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Rural Boundary Clearing Code opens up more bushland for destruction

A new land-clearing code introduced by the NSW Government on Saturday could result in thousands of hectares of previously protected bushland being cleared on the spurious grounds of bushfire risk reduction. [1] 

“The new Rural Boundary Clearing Code could see thousands of hectares of wildlife habitat destroyed without requiring independent assessment of the environmental impacts,” Nature Conservation Council Chief Executive Chris Gambian said. 

“These codes do nothing practical to protect properties from catastrophic bushfires but they are guaranteed to increase deforestation and habitat fragmentation across large parts of the state.  

“Neither the NSW Bushfire Inquiry nor the Royal Commission recommend land clearing on property boundaries as a valid response to the Black Summer fires, but politicians in the government think they know better. