‘Shocking’ scale of deforestation a koala threat: study

Keira Jenkins |

Some 2.2 million hectares of bush was cleared in Queensland in five years, including koala habitat.
Some 2.2 million hectares of bush was cleared in Queensland in five years, including koala habitat.

An area the size of the MCG was bulldozed every two minutes in Australia over five years in a devastating blow to koala habitats, research says.

Greenpeace says a study they commissioned has revealed the “shocking” scale of Australia’s deforestation, prompting calls to enforce laws to protect native animals from extinction.

Data on land cleared between 2016 and 2021 showed the majority of the deforestation occurred in Queensland, driven primarily by beef production.

Greenpeace said 2.2 million hectares of forest and bushland were bulldozed in Queensland over that period.

The study by Dr Martin Taylor compared the cleared areas with federal government maps where threatened species, including koalas, are likely to occur.

Dr Taylor said 95 per cent of the cleared area featured federally mapped threatened species habitat, including more than 730,000 hectares of mapped habitat for the endangered koala.

Dr Taylor, from the University of Queensland’s School of the Environment, feared deforestation would have grave consequences for the threatened species. 

“The koala is definitely headed for extinction,” he told AAP.

“There was a lot of resistance to it being listed as vulnerable over a decade ago and then recently it gets up-listed to endangered so it’s on a trajectory downwards.”

Dr Taylor said livestock pasture was the major driver behind land clearing in Queensland, accounting for 90 per cent of the state’s deforestation.

Greenpeace senior campaigner Gemma Plesman said the majority of the Australian beef industry was “deforestation-free”.

However she said land clearing for beef production must not go unchecked.

“Most consumers would be horrified to know that their steak dinner could be fuelling forest and wildlife destruction,” Ms Plesman said.

“This shocking data should be a wake-up call to companies who are effectively hiding the deforestation in their products from consumers.

“It’s time for them to lead the way with strong commitments to bulldozer-free beef.”

Dr Taylor said the Australian government could put an end to deforestation of threatened species habitats if they enforced the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act.

The legislation outlines that approval is needed from both the relevant state and Commonwealth governments for projects that could impact “matters of national significance” like threatened native species.

“Everybody should be following the law, it’s just the grazing sector is not following the law,” Dr Taylor said.

“They’re being allowed to get away with it. It’s absolutely shocking. It’s a disgrace.

“(The government) could have enforced the law two decades past and they’ve systematically let the agriculture sector off the hook.”

Dr Taylor said the agriculture industry also had a role to play in ending deforestation for livestock pasture. 

He said Livestock Australia had committed to net zero emissions, but if clearing for beef production continues, it won’t be possible to meet that target.