Latest study says land clearing policy shouldn’t take a ‘one size fits all’ approach

IMG_0341On the heels of fiery debate in Queensland regarding proposed changes to land clearing legislation in Parliament, researchers in the Wilson Lab have published a new study describing how land clearing patterns have changed alongside considerable fluctuations in the Vegetation Management Act.

“Overall, landholders across Queensland have continued to select clearing locations that may be most suitable for agriculture,” says lead author and PhD candidate, Blake Alexander Simmons. “However, at more regional scales, unique patterns emerge as the strength of policy tightens and relaxes. Different regions are responding differently to policy change.”

The study points to the fluctuating timeline of amendments to the Vegetation Management Act during 1989-2015 to illustrate the different responses of regional landholders to clearing restrictions and relaxations. Intensive agricultural and pastoral regions like the Brigalow Belt South bioregion have changed the amount of clearing in accordance with policy in the past, but they have continued to clear in the same locations. Other regions, like the Great Barrier Reef Catchment, have changed what they are clearing to align more with the policy’s changing goals.

Simmons argues that land clearing poses great concerns to biodiversity, ecosystem function, and climate change, but current proposals in Parliament are too broad. “It is critical that Parliament recognises these different responses and that the policy does not take a ‘one size fits all’ approach to regulation,” Simmons asserts. “Rather, policy must consider local and regional drivers of clearing, as individual regions are driven by different pressures and conditions.”

This point appears to be embedded into many arguments from the new bill’s opposition, which largely consists of farmers, graziers, and agricultural lobby groups. The organisation, Canegrowers, argues that the amendments do not consider the needs of sugar cane farmers, and graziers in south-western Queensland argue that they are not clearing trees for pasture, but rather to ensure the survival of their stock during drought.

The study also discusses potential perverse outcomes arising from inconsistencies and uncertainties in the political timeline, including ‘panic clearing’ which the authors describe as “a four-year period, in which landholders responded to anticipated regulations by immediately increasing previous clearing practices on their land, followed by a progression of selective pasture expansion into more available, potentially viable locations.”

To find out more, read:

Simmons BA, Law EA, Marcos-Martinez R, Bryan BA, McAlpine C, Wilson KA (2018) Spatial and temporal patterns of land clearing during policy change. Land Use Policy, 75, 399-410.