An MCG-sized area of forest and bush is bulldozed every 2 minutes in Australia. To give life a chance, we need strong, sensible deforestation laws.
What’s a tree worth? That’s the misunderstanding driving our country’s deforestation crisis. Today, bare land is worth more than the intact ecosystems that support our lives. It’s an old colonial idea. And a bad one.
Bulldozers destroy 500,000 ha of forest and bush every year. It stuffs our soil and water, suffocates the Reef, kills wildlife, drains our carbon budget — and leaves our towns and suburbs hotter and less liveable.
The threat to life
Without a liveable climate, the vulnerable ecosystems that sustain us, won’t. Deforestation is Australia’s hidden emitter—like adding 10 million cars to our roads.
Australia’s deforestation front ranks in the global top 10, alongside Borneo, the Amazon and the Congo. It’s primarily driven by agriculture (mostly for beef production), mining and urban development.
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.
What is driving the deforestation of koala habitat?
Deforestation and land clearing is currently the greatest threat to native species in Queensland, and is largely responsible for the sharp decline in koala populations.
When habitat is bulldozed, many koalas die instantly—while others are left with nowhere to go. Wildlife carers are struggling to cope with mounting numbers of sick and injured animals, saying the destruction of bushland is to blame.
The Wilderness Society has undertaken fine-scaled GIS analysis to determine, for the first time, the specific sectors contributing to the destruction of koala habitat in Queensland.
Our analysis found 275,775 ha of likely koala habitat in Queensland was cleared between 2013 and 2018. Of this 76% of likely koala habitat was cleared on land with beef listed as its primary land use.
If we can strengthen the laws in Queensland, we can do it everywhere.
Since the LNP Newman Government began gutting laws in 2012, rogue operators in Queensland have wiped out forest and bushland at record rates.
Our supporters helped blow the lid of this hidden crisis. We heard from wildlife vets, koala carers, backyard tree-planters and farmers getting great results by letting their land recover. Hundreds of our Movement For Life volunteers hit the streets, knocking on doors to let Queenslanders know about the explosion of deforestation in their state. And in 2018, we finally won stronger laws.
They're not perfect, and the legacy of the LNP Newman Government has left loopholes, but they'll go a long way in curbing the crisis. We'll work to improve the system in Queensland, while turning our focus to escalating land clearing across NSW, WA and NT.
Why is this still happening?
Historically, deforestation was considered best practice. In the 60s and 70s, agriculturalists in Queensland’s Brigalow Belt were actually fined for letting their land regenerate. This was rooted in some flawed ideas about the biology of soils and the resilience of our landscapes. It means just 50% of Australia’s forest and bushland remains — much of it degraded.
While the majority of landholders are eager to embrace new ways to look after their land, a few rogue operators are holding us back.
“Australia’s greatest animal welfare crisis.” - RSPCA
As the only developed country with a deforestation front, it's no surprise Australia’s mammal extinction rates are the highest in the world. Even iconic native species, like the koala and the greater glider, are on the road to extinction.
In the last 20 years, Queensland’s koala population has declined by over 40%.
On the Koala Coast, numbers are down by 80%. In New South Wales, 99% of koala habitat on private land is not protected from clearing.
There’s a devastatingly simple fix — change our laws.
A threat to our Reef
As important catchment zones are stripped bare, the Great Barrier Reef is exposed to a deadly cocktail of silt, animal faeces and industrial fertilisers. This threatens a tourism industry worth $6 billion to Australia.
Deforestation isn’t just deadly. It’s an extreme economic liability.
Western Australia's globally unique flora is under threat
Western Australia's forests, woodlands and outback native vegetation play a critical role in preserving biodiversity, providing a home for threatened species and storing huge quantities of carbon. Read our report detailing 7 ways to protect WA's most valuable natural asset.
If we want to protect our climate, and the ecosystems that make our lives possible, there’s no role for deforestation in Australia’s future.
In climate crisis, there’s economic opportunity for landholders. By incentivising them to rehabilitate bulldozed land, we can make our soils, wildlife and landscapes more resilient to climate change. We can even reverse our emissions in the process.
That’s life support in action.
What we’re doing:
- Advocating for new laws that support the life our lives depend on.
- Undertaking research to blow the lid off this hidden crisis.
- Monitoring satellite imagery and recording suspicious clearing.
- Building a case for rehabilitation funding as a climate solution.
- Organising a grassroots national movement for lasting change.
- Educating Australians on the benefits of intact ecosystems