Media Releases - 31 July 2023

New land clearing figures show Queensland continues to lead deforestation crisis despite global sustainability shifts

Recent land clearing in Central Queensland for beef. Image: Paul Hilton.

Yesterday on National Trees Day, the Queensland Government released the latest Statewide Landcover and Trees Study (SLATS) report. The report shows 349,399 hectares of land was cleared during the reporting period of 2020-2021, cementing Queensland as the national leader in deforestation and continuing Australia’s unenviable international status as a hotspot for deforestation.

While welcoming the decrease in land clearing as shown in the 2020-2021 SLATS yesterday, the Wilderness Society and Queensland Conservation Council have recently acquired new footage, taken this year in Central Queensland, highlighting the devastating reality of broadscale land clearing. Land clearing and deforestation are still driving environmental destruction in Queensland.

Australia’s status as a global deforestation hotspot is attracting increasing international scrutiny. This year, a new European Union law has entered into force that bans the import of commodities linked to deforestation into the EU market. In Queensland, a majority of land clearing is linked to beef farming, which is one of Australia’s main exports to the EU. These world-first regulations send a clear message that global markets are shifting away from corporate players that rely on deforestation.

Queensland is home to a large variety of native Australian species, many of them threatened with extinction. Many of these at-risk species are impacted by land clearing, including the Endangered Northern Quoll. The drone footage obtained by Wilderness Society and Queensland Conservation Council shows a now flattened region that included Matters of National Environmental Significance habitat for more than 20 species, including the Endangered Northern Quoll1.

Natalie Frost, Nature Campaigner for the Queensland Conservation Council, says the report shows that 58,837 hectares of clearing was in areas that should be protected under the state’s land clearing laws, in remnant forest or high-value growth, demonstrating that loopholes continue to allow clearing of forest that the laws were intended to protect. Whilst thousands of people were out planting trees for National Tree Day, the Palaszczuk Government released this shocking report.

“Australia is a global deforestation hotspot and deforestation is having a profound impact on threatened species as you can see in the footage, so government and business action to reverse the destruction is urgently needed. Incentives for land holders to keep native vegetation on their properties are critical to protect nature.

“Unfortunately what this footage shows isn’t uncommon, with the majority of deforestation and land clearing going unchecked due to massive loopholes in the Palaszczuk Government’s vegetation management laws. The SLATS report released today also shows 25,600 hectares of vegetation was cleared that cannot be explained, meaning it is potentially illegally cleared.”

Hannah Schuch, Queensland Campaigns Manager for the Wilderness Society, says that while it is positive to see Queensland’s land clearing figures decreased during 2020-21, the overall scale of land clearing in the state remains too high to meet climate and biodiversity commitments. Regular, up to date data is needed to show the true extent of deforestation for Australia to maintain pace with current market demands.

“Analysis from previous years has shown that the majority of land clearing is to make way for beef which is a significant export commodity for Australia.

“It’s good that land clearing figures decreased during 2020-21, as the world is signalling that it’s time to do beef better. Most recently, the EU passed deforestation regulations to screen for deforestation risk in imported products like Australia’s beef.

“Australia can seize this opportunity to be at the front of the queue for international market access by stopping the bulldozers from destroying Australian forests and bushlands. This requires stronger laws and enforcement from state and federal governments, as well as corporate action to eliminate deforestation from leading beef retailers’ supply chains.

“This footage clearly shows that up-to-date information on deforestation and land clearing in Queensland—and nationally—is crucial to avoid misleading domestic and international partners or playing down the issue. We await the release of the 2021-22 and 2022-23 SLATS reports and hope they show a positive trend for Queensland’s forests and bushlands.”