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The answers to these five questions about land clearing might surprise you

Far from a clear-cut issue, the term ‘land clearing’ can be a controversial one.

A complicated debate; balancing a desire for new agricultural land, space for infrastructure and bushfire precautions versus the need to conserve Australia’s native environment and biodiversity. It’s sure to prompt passionate responses on all sides of the argument.

Here are five facts about land clearing in Australia that might surprise you:

1. What is land clearing?

Land clearing is the direct removal of vegetation cover by humans from forested areas to use the land for purposes, such as agriculture, infrastructure, housing development and bushfire management.

This includes first-time clearing of an undisturbed forest as well as the removal of regrowth on previously cleared land.

2. How much forest has actually been cleared?

It’s difficult to quantify how much of Australia’s forest has actually been cleared due to a lack of accurate data but climate scientists can hazard a pretty good guess based on history and environmental evidence.

More than 40 percent of the country's forests and woodlands are estimated to have been cleared since European colonisation. (ABC & RMIT, 2017)

Indigenous Australians also left a significant impact on the environment; burning forests to promote grasslands for hunting. This altered the continent's climate and extended Australia’s dry season. (The Conversation, 2011)

3. How much land is still being cleared?

Australia still has one of the highest rates of land clearing in the developed world, due mainly to our thriving agriculture industry, continued population growth and urban sprawl.

The most recent data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics suggests the annual quantity of forest land conversion and reclearing has decreased from 561,000 hectares in 1990 to 216,500 hectares in 2008. (ABS, 2010)

The Wilderness Society estimates around 5,000 square kilometres, of virgin bushland and advanced regrowth, are cleared annually. (The Wilderness Society, 2018)

The good news is the rate of land clearing has reduced, and in many areas of the country, vegetation is slowly returning.

Following a loss of more than 563,000 hectares in the early 2000s due to drought, fire and human clearance, Australia reported an increase in forest area of 308,000 hectares between 2010 and 2015. However, it is important to note that Australia’s natural weather cycles are a significant contributor in the fluctuation of vegetation renewal. (Keenan et al, 2015)

4. What are the benefits of land clearing?

Land clearing has a lot of benefits to Australia’s economy, food production, housing and safety. Here are some of the common reasons land is cleared:

For farmers, land clearing can be used to cultivate the land for crops, make room for livestock or reduce fuel in case of a bushfire. In commercial developments space may be needed for new infrastructures, such as roads, drainage, and buildings. And for the homeowner, land clearing may be about making a previously unusable area more functional.

Regular highway maintenance allows traffic to pass roadside trees and vegetation safely without damage or risk of accident and helps prevent unsafe situations by improving visibility.

Clearing is also an important part of bushfire management, reducing fuel loads and stopping the spread of fire by creating fire breaks.

5. How does clearing help with bushfire safety?

Clearing and maintaining defendable space around communities and buildings can increase the chances of important infrastructure, such as community buildings and houses, surviving a bushfire.

Defensible space can be created by clearing a section of trees around a town area or building to create a fire break and removing fuel from the town area by removing debris, reducing undergrowth and pruning trees.

For existing houses located in Victoria’s Bushfire Management Zones, residents are able to clear any vegetation within 10 metres and any vegetation other than trees within 50 metres of an existing house to reduce risks in the highest hazard areas.

In other areas, the 10/30 rule applies statewide except in 21 metropolitan municipalities and allows residents to clear any vegetation within 10 metres of
their house and any vegetation other than trees within 30 metres.

Permits may be needed to clear trees on your property. These can be obtained from your local council. (DEWPL, 2018)

Want to delve deeper? Check out our reference material.

Australian Broadcasting Corporation & RMIT University, 2017, Fact check: Is Queensland clearing land as fast as Brazil?, ABC, Melbourne, viewed January 2018.  

Australian Bureau of Statistics, 2010, Australia's Environment: Issues and Trends 2010, ABS, Canberra, Viewed January 2018.

Gammage, B; 2011, The biggest estate on earth: how Aborigines made Australia, The Conversation, Melbourne, Viewed January 2018.

Keenan, R; Reams, G; Archard, F; de Freitas, j; Grainger, A & Lindquist, E; 2015, Dynamics of global forest area: Results from the FAO Global Forest Resources Assessment 2015, Forest Ecology and Management
Volume 352, Pages 9-20.

Victorian State Government, 2018, Bushfire Management Overlay, Department of Environment, Land Water and Planning, Melbourne, viewed January 2018.

