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Aerial view cleared pine plantations in Gnangara-moore River State Forest. Yanchep, Western Australia © WWF-Aus / Pixel Pilot

Aerial view cleared pine plantations in Gnangara-moore River State Forest. Yanchep, Western Australia © WWF-Aus / Pixel Pilot

Tree-clearing

One-third of the Earth’s landmass is swathed in green forests that provide a range of social, economic and environmental benefits. They harbour more than half of all known terrestrial animal and plant species, sustain fresh water supplies, regulate our climate and help to reduce soil erosion. Forests also deliver food, clothing, traditional medicine, shelter and subsistence agriculture to about 1.6 billion people.

Yet forests and natural vegetation continue to be cleared at a staggering rate. Globally, some 177,000 square kilometres are lost each year, which is equivalent to 50 football fields every minute.

In 2015, WWF analysis concluded that more than 80% of deforestation between now and 2030 – up to 170 million hectares in total – is expected to take place in 11 deforestation ‘fronts’. One of these is Eastern Australia, which ranks alongside the Amazon, Borneo, Congo Basin and other threatened tropical regions for the extent of forest at risk.

WWF advocates Zero Net Deforestation and forest Degradation (ZNDD) globally by 2020. This means no net forest loss through deforestation and no net decline in forest quality through degradation, while allowing for some limited and carefully controlled clearing for agriculture and settlements across the developing world. We believe that the projected demand for food, fuel and fibre can be met without further net forest loss by way of improved forest stewardship and more productive land use.

Impacts

 

Deforestation and tree-clearing is the major cause of habitat loss for many threatened and endangered species. In Asia, this includes orangutans, tigers, rhinos and elephants, some of which are on the brink of extinction. Moreover, the direct impacts of clearing are compounded by the fact that it brings such species into closer and more frequent contact with humans, which can lead to poaching and persecution.

In Australia, of the 1,250 plant and 390 terrestrial animal species listed as threatened, 964 plants and 286 animals have deforestation and resulting habitat fragmentation or degradation listed as threats. These include Carnaby’s cockatoo, southern cassowary, Bennet’s tree kangaroo, Cape York rock-wallaby, and black-flanked rock-wallaby, as well as the iconic koala, recently listed as vulnerable to extinction in Queensland and New South Wales.

Forests play a major role in reducing greenhouse gas emissions and curbing harmful climate change, by capturing and storing carbon. However, they become carbon sources when cut, otherwise removed or burnt. Deforestation and forest degradation accounts for approximately 15% of total global emissions, contributing to rising temperatures, changes in weather patterns and increasingly frequent extreme weather events.

 Tree-clearing also has a major impact on the health of soil and water. Without trees to anchor fertile soil, erosion can occur and sweep soil into rivers, choking and polluting our waterways. Estimates suggest that one-third of the world’s arable land has been lost through soil erosion and degradation since 1960. In Australia, sediment, nutrient and pesticide pollution from run-off is threatening the health and resilience of the Great Barrier Reef.

Beyond the environmental effects, deforestation undermines the foundations of secure communities and thriving economies. Millions of people around the world depend directly on forests for hunting, gathering and medicine, while national economies rely on forests for the critical role they play in providing clean water, productive soils, a stable climate, habitat for crop pollinators and pest predators, tourism and recreation.

What we're doing

WWF has been working to protect forests for more than 50 years by helping to establish protected areas, combat illegal logging and promote certification for responsible forest management practices.

We recognise that you cannot secure sustainable food, save threatened species, create a low-carbon future or protect marine life without protecting and restoring our forests. In Australia, we've therefore put forests at the heart of our conservation goals and strategies.

 

Causes

 

Deforestation can occur quickly through fire or clear-felling to make way for plantations, crops or pasture. It can also proceed gradually, for example as a result of unsustainable logging or climate change.

Ultimately, markets don’t recognise the full value of forest biodiversity and ecosystem services, nor are those services protected by public policies. So forests are commonly replaced by other land uses that generate higher short-term returns.

Globally, deforestation is mostly caused by agriculture, mining and infrastructure projects, and more intense and frequent fires. New roads open up forests to settlers and agriculture, while destructive logging practices and unsustainable wood collection can lead to a spiral of degradation that eventually results in deforestation.

In Southeast Asia, clearing for oil palm and pulp plantations has had a devastating impact. Particularly in Indonesia, fire is still used to clear the land and can rapidly spread out of control. Rubber, sugar and mining are also linked to deforestation.

In Australia, agricultural expansion, particularly for beef cattle production, is the major driver of tree-clearing. This had almost come to a halt following a 2006 ban on excessive tree-clearing, but accelerated again after a weakening of controls in Queensland in 2013. Bushfires are also implicated in forest loss, and are expected to increase in frequency and intensity due to climate change.

Trees being cleared near Perth, Western Australia

Trees being cleared near Perth, Western Australia

 

The Global Forest & Trade Network (GFTN)

To combat illegal logging and promote responsible forestry, WWF created the Global Forest & Trade Network (GFTN).

 

GFTN links hundreds of companies, forest-dependent communities, non-governmental organisations and entrepreneurs in more than 30 countries around the world, with the goal of creating a market for environmentally responsible forest products.

 

The GFTN works at national and regional levels to expand the area of forests under responsible and credibly certified forest management. It also works to encourage demand for wood and paper products from those well-managed forests.

 

The GFTN helps forest managers benefit from sustainable forest management, while helping processors, manufacturers and retailers reduce the risk of being associated with deforestation, biodiversity loss and social conflict.