Land clearing impacts the environment significantly, whether it is a small scale or large scale clearance. When land clearing is extensive the effects can be irreversible, but when the clearing is minimal the effects can be reversed. The threat to the environment lies with the irreversible clearance and can destroy an entire ecosystem causing environmental threats, such as green house gas emissions, a rise in soil salinity, the destruction of natural habitats for animals, the decrease and even extinction in indigenous flora and fauna, as well as erosion. Extensive land clearing is a problem in Australia, New Zealand and Tasmania.
For the most part, land clearing has been utilized to make way for agricultural and urban development. In the past, governments and people thought that if land was left on its own that it was being "wasted" when it could be put to good use to be developed for agricultural purposes. By taking scrub land, clearing it, and turning it into fields for crop production not only was the increase in land value raised, but so was economic gain for the community. While at one time land clearing was seen as beneficial and even progressive, it is now generally viewed as destructive. Since more environmental awareness has taken hold, countries which use land clearing keep legislative regulation on its use. Despite the known negative environmental impact, farmers worldwide object to the restriction of land clearance because it effects their crop production and how much land they have available to them.
Land clearing is used to clear often untouched lands that were originally a habitat for native flora and fauna. To clear land for agricultural purposes one must not only remove native plants, trees and boulders, but also must break up the soil. Breaking the soil includes the removal of rocks, roots and stumps left behind by the initial clearing. Once the soil is broken, the land is cleared and ready for agricultural use.
The effects of mass land clearing can severely affect a natural habitat not only for the plants and animals that live in the area, but for nearby human populations as well. When native plants and trees are removed this makes room for invasive species to take over, which pushes out the area's indigenous animals causing a rise in rates of extinction. This decreases the biodiversity of an area can upset the delicate balance of an ecosystem that relies on its native flora and fauna to maintain a biological system of checks and balances.
Land clearing puts a strain not only on native animal populations but on the earth itself. By removing plants and trees the land is being left exposed, which can cause soil erosion. Soil erosion is the loss of natural nutrients in the earth that help plants to grow. Leaving land bare to the elements can also cause a problem in dry land salinity. Dry land salinity is the rise of salt to the surface of the ground by means of groundwater. When plants are removed from the earth their root systems go with them. These root systems are responsible for keeping the groundwater levels down and therefore the salt content low in the soil. When the roots are removed the groundwater levels rise along with the salt. This not only causes a desert like landscape but also makes it near impossible for plants to flourish, whether they be native or agricultural plants. This in turn affects the health of nearby streams, creeks and rivers, and ultimately affects the drinking water of animal and human populations. Additionally, the emission of green house gases can occur when trees and logs are left after being felled. As the debris rots the greenhouse gasses are released into the are which some scientists believe deplete the ozone layer.
By using land clearing in a small scale setting, such as a back yard and gardening area, the effects are far less severe compared to agricultural related land clearing. In order to prevent mass environmental negative impact, land clearing should be prevented. However, such a thing is not always possible so in order to reduce the effects on the environment land clearing should be regulated. Instead of clearing large tracts of land all at once and then leaving the soil open to the elements, it would be better to replant the clear space quickly so as to prevent soil erosion and soil saliently. To help maintain natural habitats, such as wetlands for native species, some contractors who clear land have to buy additional land to be converted into wetlands in an attempt to balance out the loss.
Since agriculture is the greatest means of food production no permanent solution can found at this time. By being active in an environmental organization and lobbying your representatives to have tighter restrictions on land clearing, you can certainly contribute to the growing awareness of its negative effects.
When looking at the overall effects of land clearing, there is an impact on a global scale. You cannot greatly alter a land area without affecting the rest of the world. The biosphere is linked with all of the ecosystems of the Earth from the Amazonian rain forest to the Sahara desert. There is a reason that habitats have developed into what they are today and if the human impact continues to alter them the effects could be devastating not just for plants and animals but for the human population as well.
Land clearing not only effects the soil and the indigenous flora and fauna, but it also has been known to contribute to climate change. When you remove trees and plants from a wide area you are taking away a significant function for a healthy environment: the means to absorb carbon monoxide. Land clearing can also affect the weather causing a decrease in annual rain fall, extended droughts and higher temperatures.
To see the effects of land clearing one only needs to turn to Australia where the effects of land clearing have been vast. In 1998, 12 percent of Australia's green gas emissions were attributed to land clearing. The clearing of land has been partially attributed to the extinction of 12 bird species, 20 different mammals and 97 plant species.
Land clearing is still a threat to natural and human habitats today. In order to bring awareness to such destruction, education of local farmers and communities the world over should be ongoing.
- Wilderness Society