The Wilderness Society, 2018, 10 facts about deforestation in Australia, The Wilderness Society, Hobart, Viewed January 2018.

A complicated debate; balancing a desire for new agricultural land, space for infrastructure and bushfire precautions versus the need to conserve Australia’s native environment and biodiversity. It’s sure to prompt passionate responses on all sides of the argument.

Here are five facts about land clearing in Australia that might surprise you:

1. What is land clearing?

Land clearing is the direct removal of vegetation cover by humans from forested areas to use the land for purposes, such as agriculture, infrastructure, housing development and bushfire management.

This includes first-time clearing of an undisturbed forest as well as the removal of regrowth on previously cleared land.

2. How much forest has actually been cleared?

It’s difficult to quantify how much of Australia’s forest has actually been cleared due to a lack of accurate data but climate scientists can hazard a pretty good guess based on history and environmental evidence.

More than 40 percent of the country's forests and woodlands are estimated to have been cleared since European colonisation. (ABC & RMIT, 2017)

Indigenous Australians also left a significant impact on the environment; burning forests to promote grasslands for hunting. This altered the continent's climate and extended Australia’s dry season. (The Conversation, 2011)

3. How much land is still being cleared?

Australia still has one of the highest rates of land clearing in the developed world, due mainly to our thriving agriculture industry, continued population growth and urban sprawl.

The most recent data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics suggests the annual quantity of forest land conversion and reclearing has decreased from 561,000 hectares in 1990 to 216,500 hectares in 2008. (ABS, 2010)

The Wilderness Society estimates around 5,000 square kilometres, of virgin bushland and advanced regrowth, are cleared annually. (The Wilderness Society, 2018)

The good news is the rate of land clearing has reduced, and in many areas of the country, vegetation is slowly returning.

Following a loss of more than 563,000 hectares in the early 2000s due to drought, fire and human clearance, Australia reported an increase in forest area of 308,000 hectares between 2010 and 2015. However, it is important to note that Australia’s natural weather cycles are a significant contributor in the fluctuation of vegetation renewal. (Keenan et al, 2015)

4. What are the benefits of land clearing?

Land clearing has a lot of benefits to Australia’s economy, food production, housing and safety. Here are some of the common reasons land is cleared:

For farmers, land clearing can be used to cultivate the land for crops, make room for livestock or reduce fuel in case of a bushfire. In commercial developments space may be needed for new infrastructures, such as roads, drainage, and buildings. And for the homeowner, land clearing may be about making a previously unusable area more functional.

Regular highway maintenance allows traffic to pass roadside trees and vegetation safely without damage or risk of accident and helps prevent unsafe situations by improving visibility.

Clearing is also an important part of bushfire management, reducing fuel loads and stopping the spread of fire by creating fire breaks.

5. How does clearing help with bushfire safety?

Clearing and maintaining defendable space around communities and buildings can increase the chances of important infrastructure, such as community buildings and houses, surviving a bushfire.

Defensible space can be created by clearing a section of trees around a town area or building to create a fire break and removing fuel from the town area by removing debris, reducing undergrowth and pruning trees.

For existing houses located in Victoria’s Bushfire Management Zones, residents are able to clear any vegetation within 10 metres and any vegetation other than trees within 50 metres of an existing house to reduce risks in the highest hazard areas.

In other areas, the 10/30 rule applies statewide except in 21 metropolitan municipalities and allows residents to clear any vegetation within 10 metres of
their house and any vegetation other than trees within 30 metres.

Permits may be needed to clear trees on your property. These can be obtained from your local council. (DEWPL, 2018)

Want to delve deeper? Check out our reference material.

Australian Broadcasting Corporation & RMIT University, 2017, Fact check: Is Queensland clearing land as fast as Brazil?, ABC, Melbourne, viewed January 2018.  

Australian Bureau of Statistics, 2010, Australia's Environment: Issues and Trends 2010, ABS, Canberra, Viewed January 2018.

Gammage, B; 2011, The biggest estate on earth: how Aborigines made Australia, The Conversation, Melbourne, Viewed January 2018.

Keenan, R; Reams, G; Archard, F; de Freitas, j; Grainger, A & Lindquist, E; 2015, Dynamics of global forest area: Results from the FAO Global Forest Resources Assessment 2015, Forest Ecology and Management
Volume 352, Pages 9-20.

Victorian State Government, 2018, Bushfire Management Overlay, Department of Environment, Land Water and Planning, Melbourne, viewed January 2018.

The Wilderness Society, 2018, 10 facts about deforestation in Australia, The Wilderness Society, Hobart, Viewed January 2018.

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