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Spatial and temporal patterns of land clearing during policy change

Simmons, B. Alexander, Law, Elizabeth A., Marcos-Martinez, Raymundo, Bryan, Brett A., McAlpine, Clive, Wilson, Kerrie A.
Land use policy 2018 v.75 pp. 399-410
deforestation, environmental policy, indigenous species, land clearing, laws and regulations, monitoring, pastures, politics, stakeholders, uncertainty, Queensland
Environmental policies and regulations have been instrumental in influencing deforestation rates around the world. Understanding how these policies change stakeholder behaviours is critical for determining policy impact. In Queensland, Australia, changes in native vegetation management policy seem to have influenced land clearing behaviour of landholders. Periods of peak clearing rates have been associated with periods preceding the introduction of stricter legislation. However, the characteristics of clearing patterns during the last two decades are poorly understood. This study investigates the underlying spatiotemporal patterns in land clearing using a range of biophysical, climatic, and property characteristics of clearing events. Principal component and hierarchical cluster analyses were applied to identify dissimilarities between years along the political timeline. Overall, aggregate landholders’ clearing characteristics remain generally consistent over time, though noticeable deviations are observed at smaller regional and temporal scales. While clearing patterns in some regions have shifted to reflect the policy’s goals, others have experienced minimal or contradictory changes following regulation. Potential ‘panic’ or ‘pre-emptive’ effects are evident in the analysis, such as spikes in clearing for pasture expansions, but differ across regions. Because different regions are driven by different pressures, such as land availability and regulatory opportunity, it is imperative that the varying spatial and temporal behavioural responses of landholders are monitored to understand the influence of policy and its evolution. Future policy amendments would benefit from monitoring these regional responses from landholders to better assess the effectiveness of policy and the potential perversities of policy uncertainty.