Land clearing is a huge issue in Australia. As a cattle rancher, clearing all vegetation is attractive because of various federal legislation. Historically uncleared land was seen as a waste and where there could be agricultural production. Clearing land also increased its value. The Australian government supports this because it improves economic productivity as well as venture capital in the form of loans and tax breaks. Land clearing allowed for newcomers to create a business and livelihood from ranching cattle, sheep, and kangaroos. Other legislation includes the War Service Land Settlement Scheme which gives land owners low interest bank loans and drought relief assistance when land is cleared. Other reasons come from urban development and forestry.
As you might guess, this has caused a lot of ecological and environmental problems. In a wilderness society article, “Land clearing directly kills millions of birds and animals leading to the extinction of species, it is the biggest cause of salinity ruining farmlands and farmers’ livelihoods and it causes a significant amount of Australia’s greenhouse gases” (The Wilderness Society). Land clearing is seen as the number one threat to wildlife because it destroys habitats and food sources. If the land clearing process itself doesn’t kill the wildlife and they happen to escape and find another suitable habitat, they will almost certainly lose to competition from other species or animal populations that have lived in that area longer. It also allows for invasive species to grow and thrive in the exposed land. One of the most impactful problems includes the loss of rivers and stream ecosystems. Without vegetation around rivers, erosion and sediment cause the rivers to either not be habitable or to disappear completely. Another effect from water comes in the form of dry land salinity. When there is heavy rainfall on cleared land, The water is absorbed by the ground much more than usual, causing salts from underground to rise up and saturate the soils, making them useless for agriculture and devoiding the agricultural industry from millions of dollars each year. The Wilderness Society claims that “Research undertaken in NSW has found that the cost of damage caused by salinity is $1 million per year for every 5000 hectares visibly affected by salinity. It is estimated that over the coming century between $600 million and $1 billion per year will be lost for the entire Murray Darling Basin due to salinity” (The Wilderness Society). The last big issue with land clearing is its greenhouse gas emissions. The Wilderness society estimates that “In the decade from 1995-2005, the amount of land clearing in Australia was so extensive that the greenhouse gases produced rivaled the amount produced by cars and trucks” (The Wilderness Society).
There are some grassroots movements and political opposition to the land clearing issue but it is still a common practice in Northern New South Wales, South Australia, and Queensland. Agriculture can still be practiced with native vegetation and is often more protective. When I was living in Byron Bay, Australia, I went to a documentary screening about this particular issue.
Sources: The Wilderness Society, GPO Box 716, Hobart Tasmania 7001, Australia, October 27, 2016.