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Deforestation, and the current state of play in Australia


At a very surface level, most people would agree that it’s ‘sad’ and ‘wrong’ to clear large areas of trees. But when you come face to face with the reality of native forest logging, you realise that it actually demonstrates a blatant disregard for the spectacular role that trees – rooted in ground where they natively like to grow – play in maintaining the delicate eco-balance that keeps our waterways clean, our air breathable, and our wildlife fed and sheltered.


We’re a nation known for our great bushland, our river reds, blue gums, and Coolibah trees. Almost one fifth of Australian land – or an area equivalent to the size of the Northern Territory – is covered in forest.

However, we’re clearing trees at an alarming rate – more than one tree is bulldozed in Australia every second according to World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF).

In fact, Australia remains the only developed country on WWF’s deforestation list of 24 hotspots, which also includes areas in the Amazon and East Africa.


It’s the rate of native forest logging in Eastern Australian that has landed us on the list. Eastern Australia is one of the most bio-diverse areas in the world, and it’s more densely populated with native wildlife than anywhere else in Australia. And here we are, clearing it for (among other things)  decorative garden woodchips.

A WWF report found 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.

Native forest logging is a state-government controlled activity, and in NSW it falls within the control of the NSW-government owned Forestry Corporation NSW (FCNSW). FCNSW is required to protect ‘den’ trees, which are the trees critical for the food, shelter and movement of gliders and other wildlife. There is meant to be a 50 metre exclusion zone around identified den trees.

At the time of writing this, the Environmental Protection Authority (EPA) had issued a Stop Work Order on logging at Tallaganda State Forest in Australia’s east because a deceased Southern Greater Glider had been found nearby. Southern Greater Gliders are the largest gliding possums in eastern Australia and they have been listed as endangered since 2022.

EPA Acting Executive Director Operations, Steve Orr said the discovery of the deceased glider was “extremely concerning”.

“While community reports suggest around 400 Southern Greater Gliders may be living in the Tallaganda State Forest, FCNSW has identified only one den tree and we are not confident that habitat surveys have been adequately conducted to ensure all den trees are identified.

“The EPA has a strong compliance and enforcement program for native forestry, and we will take immediate action where warranted, including issuing stop work orders for alleged non-compliance.”

I was hosted recently by HP and WWF to see first-hand the devastating impacts of logging in and around Coffs Harbour. HP and WWF have partnered to protect, manage and restore more than 21,500 hectares across the forests of eastern Australia – an area three times the size of the Sydney Harbour. This includes restoring 1,500 hectares of degraded koala habitat. The collaboration is part of a global $90 million USD pledge from HP to support WWF in conserving 1 million acres of critical forest landscape across the globe.

What is deforestation?

Deforestation is the clearing of a large area of trees in forest areas. It happens for a lot of reasons; to make way for agriculture and housing developments, but also to provide the raw materials for things like tissues, toilet paper and cheap woodchips.

Read WWF’s great explainer on deforestation.

In Australia, in order to avoid logging native forests for raw materials, we’ve been slowly growing more man-made forests for commercial purposes, called plantation forests. Plantation forests that are carefully managed are widely regarded as the sustainable solution for meeting demand for wood where other materials can’t be used.

However, demand for wood frequently outstrips what can be supplied by plantation forests. It means our native forests continue to be logged; large trucks periodically enter our native forests to cut down trees using industrial-grade tools, destroying vast areas of undergrowth and other trees that were not designated for logging.

Native deforestation up close:

On the day I spend with HP and WWF, we visit Moonpar State Forest on the North Coast of NSW. Moonpar has been slowly returning to health after the 2019-2020 Black Summer bushfires, but it was recently logged.

Tallowwood (Eucalyptus microcorys) in an area about the size of a large residential lot have been cleared, creating a dust bowl. A pile of around 50 amputated trunks have been left behind. Could they be surplus? Perhaps. The waste of it is despairing.

A few trees neighbouring the cleared patch have been spray painted with a big ‘H’ to inform loggers that the tree is currently inhabited by native Australian wildlife. There are big chunks of wood missing from the trunks of some of the trees in the immediate vicinity of the area that has been logged. This is one of the key differences between traditional logging and the high-scale practices of today; historically, trees were extracted with almost surgical precision at a rate of around 7000 cubic metres annually, compared to now, where about 1000 cubic metres can (and often is) cleared in just one day.

Remember that trees feed and shelter our wildlife. Logging has been identified as one of the key drivers of koala extinction because it robs koalas of their natural habitat.

