The state government has released a new draft land-clearing code that would allow landholders to largely determine what vegetation they can remove and what they need to keep.
The draft code has been released just as the NSW upper house has been debating a disallowance motion against a new bill that would allow entire forest logs to be burnt for electricity.
And despite the release of the draft code, the state government still has not announced if and when it will reinstate the environmental zones it unilaterally excised from four north-coast councils’ 2012 local environment plans.
In a media release issued on Tuesday, the government said that following a review of native vegetation legislation the Department of Environment and Heritage had released three ‘self-assessable’ draft codes for public comment.
Under the new codes, landholders wanting to ‘thin’ native vegetation, clear paddock trees in cultivated areas or manage invasive native species will be able to ‘assess their own activities’ using the draft codes rather than having to go through formal clearing approvals processes.
North Coast Local Land Services recently trialled the self-assessable codes in the field with local landholders at two sites on the north coast
The trials attended by representatives of the dairy, grazing, horticulture, forestry and sugar industries, Landcare, Soilcare and local government.
Team leader for North Coast Local Land Services, Mr Peter Boyd, said, ‘The trials looked at different scenarios facing landholders using the draft thinning or clearing of paddock trees codes. All participants stepped through the new guidelines together and identified opportunities for improvement.’
The media release did not clarify what ‘improvements’ it envisaged but said it would forward feedback from the day to the Office of Environment.
‘Forests fuel for furnaces’
The release comes just as the Greens and ALP lost a disallowance motion in the upper house that would have prevented native trees being burnt to generate so-called ‘green energy’.
Greens MP John Kaye said after the defeat of the motion that the coalition and conservative crossbenchers had ‘made sure that this state’s native forests are now open to a new source of exploitation’.
‘As the market for Australia’s native forest woodchips is collapsing, the Baird government had the perfect opportunity to end the destruction of critical habitat and the millions of dollars in subsidies that pour into the industry each year.
‘This could have been a graceful exit from an industry that is dying despite heavy subsidies.
‘Instead the National Party and the industry lobby got their way. Taxpayers will continue to subsidise the destruction of forests.
‘Much more than just small offcuts and forestry “waste” will be fed into the furnaces of power stations. The energy minister admitted that whole logs are eligible to be burnt for electricity.
Despite the propaganda coming from the industry and the government, the power from burning koala habitat is neither sustainable nor green.
‘Greenhouse gas emissions are much greater than from coal-fired electricity generation of the same amount of energy.
‘Air pollution from wood-burning power stations will have unacceptable human and environmental health consequences.
‘This is a government that is busy killing off the wind industry that produces no carbon emissions, does not harm human health and creates far more jobs.
‘It is hard to understand how the state ended up with such an irrational outcome other than by an intense lobbying activity by the logging industry.
‘An overwhelming 98 per cent of all submissions made during the consultation period were opposed to native forestry biomass,’ Dr Kaye said.
ALP shadow minister for the north coast, Walt Secord, also spoke on the disallowance motion.
‘Over the past decade both tiers of government have acknowledged that felling for power stations is a bridge too far. But now we have state and federal Liberal-Nationals governments for whom no bridge is too far,’ Mr Secord said.
‘The conservatives are determined to destroy environmental protections that are iconic in the Australian consciousness. I point to the Great Barrier Reef in Queensland and the forests of Tasmania,’ he added.
‘In New South Wales we see the state Liberal-Nationals government following suit. Through this regulation they have opened the way for the state’s forests to be used to generate power. This is a major shift and a significant move.
‘The state government has changed environmental protection regulations to allow trees otherwise destined for pulp and paper production to be burnt in power stations. The ecological costs of native forest logging are well known. Native forests are important for biodiversity and store large amounts of carbon. Animals also rely on the forests and hollows in trees. These are the holes left in tree trunks when dead branches fall down. Birds, possums and gliders all need these safe havens to survive. Hollows only exist in well-established trees. Koalas, wallabies, possums and birds all lose their homes. Under the regulation, invasive native species and offcuts of sawlogs also can be burnt for power. Allowing ‘invasive native species’ to be burnt creates financial incentives to distort the intention of the Native Vegetation Act.
‘The regulation allows for the clearing of valuable biodiverse bush under the guise of its being “unhealthy thickening” and the state government’s proposal now creates the incentive of the fact that this clearing can now have a value as fuel. We all know where this will lead. Once our plant life becomes a marketable fuel commodity, unfortunately there will be unscrupulous individuals who will bend every regulation to its edges to make a dollar. Assurances from the government on this front are simply hollow.
‘North coast communities want to see their unique environment and forests protected for generations to come,’ he said
‘They know that this regulation would once again be the thin end of the wedge. I must express my disappointment at the lack of representation and leadership by north coast National Party parliamentarians on this matter,’ Mr Secord said.
Copies of the voluntary land-clearing codes can be found at http://www.environment.nsw.gov.au/vegetation. The codes are open for comment until 26 May 2014.