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4613.0 - Australia's Environment: Issues and Trends, 2006  
Previous ISSUE Released at 11:30 AM (CANBERRA TIME) 10/11/2006   
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LAND


In 1994, Australia adopted the World Conservation Union (IUCN) definition of a protected area. The internationally recognised IUCN six level system of categories used to describe the management intent as basis for documenting Australia's various types of protected areas are:

  • Category Ia – Strict Nature Reserve: Protected Area managed mainly for science.
  • Category Ib – Wilderness Area: Protected Area managed mainly for wilderness protection.
  • Category II – National Park: Protected Area managed mainly for ecosystem conservation and recreation.
  • Category III – Natural Monument: Protected Area managed for conservation of specific natural features.
  • Category IV – Habitat/Species Management Area: Protected Area managed mainly for conservation through management intervention.
  • Category V – Protected Landscape/ Seascape: Protected Area managed mainly for landscape/seascape conservation and recreation.
  • Category VI – Managed Resource Protected Areas: Protected Area managed mainly for the sustainable use of natural ecosystems.

From 2000 to 2004, Australia's terrestrial protected areas increased by more than 19 million hectares and now extend across almost 81 million hectares or 10.5% of Australia.


PARKS AND PROTECTED AREAS, number

1997
2000
2002
2004
no.
no.
no.
no.

Category IA
2 038
1 981
3 199
2 090
Category IB
52
49
32
38
Category II
560
603
642
644
Category III
847
660
696
2 019
Category IV
1 543
1 397
1 527
2 060
Category V
35
151
172
139
Category VI
279
376
452
730
Category not specified
252
34
35
0
Total
5 645
5 251
6 755
7 720

Source: Department of the Environment and Heritage, CAPAD, http://www.deh.gov.au/parks/nrs/capad/ last viewed July 2006.


PARKS AND PROTECTED AREAS, area

1997
2000
2002
2004
ha
ha
ha
ha

Category IA
20 559 295
19 119 788
18 667 937
18 212 695
Category IB
2 952 112
3 918 965
3 963 356
4 099 515
Category II
23 523 375
25 204 425
28 766 907
29 678 100
Category III
339 625
271 713
390 948
970 517
Category IV
283 607
325 304
2 225 208
2 818 936
Category V
100 379
861 095
788 779
919 746
Category VI
11 748 516
11 720 773
22 635 792
24 195 591
Category not specified
245 874
16 548
23 024
0
Total
59 752 783
61 438 611
77 461 951
80 895 099

Source: Department of the Environment and Heritage, CAPAD, http://www.deh.gov.au/parks/nrs/capad/ last viewed July 2006.

FOREST AND GRASSLAND CONVERSION: RATES OF FOREST CONVERSION AND RECLEARING


Deforestation is the deliberate removal of forests for the purpose of a change in land use. Deforestation is spatially separated (and unique) from natural effects, such as dieback and fire, and from temporary removals of forest by harvesting.

Since European settlement in 1788, vast areas of native vegetation have been cleared or degraded. Associated with the loss of native vegetation are a broad range of environmental, economic, and social impacts.

Environmental impacts can include habitat loss or fragmentation, loss of ecosystem, species and genetic diversity, reduced water quality in inland and marine environments, reduced carbon storage, and soil degradation.

Economic impacts can include costs associated with loss of flood control, deterioration of water quality, loss of habitat for economically important species, loss of tourist potential, and loss of production through soil degradation.

Social impacts can include loss of heritage values and loss of recreation and tourism values.

In the decade 1995–2004, although land clearing continued, the rate of forest conversion decreased by more than one-quarter. The figures do not distinguish between the type of vegetation (native or non-native) that was cleared.

FOREST AND GRASSLAND CONVERSION, Rates of forest conversion and reclearing
Graph: Forest and Grassland Conversion, Rates of forest conversion and reclearing

Note: Forest conversion is land cleared for the first time. Reclearing is clearing of land previously cleared. Preliminary estimates
only for 2004. Source: Data supplied on request from Australian Greenhouse Office.
LIVESTOCK GRAZING PRESSURES


Grazing pressures refers to the effect of grazing by all animals. It not only refers to the impact of domestic livestock such as cattle, sheep and horses but also native and feral grazing animals such as goats, camels, rabbits and kangaroos.

The combined effect of grazing places significant pressure on Australia's native flora and fauna. Large areas of native grasslands have been lost either as native species have changed as a result of grazing pressure or as a result of agricultural activity as improved pastures have been introduced to support livestock.

Agriculture is the major form of land use in Australia. In 2005, 58% of Australia’s land mass was used for agricultural activity, principally grazing and growing crops. Although numbers of cattle and sheep have not increased in recent times, they still continue to place pressure on the land. The number of cattle increased from about 8 million cattle in 1905 to nearly 28 million in 2005. In 2005, the number of sheep and lambs was 54% higher than in 1905 (about 101 million compared with 66 million). Sheep and lamb numbers in 2005 were considerably lower than in the 1960s, 1970s and late-1980s. The size of the national flock peaked in 1970 at 180 million.