A NSW Parliamentary enquiry projected that koalas will become extinct by 2050 without urgent government action. Habitat loss was cited as the biggest threat to the species’ survival.

Conservationists hoped the report would bring native forest logging in Australia to an abrupt end. It hasn’t.

Koalas are notoriously known for their dislike of change, and their high level of ‘tree-fidelity’. While they may not necessarily return to the same tree every day, they tend to stay within a small area and will mark their preferred trees with their scent. Displacing them from their homes causes them significant stress.

WWF is campaigning to stop the logging of native forests in Australia.

The logging of native forests and woodlands a complex and layered activity, which makes it harder to transition out of. The loss of jobs is frequently cited as a key barrier for ending logging.

WWF has called on the NSW and Queensland governments to make a commitment to end native forest logging. South Australia and ACT have made policy commitments to create legislative frameworks. Victoria has a policy to end native forest logging by 30 December 2023. Western Australia has a policy commitment to end native forest logging in South Western Australia by end of this year, with some contingencies. Queensland has a policy to phase out logging in some parts of the state by 2024. Tasmania is showing no signs of ending logging.

While the NSW Government has a broad platform position to engage stakeholders to work out the best way to manage forests, it has not committed to ending deforestation.

However, the NSW Government has committed to spending $80 million to create a Great Koala National Park between Coffs Harbour and Kempsey, creating a nature reserve of around 200,000 hectares which is home to 20% of NSW’s koala population. This should naturally illicit the protection of some of that land.

WWF would like to see the expansion of man-made plantations with a Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certification, and for these trees to be prioritised for their highest value, such as housing construction, rather than woodchips.

“We want to see a transition that is fair and generous out of industrial high impact native forest logging across Australia,” says Dr Stuart Blanch, WWF Australian conservation scientist. 

“There is a common misconception that Australia can bulldoze trees if we replant them. Restoring the forests we have lost is important, but it’s imperative to stop deforestation in the first place and to protect the forests which remain.

“This is because a newly planted tree sapling doesn’t have the same superpowers as a mature tree. Lots of wildlife, such as the Greater Glider, rely on tree hollows for their homes. These hollows can take up to 250 years to form. In addition, older, more mature trees store more carbon from the atmosphere than young trees. So planting new trees alone isn’t the solution.”

Forest replanting efforts by state governments also tend to lead to poor biodiversity outcomes, due to the common practice of replacing the rich tapestry of trees that feed and shelter Australia’s native wildlife with just one single type of tree species – blackbutt or spotted gum – which is commonly used in plantation forests because it provides highly desirable raw material for consumer goods.

“It might make sense commercially but it is essentially deforestation by stealth because the forest doesn’t come back as a native forest, it comes back as a crop,” says Dr Stuart. “So it’s converting native forests – which is public land – into commercial plantation forests.

“I have sympathy for Forestry Corporation, they are in a bind. They’ve been allowed to do this by both sides of government for years. Plantation is expensive and it takes a long time. There needs to be a very clear policy direction from the NSW Government and Commonwealth Government, and money for plantation expansion.”

Properly preserved forests can play a critical role in preventing and mitigating bushfires predominantly because they are moisture-rich, making them less susceptible to ignition, and their humidity can reduce a fire’s intensity. Healthy, dense forests also act as a barrier to slow fires down, and they reduce the wind speed that can fuel a fire’s advances.

The AFAC, which is the National Council for fire and emergency services, has warned of an increased risk of bushfire for spring 2023, for large areas of the Northern Territory, Queensland and New South Wales, as well as regions in Victoria and South Australia.

Trees, as natural absorbers and storers of carbon, are one of our biggest weapons in the fight against climate change.

In a world that is racing to neutralise carbon in the atmosphere, large scale logging, makes no sense.

How you can help

Dr Stuart Blanch, WWF Australia Conservationist, says you can:

  • Take action: Australia can become a nation that not only protects and preserves its trees but also leads the way in sustainable tree management and conservation. Sign the petition and show your support to save our trees and our future.
  • Think before you buy: Make purchasing decisions with sustainability in mind – everything from paper products to technology. For example, all of HP’s products are created with recycled materials and with sustainability top of mind. Also, look for Forest Stewardship Certified (FSC) timer and paper products – these are more forest friendly.
  • Plant native trees and provide habitat to local wildlife: You can even make a difference from your balcony with these native plants.
  • Get informed: Many Aussies are unaware that Australia is a deforestation hotspot. Check out the WWF Trees Scorecard to learn more and talk to your family and friends to spread the word.

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