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Byron Shire
August 2, 2021

State govt ‘taking an axe’ to native vegetation

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The government's reliance on satellite images could lead it to make dangerous decisions say environment groups. Photo Google Maps
The government’s reliance on satellite images could lead it to make dangerous decisions say environment groups. Photo Google Maps

Chris Dobney

A multi-million-dollar vegetation mapping system that has proved overwhelmingly defective is just the latest in a series of threats to the state’s native vegetation, particularly on the north coast, say key environmentalists.

According to an article in today’s Sydney Morning Herald, an automated ‘segmentation’ mapping system that uses pattern-recognition technology to identify the location of the state’s 1,500 types of plant communities, and which cost $10 million to implement, had an accuracy of just 17 per cent in determining individual communities in the upper Hunter Valley.

NSW Greens’ environment spokesperson Mehreen Faruqi, who played a key role in exposing the faulty technology, told SMH the NSW government had ‘ignored the concerns of its own experts’ in spending ‘millions of dollars on a mapping system wasn’t accurate’.

Lowest common denominator

And Total Environment Centre’s Jeff Angel told Echonetdaily the process was just the latest blow for the biodiverse northern rivers region as the ‘National Party has taken over control of native vegetation in the entire state’.

The latest move follows the abolition of new environment zones proposed in the 2014 LEPs of five northern rivers councils and the replacement of the Native Vegetation Act, the Threatened Species Conservation Act at the behest of former Nationals leader Andrew Stoner, with a watered-down Biodiversity Conservation Bill.

The new bill is due to be introduced to parliament around the middle of the year.

‘The government is on a path of applying the lowest common denominator to environment conservation in two ways,’ Mr Angel said

‘One is by this desktop-based mapping, when you can only really find out what’s on the ground by being there.

Developers pay to destroy

‘Secondly, [they are] very broadly applying the major projects offsets policy that… will allow developers – state and private – to pay the government money in order to destroy important natural vegetation,’ he added.

‘This is part of the new proposed biodiversity act that came out of the new National Party push to remove the Native Vegetation Act.

‘We’re now seeing those two key tree destruction tools – the mapping and the major projects offset policy – going to be applied to decisions across the state.’

Disturbing north coast precedent

Mr Angel described the abolition of new environment zones on the north coast as ‘a very disturbing precedent for the state.’

‘The north coast has an enormous heritage of endangered and threatened species – and if they can do it to such an important area of conservation as the north coast, then you can just think of the rampage that developers will be allowed to do when this new act comes in,’ he said.

Call to scrap maps

The National Parks Association and the Nature Conservation Council have also thrown their weight behind the call for the controversial mapping system to be scrapped.

National Parks Association (NPA) science officer Dr Oisin Sweeney said, segmentation mapping was ‘particularly bad at identifying threatened ecological communities, ecosystems that our conservation laws are supposed to protect the most’.

‘That’s why other government departments, such as the EPA, won’t use segmentation mapping technology,’ he said.

Nature Conservation Council (NCC) CEO Kate Smolski said, there was ‘a high risk that species will become locally extinct’ if the government used the system as ‘a primary decision-making tool’.

‘With almost 1000 species of plants and animals in NSW facing extinction, we can’t afford for the government to be making decisions based on dodgy vegetation maps and second-rate technology that is so woefully inaccurate,’ she said.

NPA and NCC are urging the government to use the far superior Digital Aerial Photographic Interpretation, which has been shown in peer-reviewed journals to accurately identify 87 per cent of plant communities.

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  1. This is Liberal philosophy in action.

    The 10 million was spent not to create an environmental protection/planning tool but to feed public money into private hands.


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