Because of the rapid growth of population in the past century, large areas of natural forest were cleared for agriculture, timber, and human habitation.

For me, I assume that the above statement should take the simple past tense because of the temporal phrase "in the past century." If "in the past century" is replaced with "for the last century," then I would use the present perfect tense as follows:

Because of the rapid growth of population for the last century, large areas of natural forest have been cleared for agriculture, timber, and human habitation.

Is my premature opinion justifiable? Your advice? Thanks.