Nearly 1 million acres of trees were cut down in Queensland, Australia from 2015 to 2016, representing a 33 percent rise in deforestation, according to a new government land survey.
Tree-loss, driven primarily by land clearing for ranching and agriculture, was worst in the woodland catchments that feed into the Great Barrier Reef, which hugs the coast of Queensland. Those ecosystems experienced a 45 percent jump in deforestation last year, and are where 40 percent of all the clearing in the province took place. Environmentalists and policymakers warned the catchment losses are increasing sediment transfer into the Great Barrier Reef, literally burying corals, as well as adding millions of tons of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.
Queensland’s deputy premier, Jackie Trad, called the rise in deforestation “incredibly alarming.”
“We know that the current rates of land clearing in Queensland are unsustainable,” Trad told The Guardian. “Australia has become one of the deforestation hotspots in the world – the only advanced economy to be named in the 12 deforestation hotspots in the world. [It’s] because Queensland has returned to the bad old days of bulldozing hundreds of thousands of hectares of woody and remnant vegetations in order to make way particularly for pasture for cows.”
After years of record-low tree loss, Queensland’s deforestation began surging again in 2013, when members of the Liberal National Party scrapped land-clearing restrictions. Efforts to reverse the more lax regulations have been unsuccessful.