Hans Lovejoy, editor
A report that examined the loss of ‘woody vegetation’ across NSW in 2019 was released by Department of Planning, Industry & Environment last week.
The 15-page summary looked at clearing that was owing to agriculture, forestry and infrastructure activities.
It puts into sharp focus the Liberal-National government’s promises to protect the state’s biodiversity credentials after it overhauled environmental laws in 2016.
In short, the Liberal-National government axed the Native Vegetation Act 2003, Threatened Species Conservation Act 1995, Nature Conservation Trust Act 2001 and sections of the National Parks & Wildlife Act 1974.
The Biodiversity Conservation Act 2016 was then introduced.
By March 2020, The Guardian reported ‘NSW land-clearing approvals increased 13-fold since laws relaxed in 2016’.
Anyway the new report, entitled Woody Vegetation Change, Statewide Landcover and Tree Study, says that, ‘The calculated annual loss of woody vegetation for 2019 was 54,500 hectares, or 0.08 per cent of the area of NSW’.
That’s nearly one per cent of land in NSW cleared every year. How sustainable is that?
Eighty six per cent of all clearing was accounted for by agricultural practices, say the authors, and ‘Clearing activities related to infrastructure accounted for the remaining 14 per cent of vegetation loss, which was comparable to the previous year’s figures’.
If we back up a few more years, the picture wasn’t much better.
In August 2018, The Guardian reported a combined native vegetation report for 2014–2016 was released by the OEH, after an eight-month battle by Guardian Australia, using freedom of information laws to secure its release.
It showed ‘a sharp spike in native vegetation cleared legally in NSW during 2015–16, with 7,390 hectares cleared, double the 10-year average and eight times the area cleared in 2013–14’.
Nature Conservation Council chief executive Chris Gambian said the new report demonstrates that 150 hectares of habitat is lost each day in NSW – ‘Almost twice the average annual rate recorded before the coalition overhauled nature laws in 2016’.
‘Using widely accepted data on wildlife population densities, clearing on that scale would have killed up to 9 million animals – mammals, birds and reptiles – in just 12 months.
‘The coalition promised its new laws would enhance protections for bushland and wildlife.
‘These figures, and the rising number of threatened species, shows the laws completely fail to deliver on that promise.
‘More than 1,020 plants and animals are now threatened with extinction in NSW, about 20 more than when the scheme was introduced.
‘The 74 per cent of clearing is designated as “unexplained” in this report shows the government has lost control of deforestation in NSW’.
So presumably NSW Labor, under newly minted leader Chris Minns, can do better?