bulldozed, rotting and burning bush emits greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. Land clearing's contribution to greenhouse gas emissions costs Australia around $1.6 billion annually.