Frequent policy uncertainty leads to perverse outcomes for Queensland forests

Picture1Amidst fiery debate regarding new land clearing laws in Queensland earlier this year, researchers in the Wilson Lab have just published a paper looking at the drivers of net forest cover change and remnant forest loss in Queensland’s recent history, with a special focus on the broad-scale clearing ban of 2007 and the perverse effects of frequent policy uncertainty on deforestation.

The research, led by PhD candidate Blake Alexander Simmons, investigated how periods of uncertainty in forest conservation policy affected forest transition outcomes in Queensland, Australia, as well as an important biodiversity hotspot in the state, the Brigalow Belt South bioregion.

In addition to these political factors, the researchers identified various socioeconomic and biophysical factors driving net forest cover change and remnant forest loss from 1991 to 2014. Alongside more traditional drivers of deforestation like increasing temperatures and food prices, political drivers were just as important. “The broad-scale clearing ban of 2007 reduced deforestation, but peak periods of policy uncertainty surrounding crucial changes to deforestation regulation greatly increased deforestation rates,” says Simmons.

A causal impact assessment of the broad-scale clearing ban identified a cautionary tale for conservation policy. The authors estimate the broad-scale clearing ban has saved over 6 million hectares of Queensland forests—1.8 million of which is remnant forest—but this impact is counteracted by the detrimental effects of frequent policy change, and the situation is grimmer for the Brigalow Belt South.

“If Queensland is to minimise future deforestation rates, there must be greater consideration of how land clearing policies are enacted and amended,” Simmons argues. “To reduce the potential for perverse outcomes, there must be stronger, sustained communication with stakeholders, greater transparency of regulatory changes, and more robust evaluations of policy successes and shortcomings.”

To find out more, access the article here: Frequent policy uncertainty can negate the benefits of forest conservation policy


Simmons, B.A., Marcos-Martinez, R., Law, E.A., Bryan, B. A. and Wilson, K.A. 2018. Frequent policy uncertainty can negate the benefits of forest conservation policy. Environmental Science & Policy. 89: 401-411.