Conservation groups have described the latest Native Vegetation Clearing Report Card as a ‘mixed bag’ that shows the Native Vegetation Act 2003 (NVA) continues to protect some wildlife, water resources and soils in NSW by slowing the rate of land clearing, but also a dramatic loss of paddock trees and declining compliance actions.
The report reveals that 2,140 hectares of native vegetation were approved for clearing in NSW in 2012-13, significantly less than the average annual rate before the NVA come into force.
‘However, a lesser rate of enforcement indicates a loss of resources and will to take action against illegal clearing, say the groups. ‘Clearing for mining, gas and infrastructure also needs to be brought under the ambit of the Act.’
Belinda Fairbrother, NSW campaign manager for The Wilderness Society (TWS) said.’The report is clear evidence that land clearing laws are delivering environmental benefits, and that these laws must be protected.
‘The Act especially targets threatened plants and animals for protection as well as soil and the remaining habitat on some farms is crucial to their survival. By definition this is only a small part of NSW but irreplaceable.
‘Unfortunately the NSW Farmers Association and extreme elements in the National Party want to open up this native vegetation for clearing, as part of the current review and let the bulldozers rip.
‘Most of Australia’s accessible land has already been cleared for agriculture, and less than a decade ago Australia’s land-clearing rates were second only to Brazil’s. We must not return to those bad old days.”
Jeff Angel, executive director of the Total Environment Centre (TEC), said, ‘It is of great concern that since the NVA came into effect, about 63,000 paddock trees have been eliminated, and recently the NSW government moved to exempt highly destructive chain clearing and blade ploughing from existing controls.
The soil will just blow away and with a new drought threatening it is environmental and economic madness to weaken these laws.’
Kate Smolski, CEO of the Nature Conservation Council of NSW (NCC), said, ‘The reduction in clearing that has resulted from the NVA has saved hundreds of thousands of native mammals and protected woodlands that safeguard vital water resources and soil health.
‘Weakening wildlife protection laws will place our threatened species in peril at a time when bold action is required to reverse the ongoing decline in our state’s rich biological diversity.
‘Failure to properly protect native vegetation and wildlife habitat now will only cost us more in future as the costs of restoring degraded landscapes is many times more than protecting them properly in the first place.’
TEC, TWS and NCC are now looking to premier Mike Baird and environment minister Rob Stokes to turn around the government’s performance on the environment in their response to the review of the biodiversity laws, which includes the Native Vegetation Act 2003 and the Threatened Species Conservation Act 1995.