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A cautionary tale for conservation policy

Since 1990 more than 185,000 km2 of forests have been cleared and converted to other land uses, with others estimating a complete loss of half the global forest cover.

Agricultural expansion is the most well-known driver of deforestation and it is estimated to account for roughly 80% of global deforestation.

Despite a wealth of case studies, few general conclusions can be made regarding the causes of deforestation as the drivers often occur in complex feedbacks and operate at different scales.

This makes it likely that regulation of deforestation will not have an equal effect on all stakeholders.

A new study from CEED has shown how policy uncertainty can disrupt or reverse the positive effects of forest transitions.

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 (BBS) bioregion.

Political, socioeconomic, and biophysical factors associated with net forest cover change and remnant forest loss from 1991 to 2014 were also identified through spatial longitudinal analysis, and a causal impact assessment of command-and-control regulation and policy uncertainty on remnant and non-remnant forest cover was performed.

The results of this assessment showed that forest cover was negatively influenced by increasing temperatures, food prices, and policy uncertainty, and positively influenced by strengthening regulation.

For example, State Government regulation during 2007–2014 avoided up to 68,620 km2 of deforestation throughout Queensland, but was ineffective on remnant forests in the BBS.

Much of this benefit, however, was negated by increased deforestation (e.g. ‘panic’ clearing) provoked by frequent periods of policy uncertainty.

Much of this benefit, however, was negated by increased deforestation (e.g. ‘panic’ clearing) provoked by frequent periods of policy uncertainty.

This study shows conservation regulations and political uncertainty can be significant drivers of deforestation, alongside other biophysical and socioeconomic drivers.

The authors say an inconsistent political timeline can delay or reverse forest transitions and minimise the effectiveness of policy interventions.

"It is vital that countries monitor how conservation policy instruments are contributing to forest cover change at national and regional scales, and identify how the flow-on effects of intervention may elicit perverse outcomes from stakeholders."

Media: Blake Simmons, b.simmons@uq.edu.au; Casey Fung, c.fung@uq.edu.au, +614 433 638 643.

Credits:

Created with images by Janusz Maniak - "Forest in the Polish mountains" • Jace Grandinetti - "Log pile by the woods" • dife88 - "tree butt cutting down cut down abstract"

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