The bush, the forests, the animals, and the people of NSW – make that Australia – have been enduring the back to back impacts of flood, drought, fire, flood, and now the COVID-19 pandemic. What could make this any worse? A significant increase in land-clearing; because the more land is cleared the more regional temperatures increase, rainfall decreases and the higher the fire risk.
And that is exactly what has been, and is continuing, to happen under the new (weakened) biodiversity and conservation laws that were implemented in late 2017 by the NSW Liberal-National government. Since their implementation land clearing has jumped by a staggering 1,300 per cent according to the damning Natural Resources Commission (NRC) report released last week.
It also found:
- Wildlife and bushland in nine out of 11 regions was now at higher risk because of a large loophole in the regulations that allows for thinning of native vegetation for pasture expansion;
- Regulatory maps that are an essential part of the new regime have still not been released two years after the promised delivery date.
- There is no effective monitoring and compliance regime to ensure the laws are being obeyed and enforced.
‘This is a damning assessment made by the natural resources commission of the government’s handling of what it proclaimed was a signature reform,’ Nature Conservation Council (NCC) chief executive Chris Gambian said.
‘This report is alarming because land clearing is a key threat pushing most of the state’s threatened species towards extinction.
‘Koalas and other vulnerable species are being smashed from every direction, by bushfires, drought, logging and land clearing. We also know that trees are a proven way to remove carbon from the atmosphere – carbon that is slowly cooking the planet and putting our future prosperity in grave danger.’
Halt land clearing now
North East Forest Alliance (NEFA) is calling for an immediate halt to land-clearing following the release of the NRC report; that the NSW Liberal–National government had delayed the release of since July 2019.
‘This report on land-clearing gives another damning assessment of NSW’s land-clearing free-for-all, it is no wonder the government suppressed it for so long,’ said NEFA spokesperson Dailan Pugh.
‘The NRC’s damning review shows that land-clearing has skyrocketed, the promised off-setting is not being implemented, Areas of Outstanding Biodiversity Value are not being protected, the regulatory map has not been released, and that land-clearing represents a biodiversity risk across north-east NSW.’
The NRC report highlights that when the new laws were approved by the Liberal–National government, the then Minister for Primary Industries Niall Blair stated that ‘for each hectare cleared under the framework, it is estimated that between two and four hectares will be set aside and managed in perpetuity’ in order to conserve biodiversity values. Yet the government has failed to set aside the required protected lands.
High biodiversity risk
‘The NRC reveals that from June 2018 until May 2019, 45,553 hectares was approved to be cleared under the government’s new Land Management (Native Vegetation) Code, excluding “invasive native species”,’ said Mr Pugh.
‘This was a massive increase from the average of 2,700 hectares per year between 2006/07 and 2016/17.
‘The NRC are scathing in their assessment that the government is only setting aside in protected areas a fraction of the area approved to be cleared, when the government promised they would protect two to four times more than was cleared.
‘On the North Coast the NRC reveal only one fifth the area of the land cleared is being set aside, and this drops down to less than a tenth on the New England Tablelands.
‘The difference is even starker if the clearing of ‘invasive native species’ is accounted for as the Auditor General’s report last year identified that over 140,000 ha was also cleared under this dubious category.
‘Because of the abject failure of the government to live up to their promise to parliament, the NRC found there was a high biodiversity risk with nine of the eleven regions exceeding their biodiversity trigger thresholds.’
A key part of the management of land clearing was the release of regulatory maps that would assist government in identifying protected areas and potential areas for clearing. The government has failed to deliver the maps as promised, tow years ago, has left the system with ‘inadequate protection, limited monitoring and poor enforcement,’ said Mr Pugh.
‘We are in a climate and extinction emergency, clearing more vegetation and releasing its carbon into the atmosphere is pouring more fuel onto the fire, it has to stop. Land-clearing increases regional temperatures, reduces rainfalls and releases large quantities of carbon into the atmosphere, we cannot afford for it to continue, let alone escalate. We need to be planting more trees to take up carbon, not bulldozing them,’ Mr Pugh said.
‘Last year over half of north-east NSW’s remnant native vegetation was burnt with the likely death of over 350 million native mammals, birds, lizards and frogs, including thousands of koalas.
‘Many species of plants and animals have had their populations decimated and are teetering on the brink of extinction, it is outrageous that the NSW Government is now allowing land-clearing and logging to push many populations over the brink.
‘Land clearing must stop, at least until there is a full assessment of the impacts of the bushfires on our imperilled wildlife, and the Environment Minister has fulfilled his responsibility to identify Areas of Outstanding Biodiversity Value, such as core koala habitat, for protection.’