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Australia is world's fifth highest land clearer

SYDNEY, Australia -- Almost 7,000 square kilometers (2,700 square miles) of native bush land is destroyed in Australia every year, putting the nation fifth on the list of the world's worst land clearers, say conservationists.

Green groups say Australia now clears 50 football fields-worth of virgin forest, native trees, wildflowers and wildlife habitat every hour.

New scientific data out Tuesday shows that the land clearing rate is 22 percent higher than previous estimates with most of the destruction in the east coast states of New South Wales (NSW) and Queensland.

"We urgently need national laws to control the destruction combined with financial incentives from the Federal Government to help farmers protect their bushland," Dr. Barry Traill, from the Wilderness Society of Australia said in a statement.

"Past estimates already rated Australia as the sixth highest land clearing nation on earth," Traill told Reuters news agency.

The new data is based on separate studies by the Queensland Herbarium, NSW Royal Botanic Gardens and the NSW Parks and Wildlife Service.

Their collective estimate for remnant bush clearance is put at 6,978 square kilometres of land per year, with Queensland and NSW accounting for 80 per cent of the area.

Government stands firm

However, the government has cast doubt on these new estimates on land clearance.

They are standing by their own previous figures based specifically on satellite images, which some say is more accurate and provides an objective picture of the land being cleared with no room for estimates.

However, in a joint statement green groups announced that the new studies were more accurate as they assessed the loss of trees and understorey plants like wildflowers and shrubs using field observations and aerial photographs as well as satellite images.

Countries more prolific in their destruction of native forest include Indonesia, Brazil, Zambia and Sudan. On the basis of the new data Australia has now overtaken Mexico.

Green groups have also warned that the higher rate of land clearing threatens to make Australia's major salinity problem worse.

Salinity reduction, the cutback of chemical salts in the soil, costs the government millions of dollars a year.

Plant-killing salt is forecast to cover 17 million hectares (42 million acres) of Australia by 2050 from 5.7 million hectares now, according to government figures.

Conservationists are also worried that the current rates of land clearance will limit Australia's ability to limit greenhouse gas emissions.

Concerns have also been raised about bird and wildlife populations and their ability to cope with the current rate of land clearing in Australia.


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