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Review highlights animal welfare concerns of land clearing

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The removal of native vegetation, or land clearing, kills many of the animals present and causes injuries and other conditions that are physically painful and psychologically stressful, a new review has found.

The paper, published in the international peer-reviewed journal Wildlife Research, was led by a Curtin University researcher and studied the effects of land clearing.

It also reviewed the legislation and regulations that apply to land clearing in New South Wales, Queensland, South Australia, Victoria and Western Australia, and found that the regulatory frameworks for land clearing in those states do not take into account the harm that land clearing causes to the welfare of individual animals.

Lead researcher Dr Hugh Finn, from Curtin Law School in the Curtin Business School, said the review found animal welfare was either ignored or only considered indirectly by decision-makers in assessing whether land clearing should be allowed.

“The clear scientific consensus is that most, and sometimes all, of the individual animals present at a site will die as a consequence of that vegetation being removed, either immediately or in a period of days to months afterwards,” Dr Finn said.

“A decision to clear native vegetation or to allow it to be cleared is also a decision to kill most or all of the individual animals inhabiting that vegetation, or to allow most or all of them to be killed”

Dr Finn said while a person who cleared land may not desire for animals to suffer, suffering was the inevitable consequence of the decision to clear land.

“The relevant question for decision-makers is not if death or injury will occur when land is cleared, but how much of that harm will occur, how severe it will be, and whether it ought to be avoided. If such harm is nonetheless deemed necessary, then the question is how that harm could be minimised,” he said.

“The harm land clearing causes is also significant in absolute terms. Land clearing is likely to kill more than 50 million mammals, birds and reptiles a year in Queensland and New South Wales alone, for example, based on previous studies and current clearing rates for those states.”

The review, which was also conducted by veterinary pathologist Dr Nahiid Stephens from Murdoch University, considered evidence of the harm that land clearing causes to animals from scientific literature and other sources.

The paper, The invisible harm: land clearing is an issue of animal welfare, can be viewed here.

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