Deforestation explained

Deforestation explained

Here’s everything you need to know about the deforestation crisis taking place across Australia.

Australia's forests and bushland are home to some of the most remarkable and unique ecosystems in the world. But Australia is also a deforestation hotspot, alongside places like the Amazon and Borneo.

In Australia, deforestation kills tens of millions of native animals—or leaves them without a safe home—pushing entire species, like the koala, to the brink of extinction. And nearly half of Australia’s forest cover has been destroyed in the last 200 years. Learn about the Wilderness Society's plan to stop deforestation in its tracks.

    What exactly is deforestation?

    Deforestation is when humans significantly damage, alter or destroy forest—usually by bulldozing or logging.*

    Photo: Bulldozed and burnt bushland in Queensland

    What causes deforestation?

    The major causes of deforestation and land clearing in Australia include:

    1. 🐄 Agricultural expansion, done by the agricultural sector

    2. 💎 Mining, done by the mining industry

    3. 🏠 Urban development, done by the construction industry

    4. 🪵 Logging, done by the timber and paper and pulp industries

    In Queensland, the bulk of clearing is for the grazing of cattle and sheep. From 2019-2020, 147,575 hectares of land clearing activity in Queensland, within mapped known and likely koala habitat, was linked to beef. Find out more about deforestation in Queensland and the 2019-20 State Landcover and Trees Study (SLATS).

    In Western Australia, no public data exists that reveals where or how much native vegetation is cleared illegally. Significant volumes of government-approved clearing is for mining, urban development and agricultural expansion in the Kimberley.

    In New South Wales, over 80% of the clearing is for agriculture and forestry, and infrastructure accounts for 14%.

    You might have seen this yourself: trees and bushland getting destroyed in your local area. This is happening all over the country—and what you see is just the tip of the iceberg. The really vast deforestation and clearing is usually happening out of sight in regional and rural areas.

    How is bushland being cleared?

    Bulldozers drag thick chains through the landscape, snapping trees like matchsticks. This wood isn’t used for anything—it’s burned or left to rot. Carbon once stored in trees and soil goes back into the atmosphere. This wastes up to 10% of Australia’s carbon budget.

    Where in Australia is deforestation happening?

    This is a nationwide problem. Queensland has the highest rates of deforestation on the continent, where up to 418,656 ha is being cleared in a year, destroying habitat for our native animals.

    It is also a critical problem in New South Wales and Western Australia.

    Sadly, deforestation is happening across the country and vital native species habitat is being destroyed. It is impossible to measure the exact figures of deforestation nation-wide because the government doesn’t even collect them.

    Photo: Logged trees on the edges of World Heritage listed tropical rainforest near Kuranda, Queensland

    Why is deforestation bad?

    There are many impacts of deforestation on nature and communities. And it’s not just the animals and people that live in and around the forests that are affected.

    🔥 Climate change
    Deforestation is a key contributor to human-caused climate change. Trees absorb and store carbon dioxide and the greenhouse gases humans create. If forests are cleared or burnt, they can no longer do this job—and these gases are released into the atmosphere.

    🐨 Wildlife impacts
    When forests are destroyed, entire ecosystems are disrupted. There’s an immediate decline in biodiversity, and continued, large-scale deforestation is pushing some Australian animals to the brink of extinction.

    🌾 Soil erosion
    Forests and bushland influence rainfall, water and soil quality—and even help prevent floods. Trees help the land to retain water and topsoil. Without forests, the soil erodes and washes away. The barren land is then more likely to flood.

    What Australian wildlife is being impacted by deforestation?

    Deforestation is named as a factor that affects most of Australia’s threatened species. Some of these include:

    Deforestation is also the greatest threat to koalas in Queensland and New South Wales.

    Plus: deforestation in Queensland is smothering our globally significant Great Barrier Reef—destroying vital habitat for countless marine life—with sediment and chemical run-off.

    Photo: A young, confused koala wanders about in cleared bushland at Pimpana on the Gold Coast, Queensland by Wildcare Australia Inc

    Are the cleared areas replanted with trees?

    Replanting trees is an important action that brings some balance back to our landscapes, but unfortunately Australia is not doing enough of this. Queensland is attempting to address this as part of its $500 million Land Restoration Fund, advocated for by the Wilderness Society, but it can take decades for trees to become hollow-bearing or for forests to sustain certain species. We need to protect more of what we already have now.

    What is Wilderness Society doing to stop deforestation?

    Koala in tree by Paul Hilton

    Right now, we’re:

    Watch on Nature

    Watch on Nature

    The Wilderness Society’s new web-based app is exposing deforestation across Australia—and will put a stop to the deforestation crisis.

    How can I help stop deforestation?

    When you hear facts about Australia’s deforestation crisis, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed by the scale of devastation happening across our country. Millions of hectares of land flattened, billions of native animals killed, the climate spiralling out of control… But there are steps you can take, right now, to halt this destruction. And your actions will make a difference.

    Click here to find out five easy steps you can take to help Australia reverse course and end deforestation for good.
    Photo: Healthy, intact bushland

    *The Wilderness Society defines 'deforestation' as:

    Loss of natural forest as a result of:
    i) conversion to a non-forest land use;
    ii) conversion to a plantation forest; or
    iii) human activity that reduces forest species composition, structure or function so that it is significantly ecologically and structurally different from the primary forest of the site.
    Includes conversion for agriculture, resources and mining, infrastructure, urban development and thinning of forests for non-forest uses.