Every 21 March is the United Nations International Forests Day – a day to recognise the importance of global forest ecosystems for our environment, wellbeing, and combatting climate change.
One third of our planet is covered in forest – which provides homes for nearly 50% of terrestrial animal and plant species. And, forests provide critical services to humans – they sustain fresh drinking water supplies, provide materials for building our cities and communities, support agriculture, prevent soil erosion, and provide carbon sequestration services that help regulate our climate.
Despite this native forests continue to be cleared at an alarming rate and Australia is currently one of the key contributors to global deforestation.
Here are five facts to know about forests this International Forests Day.
- 1. Deforestation is still a massive concern
WWF  estimates that around 177,000 square kilometers of native vegetation is cleared every year – which is the same as 50 football fields being cleared every minute.
- 2. Australia is a deforestation hotspot
Eastern Australia is considered a global hotspot for deforestation1 – ranking alongside Borneo, the Amazon, and the Congo Basin.
In Australia, clearing occurs largely for agricultural expansion – access to greater land space to graze cattle and other livestock, but also for timber harvesting and urban development.
Some studies  have indicated that clearing is leading to a net loss in forest cover in Australia, despite significant reforestation efforts by local communities, and government programs like 20 Million Trees planting trees in large numbers.
- 3. Land clearing has a big impact on animal species
When so many animal species rely on forests for their food and homes, it’s not surprising that deforestation has a significant impact on their populations. WWF estimates1 that total numbers of vertebrate animals (those with an internal skeleton) has halved since 1970, with deforestation as one of the main causes due to habitat loss.
There’s also the impact on species while the land is being cleared. Researchers at Curtin University  have found that land clearing has negative animal welfare outcomes, as animals can be killed or injured by earth moving machinery or tree felling during the clearing process, or if they survive, can face a hostile uninhabitable new environment once cleared of trees and vegetation.
- 4. Forests are critical in the fight against global warming
With a changing climate, protecting our forests has never been more important. Forests currently store about 450 billion tonnes of carbon – which equates to 50 years of emissions at current rates . The International Union for Conservation of Nature estimates  that if we were to halt net deforestation now and promote restoration, forests could contribute over one third of the total climate change mitigation required by 2030.
- 5. Reforestation is happening, and you can be a part of it
Despite the challenges, there is lots of positive work happening to reforest cleared or degraded landscapes and plant new trees, and to protect existing forest systems from being cleared. Many NGOs in Australia, including some of the partners on the Bank Australia Conservation Reserve, are planting new trees and reforesting land.
To find out more, look up your local Greening Australia and Landcare Australia branch and see if you can join a volunteer project or donate.
Find out more about Bank Australia’s role in addressing climate change and environmental conservation here.
 WWF (2018) Living Planet Report 2018: Aiming higher (eds. Grooten N & Almond REA). WWF, Gland, Switzerland.
 Maron, M. et al. (2016) Queensland land clearing is undermining Australia’s environmental progress. The Conversation. Online: https://theconversation.com/queensland-land-clearing-is-undermining-australias-environmental-progress-54882
 Hugh, F. (2017) Land clearing isn’t about trees – it’s an animal welfare issue too. The Conservation. Online: https://theconversation.com/land-clearing-isnt-just-about-trees-its-an-animal-welfare-issue-too-80398
 Heinz-Erb, K. et al (2018) Unexpectedly large impact of forest management and grazing on global vegetation biomass. Nature, 553. 73-76.
 International Union for the Conservation of Nature (2017) Forests and Climate Change: Issues Brief. Online at: https://www.iucn.org/sites/dev/files/forests_and_climate_change_issues_brief.pdf