Tree-clearing for urban expansion near Ipswich, southeast Queensland © Supplied

Tree-clearing for urban expansion near Ipswich, southeast Queensland © Supplied

Australia remains the only developed nation on the list of global deforestation fronts

13 Jan 2021

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A new report from the World Wide Fund for Nature names eastern Australia among 24 global deforestation fronts – the only developed nation on the list.

In 2015, WWF’s Saving Forests at Risk analysis identified 11 global deforestation fronts including eastern Australia.

In WWF’s new report Deforestation fronts: Drivers and responses in a changing world, published today, the deforestation fronts have been expanded to 24 with eastern Australia remaining on the list.

“Land clearing rates rocketed after the axing of restrictions in Queensland and NSW placing eastern Australia alongside the most infamous places in the world for forest destruction,” said WWF-Australia conservation scientist Dr Martin Taylor.

“Despite Queensland restoring some restrictions in 2018, eastern Australia remains a deforestation front. That will not change until we see rates of destruction go down,” he said.

Deforestation fronts in Latin America, Africa, Asia and Oceania © WWF

Australia’s 2019-20 bushfires were too recent to be considered in the analysis which tracked 24 deforestation fronts from 2004 to 2017.

However, the report says “Forest fires are likely to increase due to longer and more extreme dry seasons as a result of climate change”.

In the 13 years from 2004 to 2017, an area of forest six times the size of Tasmania, more than 43 million hectares, was lost in the 24 deforestation fronts.

The report says “cattle ranching” (the destruction of trees to create pasture for cattle) was “by far the most significant driver” of forest loss or degradation in eastern Australia.

An important secondary cause was logging, which the report says “remains significant in some places” in eastern Australia.

Dr Taylor said eastern Australia’s forests have been declared a global biodiversity hotspot.

But these renowned forests, and unique species like the koala, are under enormous pressure from land clearing, logging and fire.

“Forest destruction was already bad enough for the region to be declared a global deforestation front, then the 2019-20 bushfires burned about 12.6 million hectares in eastern Australia,” he said.

“That’s why WWF-Australia has launched Regenerate Australia, the largest wildlife and nature regeneration program in the nation’s history.

“To stop extinction Australia needs to step up our efforts to protect critical forest habitats for Australian wildlife, particularly unburned low fire-risk refuges, and let those that have been cleared regenerate.

“WWF wants this to be the last time Australia winds up on this infamous list of deforestation fronts.

“That will not happen until state safeguards axed in the past decade are restored and until the national environment law starts to be fully enforced,” he said.

Dr Taylor said his Pervasive Inaction report exposed poor enforcement of the national environment law, revealing that almost 250,000 hectares of threatened species habitat were destroyed between 2016 and 2018 in Queensland, with no evidence of any referral and approval under the EPBC Act.

Dr Taylor said claims that forest area has actually expanded in Australia were misleading.

“Such claims are based on classifying young regrowth, often only knee-high, from previous clearing, as forest.

“Knee-high saplings are not a forest and do not ‘balance out’ the ongoing destruction of older forests decades or centuries old,” he said.

The 24 fronts identified in the report are:

1 Amazon – Brazil
2 Amazon – Colombia
3 Amazon – Peru
4 Amazon – Bolivia
5 Amazon – Venezuela/Guyana
6 Gran Chaco – Paraguay/Argentina
7 Cerrado – Brazil
8 Chocó-Darién – Colombia/Ecuador
9 Maya Forests – Mexico/Guatemala

10 West Africa – Liberia/Ivory Coast/Ghana
11 Central Africa – Cameroon
12 Central Africa – Gabon/Cameroon/Republic of Congo
13 Central Africa – DRC/CAR
14 Central Africa – Angola
15 East Africa – Zambia
16 East Africa – Mozambique
17 East Africa – Madagascar

18 Mekong – Cambodia
19 Mekong – Laos
20 Mekong – Myanmar
21 Sumatra – Indonesia
22 Borneo – Indonesia/Malaysia
23 New Guinea – Indonesia/PNG
24 Eastern Australia

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