Law changes put important bushland at risk of clearing

MILLIONS of hectares of environmentally sensitive bushland across Queensland could be put at risk of clearing under changes to the state's vegetation management laws, a WWF report has found.

The peer-reviewed analysis looked at the potential effects of Queensland Government changes to the laws, put in place by the former Labor government to help protect the environment.

It showed 2 million hectares of ecologically important bushland could be cleared in the future if the protections governing the land were downgraded.

While the vegetation management laws remain a point of contention for some landholders, some have also seen the benefits of added vegetation under changes to land management practices.

WWF chief executive Dermot O'Gorman said the report found claims that the proposed roll-back of the Labor Government's laws would not damage the environment were "incorrect".

The state's Opposition has also seized on the changes, in April saying Premier Campbell Newman had back-flipped on election promises that the government would not change the laws.

Mr O'Gorman said if the laws were passed, the changes could lead to increased risk of wildlife extinction, soil erosion and water pollution.

Report author Dr Martin Taylor said the bushland put at risk the proposed laws were home to at least 163 species of endangered and vulnerable plants and animals.

"New loopholes would mean the minister could allow broad scale land clearing of as much as 1.3 million hectares of mature bushland," he said.

Australian Laureate Dr William Laurance, who peer-reviewed the paper, said major parts of the 2006 laws could be rolled back as part of changes proposed.

"Queensland's landmark tree-clearing laws drastically curbed bushland destruction, which was previously on a par with forest clearing rates in the Amazon," he said.

The state government has repeatedly said the laws would not lead to extensive bulldozing of natural habitat.

Natural Resources Minister Andrew Cripps said the reforms would not reduce environmental protections, and were aimed at helping achieve the government's target of doubling the value of agriculture by 2040

."These reforms do not mean landholders can indiscriminately clear land," he said.

"Inappropriate vegetation management practices that show no regard for the environment will not be supported.

"Monitoring will still occur and penalties for illegal clearing of vegetation still apply."