Deforestation and land clearing in Queensland

Deforestation and land clearing in Queensland

Deforestation in Australia has now reached globally significant levels, driven largely by land clearing in Queensland.

The latest figures show that deforestation in Queensland is still rampant, damaging the health of the Great Barrier Reef, destroying biodiversity and worsening climate change.

Likely koala habitat cleared in shocking new footage

The drone footage, filmed 10 to 11 November 2022, 250km southwest of Cairns

New drone footage has exposed shocking clearing of likely koala habitat in Far North Queensland, as our latest report, What’s at ‘steak’?, reveals more than one million hectares of forest was cleared for beef from 2014-2019.

Over the five-year study period:

  • 93% of forests and bushland bulldozed were for livestock pasture development, of which 73% was for pastures on beef properties;

  • 78% of all deforestation of endangered regional ecosystems was for pasture development on beef properties;

  • Deforestation for beef accounted for 73% of deforestation of koala habitat, while 83% of brigalow belt clearing was for beef;

  • Deforestation for beef pastures destroyed habitats for 388 nationally threatened species and 14 threatened ecological communities;

  • 60% of the clearing was deforestation of either mature forests or “high value regrowth” forests (more than 15 years old).

The report coincides with the discovery of approximately 110 hectares of clearing of high value regrowth forest (known as Category C vegetation) through the Wilderness Society's monitoring platform, Watch on Nature.

Deforestation in Australia driven by Queensland

On 11/02/22 the government officially listed the koala as Endangered in Queensland, NSW and the ACT. For species like the koala, we know the biggest problem is the destruction of their forest homes.

With deforestation comes extinction: Australia is the worst offending country for mammal extinctions. Over roughly the last 20 years, koalas numbers have declined by almost 50% across Queensland and they have continued to do so. Deforestation—the reduction or complete removal of native forest and bushland—has escalated over the recent years to reach globally significant levels.

Eastern Australia is now a recognised global deforestation hotspot, alongside places including the Amazon, the Congo and Borneo. And the state leading this destructive charge is Queensland.

How do we know deforestation is a big problem in Queensland?

The Queensland government's own data shows what a massive problem deforestation is in the state. Over Christmas 2022, it tried to sneak out its land clearing data, the Statewide Landcover and Trees Study (SLATS), for 2019-2020. And it’s not good news for nature.

The latest Queensland government’s SLATS figures for the year 2019-20 shows:

  • 418,656 hectares of forest and bushland was impacted in one year
  • 44% was in Great Barrier Reef catchments
  • 21% was in remnant areas—mature and fully functioning ecosystems

This most recent 2019-20 data was released on 16 December 2022. It's clear that the destruction of forest and bushland across Queensland continues to be the biggest contributor to Australia's terrible deforestation record.

    Around 418,656 hectares of Queensland’s forest and bushland was impacted by clearing in 2019-20 alone.

    Cows grazing on cleared, barren land, devastated by deforestation.

    So why is this destruction happening?

    Our analysis of the 2018-2019 data found that shockingly, 92,718 hectares of the 668,208 hectares was koala habitat. With clearing on this scale, no wonder they were recently declared endangered in Queensland, NSW and the ACT.

    And around 73,285ha of that—or a whopping 80%—was destroyed for beef production. (We will update these figures to reflect the new stats for 2019-20 as soon as possible.)

    Koala habitat is being trashed to grow more pasture for cattle.

    This continued destruction is devastating for the environment and wildlife. Tens of millions of native animals are killed annually by this scale of clearing. Sediments and chemicals run off cleared areas into waterways that flow out to the Great Barrier Reef—smothering this already struggling icon. Bulldozing trees worsens climate change—carbon dioxide is released into the atmosphere when the fallen trees are left to burn or rot.

    Big buyers of Australian beef must go deforestation-free

    The beef industry must show leadership and urgently change its practices to stop selling beef linked to deforestation. This change is needed throughout the whole supply chain, from producers through to retailers, such as supermarkets and fast food restaurants.

    Major retailers could, and as good corporate citizens should, chose to only buy deforestation-free beef. If this happened, the whole industry would need to clean up its act. But currently, none of the big supermarkets and fast food chains can guarantee that the beef they source and sell is free of deforestation.

    Image: Kerry Trapnell.

    We need to make this an issue they can’t ignore, so that Queensland's spectacular forests and bushland, home to some of the most iconic animals in the world, remain intact and healthy.

    Our analysis of the Queensland government's own land clearing data for 2018-19 reveals that approximately 92,718 ha of likely or known koala habitat was destroyed across Queensland in one year alone between 2018 and 2019. Of that, around 73,825 ha, or 80%, was bulldozed for beef production. (We will update these figures to reflect the new stats for 2019-20 as soon as possible.)

    Over roughly the last 20 years, koalas numbers have declined by almost 50% across Queensland alone. If we want to protect Australia's remarkable biodiversity, including its most iconic animals, we must protect habitat. Deforestation has to stop.

    With your support, the Wilderness Society recently launched a billboard campaign highlighting deforestation rates across Queensland, and the harm this causes to wildlife.

    Image: Goa

    The series of billboards across Brisbane drew attention to the devastating effects that deforestation and land clearing have on wildlife across Queensland.