Photo: Kristian Bell

Accelerating land clearing is increasing bushfires and droughts and compounding Australia’s extinction crisis: 300 scientists call for immediate action

Large-scale land clearing is nullifying our carbon abatement efforts, placing native species at higher likelihood of extinction, and is actually increasing the risk of drought and bushfire, according to a statement released today by Australian scientists.

Over 300 scientists—including Professors Tim Flannery, Lesley Hughes, Richard Kingsford, Chris Dickman and Martine Maron—have signed a declaration calling for strong legislation to curb Australia’s accelerating rate of land clearing. Full text of the declaration, and signatories, available here.

‘Australia has a land-clearing crisis. It is truly shameful that our country is listed as a global deforestation hotspot,’ said Prof. Lesley Hughes, Distinguished Professor of Biology at Macquarie University.

‘This declaration is a clarion call by scientists across Australia to our politicians to enact effective policies for conserving what still remains and undertake large-scale restoration programs to bring back what has been lost.’

The cost of replanting a woodland is up to $20,000 per hectare, and even that only partially re-establishes biodiversity and ecological function after 20 to 30 years. Retaining native vegetation avoids these costs.

According to the statement, Australian tax payers have spent $2.55 billion to fund carbon abatement activities, including planting trees under the Emissions Reduction Fund, which will be nullified by the recent
increase in emissions from land clearing in Australia.

‘In the past, New South Wales and Queensland have had stronger laws to protect native vegetation,’ said Professor Richard Kingsford, Director of the Centre for Ecosystem Science at the University of New South
Wales. ‘They worked, with rates of land-clearing falling significantly and protecting biodiversity, but those laws have been relaxed in the last decade and rates of land clearing are increasing again. We need better laws and regulations and transparent reporting’.

Avoiding large-scale land clearing is essential to reducing harm to industry, society and native plants and animals. Native vegetation protects soil integrity, water quality in freshwater and marine systems, stabilises
local climate, and supports native wildlife, which in turn provide crucial ecosystem services that support agricultural production, tourism, and other important industries.

‘At the very least we are calling upon Australian governments at all levels to return to previous legislation, but what’s really required to conserve Australia’s globally unique and priceless nature is to pass new, more
effective legislation, supported by sound regulations, protecting native vegetation from broad-scale landclearing,’ said Professor Chris Dickman from The University of Sydney.