According to analysis undertaken by WWF and the office of Independent NSW MLC Justin Field, a mapping analysis of the NSW Government’s plan to allow rural landholders to clear 25 metre fire breaks around properties, threatens tens of thousands of hectares of bushland on the NSW North Coast, including significant areas of koala habitat.
Mr Field said the NSW Government announced the plan on 7 October despite it not being part of the 76 recommendations of the NSW Bushfire Inquiry and to date have refused to publish the ‘expert operational advice’ on which it was based.
44,000 hectares at risk
Mr Field said the analysis, conducted in four local Government areas across the state including the Clarence, Port Stephens, Shoalhaven and Wollondilly, showed more than 44,000 hectares were at risk, including almost 12,000 hectares of known koala habitat. ‘This analysis implies that hundreds of thousands of hectares of bushland will be at risk across the state as a result of this policy.
‘The Government has indicated it will bring legislation to Parliament in November to implement the changes.
‘This policy could be 100 times worse for koalas than the watered down Koala SEPP. Make no mistake about it, the Government’s decision will see more deforestation across the state and a further loss of koala habitat.
Mr Field said any protection in the now weakened Koala SEPP will now potentially be undermined by the ability of private landholders to clear koala habitat under the guise of bushfire protection.
Risk seeing large scale clearing
‘We risk seeing large scale clearing and the fragmenting of thousands of hectares of koala habitat and other bushland across the North Coast. Some of the areas that might face clearing under this rule could be the last remaining unburnt habitat in the region and critical refuges for animals recovering from last season’s bushfires.
‘This analysis uses the Clarence region as a case study but it is likely to be replicated in terms of impacts right across the North and Mid-North Coast.
The public should be alarmed
Mr Field said the public should be alarmed that the Government is refusing to publish any advice that shows this policy is needed to reduce bushfire risk. ‘Clearing these boundaries was not a recommendation of the NSW Bushfire Inquiry. This will divert resources away from the implementation of the 76 critical recommendations, potentially putting lives and homes at risk as the South Coast heads into another fire season.
‘It looks to me that this is just the latest in an anti-science ideological response from some in the Government who are taking advantage of the bushfire crisis to push their agenda to clear more land.
‘The Government has to explain why this boundary clearing rule has been prioritised above the 76 recommendations from the NSW Bushfire Inquiry?
Mr Field said that under the current land management rules landholders are allowed to clear narrower areas for fence lines but this will allow as much as 50m of land to be cleared (25m each side of a boundary) around boundaries whether or not there is a fence with unknown environmental protections.
A free for all for developers and rural land holders
‘This currently looks like a free for all for developers or other rural land holders that might want to degrade the environmental values of their land for further development. That’s why I’m warning it could be worse than the SEPP debacle.
‘This is the wrong policy to address bushfire risk.
‘If the Government insists on pursuing it they need to ensure any boundary clearing that is allowed has a demonstrable fire protection benefit and ensure protections are in place for koalas and other threatened species habitat, riparian zones and rainforest.
‘This cannot be allowed to give landholders a blanket exemption from existing protections.’