NSW Land clearing law saves native mammals, but more could be done

9 April 2014

A new report estimates the New South Wales Native Vegetation Act, whichprohibits broad-scale clearing of forests,has saved 265,000 native mammals in just five years.

The report, entitled NSW clearing ban saves native mammals, was written by Professor Christopher Dickman from the School of Biological Sciences and conservation scientist Dr Martin Taylor from the World Wildlife Fund - Australia.

The common wombat is one of many animals under threat in NSW from land clearing. © Martin Harvey / WWF-Canon
The common wombat is one of many animals under threat in NSW from land clearing. © Martin Harvey / WWF-Canon

The report found there has been a massive 88-fold reduction in areas approved for clearing from 80,000 hectares per year (from 1998 to 2005) to 911 hectares per year (from 2005 to 2013). This is great news for the bushland inhabitants, with the report's authors estimating 265,000 native mammals have been saved since the Act came into force in 2005.

"When remnant bushland is cleared, the mammals and other animals that live there are almost inevitably killed," said Professor Dickman. "Some people mistakenly believe animals simply move to another area when their habitat is cleared but studies show the vast majority are condemned to death as a result of losing their home."

And why do we care about the deaths of these animals? "With progressive clearing, local populations decline and disappear, and as populations vanish, entire species become at greater risk of extinction," Professor Dickman explained. "This 'death by a thousand cuts' scenario results ultimately in loss of ecological function across the landscape and huge and costly problems for land managers seeking to conserve natural systems or maintain production."

The successes of the NSW government's Native Vegetation Act include: protection and restoration of 61,000 hectares of land to offset approved clearing and a 20% reduction in actual clearing of remnant bushland. "However, levels of clearing are still high due to exempt activities (agricultural activities for example) and illegal clearing. Illegal clearing needs to be quantified more clearly and compliance needs to be strengthened to reduce clearing still further."

The NSW government is currently reviewing the native vegetation regulation, with the aim to 'cut red tape' and 'improve service delivery'.

"There is the possibility that broad-scale clearing could be made easier, in turn resulting in much larger areas of native bush being lost and the biodiversity and functional diversity associated with it being lost."

Co-author, Dr Taylor, said "The land clearing ban is saving 53,000 native mammals each year but there are still an estimated 320,000 native mammal deaths each year from the destruction of bushland in NSW and that figure must be brought down".