Byron Shire Council has redrawn vegetation maps covering almost all of the shire’s hinterland, breaking tree coverage into as many as 12 different types.
Council’s team leader natural environment, Angus Underwood, said the review was necessary to update the maps to reflect changes to vegetation cover and composition over time.
‘The vegetation mapping provides baseline data which council can use to identify high conservation value vegetation such as endangered ecological communities, koala habitat, old growth forest and wetlands, and to identify priority areas for conservation programs, land use planning and zoning,’ Mr Underwood said.
‘Landcare, community groups, consultants, government bodies and landholders can also use the mapping to inform planning and management of vegetation and habitats,’ he said.
In 2012, then north coast minister Don Page lobbied for the excision of E-zones from the shire’s 2014 Local Environment Plan on the back of claims from local farmers that the zones were too broad and did not reflect the ‘ground truth’ of the vegetation on their properties.
The protection zones were subsequently suspended throughout five north-coast LGAs, including Byron shire, with potentially dire consequences for strategic remnant vegetation and wildlife corridors.
At that time, environmentalists who examined the maps said most of the errors could be rectified using through ‘desktop editing’.
Since then, Byron council officers have remapped the entire hinterland using aerial photographs, existing data and some on-ground inspections.
They are now asking landowners to take a look and give them feedback.
Vegetation ecologist Andy Baker, who was a strong opponent of the E-zone excisions, says the new maps are ‘absolutely’ more thorough than the previous.
‘While I haven’t yet had an opportunity to look at them in detail, the combination of detailed aerial photography and accurate “ground truthing” means the lines [on the maps] will correspond to the ground far more accurately,’ he told Echonetdaily.
The question is whether the state government will now allow the re-inclusion of these remapped zones.
Mr Baker said the government was still ‘sitting on its report’ into the E-zones and hoped the new maps, once complete, might provide a trigger for the it to reconsider its decision.
‘But there’s still a fair way to go before they are finalised,’ he said.
The study area includes the majority of the Byron hinterland including Bangalow, Eureka, Federal, Clunes, Goonengerry, Montecollum, Wilson Creek, Mullum Creek, The Pocket, Main Arm, Upper Main Arm and Billinudgel.
Following a review of landowner submissions, Byron Shire Council staff will review the vegetation mapping of properties and may request an opportunity to complete an onsite inspection at a time that suits the owner.
‘If you believe that what’s on your land is different to the maps, we’d like to hear from your so we can correct the information. This will improve the maps so they can be used with a high level of confidence,’ Mr Underwood said.
The maps can be viewed at the council’s website or ring the natural environment team on 6626 7324.
Byron Shire Council’s director of sustainable environment and economy, Shannon Burt, said the vegetation mapping will be used to update the shire’s High Conservation Vegetation mapping, which will then help inform Council’s strategic planning processes and the assessment of development applications.
She said on the issue of the Environmental Zones, the matter was still sitting with the NSW Minister for Planning.
The draft vegetation mapping is on public exhibition until October 15.