It is not just the number or type of grazing animals but also the availability of water that places pressure on Australia's biodiversity. In the arid and semi-arid zones, despite lower stock densities, the impact of grazing on biodiversity can be greater than it is in high rainfall zones because low productivity limits forage and stock compete with native animals for limited resources. Where water was formerly limiting, the provision of water through bore holes, earth tanks and dams, has resulted in grazing pressure spread more evenly across the landscape so there is now little land left that is only lightly grazed.

LIVESTOCK GRAZING PRESSURES
Graph: Livestock grazing pressures
Source: Historical Selected Agriculture Commodities, by State (1861 to present), 2005, (cat. no. 7124.0).
ALTERED FIRE REGIMES


Fire has shaped much of Australia’s vegetation. In forest lands, burning is carried out in Australia either anthropogenically or as a result of wildfires. The anthropogenic burning occurs for a variety of reasons including fuel reduction, prevention of uncontrollable wildfires, and traditional burning by Indigenous people. These anthropogenic fires replace wildfires that would occur naturally otherwise, albeit at other times of the year.

Some well documented changes as reported in the Australian Government’s State of the Environment 2001 report include:
  • Lower frequency of burning, associated with higher grazing intensity, in arid and tropical rangelands. In the northern tropics, this led to the build up of massive fuel reserves and huge wildfires. In more arid areas this led to less grassland, more bare soil and more shrubs. In both cases it is more difficult to use fire as a management tool.
  • Increase in weed species, such as “woody weed” regrowth of native species that are inedible to most herbivores.
  • Introduction of weeds that require fire for their control, including rubber vine (Cryptostegia grandiflora) and prickly acacia (Acacia nilotic).
  • Very frequent burns in regions surrounding roads, and metropolitan and urban centres.
  • Build up of understorey in forests, resulting in massive wildfires in the period 1900s–1970s. Since then, cool prescribed burns or fuel reduction burns have been introduced by some agencies to reduce wildfire risk.
  • Regular burning of crop stubbles and cane from the 19th century to the 1970s. Regular burning is now partially reduced by the adoption of stubble-mulching in some areas.

The spike in the graph in 2003 reflects the widespread wildfires in New South Wales and the Australian Capital Territory in that year.

ALTERED FIRE REGIMES
Graph: Altered Fire Regimes

Source: Australian Greenhouse Office 2005. National Greenhouse Gas Inventory, 2003


FOREST AREA BY FOREST TYPE, 2003


Forests are important to Australians as a resource for the country's second largest manufacturing industry (forestry and wood products), for biodiversity conservation and as a recreational resource.

About one-fifth of the continent is covered in forests. Forests are classified as land with trees with an actual or potential height greater than two metres and 20% crown cover. At the time of European settlement in 1788, it is estimated that Australia's forests covered about one-third of the continent. The area of Australia's forest estate is 164.3 million hectares (ha), of which native forests accounted for 162.7 million ha. While this is an increase in the areas reported since 1998, it largely represents more comprehensive forest mapping of the continent, rather than an actual increase in the area of forest.

Current information on woody cover changes indicates that forest cover in Australia is, in fact, decreasing. Although regrowth on cleared agricultural land and establishment of new plantations, farm forestry and environmental planting are occurring, this does not exceed current conversion of forest for other uses such as agriculture and urban expansion (1).

Thirteen per cent of Australia's native forests are formally protected in nature conservation reserves, while 70% are privately managed and 7% are available for timber production in multiple-use forests.

Plantation forests have increased from an average of 30,000 ha a year in the 1970s to an average of 87,000 ha a year in the period from 1998 to 2003.


FOREST AREA BY FOREST TYPE, 2003

Native forest
Plantation forest
Total forest area
Land area
Total forest as % of land area
'000 ha
'000 ha
'000 ha
'000 ha
%

NSW
26 658
323
26 981
80 160
34
Vic.
7 935
360
8 295
22 760
36
Qld
55 734
208
55 942
172 720
32
SA
10 866
149
11 015
98 400
11
WA
25 365
352
25 716
252 550
10
Tas.
3 169
213
3 364
6 780
50
NT
32 836
7
32 843
134 620
24
ACT
117
16
133
240
55
Australia
162 680
1 628
164 290
768 230
21

Note: Values have been rounded and therefore totals may not tally exactly.
Source: Bureau of Rural Sciences, National Forest Inventory, 2003 and ABS, Year Book 1997 for land area data.



ENDNOTES

1. Bureau of Rural Sciences, Australia's State of the Forests Report 2003, p29.




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