Difference Between Deforestation and Land Clearing

By: | Updated: Jun-1, 2023
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Forests cover 31% of the Earth’s land surface (approximately 4.06 billion ha), though the area is getting smaller. In fact, we lost 420 million hectares of our forests to deforestation between the years 1990-2020 alone, according to the 2022 State of the World’s Forests report from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. While land clearing might sound like the same as deforestation, however, it’s important to realize that there are several differences between the two. From what’s involved with both practices to how the environment factors into each, here’s what you should know regarding the differences. 

What is deforestation?

Difference Between Deforestation and Land Clearing

According to National Geographic, deforestation is “the intentional clearing of forested land,” going on to note that throughout history and into modern times, “forests have been razed to make space for agriculture and animal grazing, and to obtain wood for fuel manufacturing, and construction.” The article further details the impact that deforestation has had over the years, particularly when it comes to altering landscapes around the world. In North America, for instance, it’s noted that about half of the forests in the eastern part of the continent were cut down from the 1600s to the 1870s for timber and agriculture. In addition to contributing to climate change, deforestation heavily affects animals, too — according to Stand for Trees, deforestation causes habitat destruction, reduced food availability, and increased predation, to name just a few. 

What is land clearing?

While deforestation might sound like the same as land clearing, the definition is vastly different. While deforestation is typically on a larger scale, one Forbes Home article notes that “Clearing land involves removing any vegetation or obstacles on your property to prepare it for use.” This can involve the removal of several land elements, depending on the situation, from trees, shrubs, rocks, grass, etc. It’s important to note that there are a variety of situations in which clearing land can be beneficial. Property owners may opt to use land clearing services, for instance, when it comes to matters such as tree removal, for instance, when a tree is at risk of falling, dead, or is diseased. With that in mind, it’s imperative that such services are performed professionally and in a way that’s responsible.   

What are the main differences?

When looking to simplify the differences between deforestation and land clearing, it’s important to keep in mind that deforestation involves clearing large amounts of forested land, while land clearing can entail a range of activities from removing just a few trees to removing brush and other vegetation, typically from a property to prepare it for use. While deforestation is well known to be incredibly harmful to the environment for a variety of reasons. Land clearing, however, when done in a responsible way by professionals, can be beneficial by removing safety threats (such as dead trees), decreasing the risk of fire, preventing disease from spreading, and more. Land clearing also requires a permit, which further ensures that things are carried out in a responsible manner.


Deforestation and land clearing might sound like the same thing, though it’s important to keep in mind that the two are vastly different in what they entail (and can differ in how they affect the environment, too). For those who wish to make a positive difference when it comes to the harmful issue of deforestation, Greenpeace points out that simply making informed daily choices — such as by avoiding single-use packaging and by choosing recycled or responsibly-produced wood products can be a step in the right direction when looking to make a difference. In regard to land clearing, on the other hand, ensuring that you’re enlisting the help of an environmentally friendly and reputable service (and going through the proper process) is key in doing so in a way that’s kind to the environment.

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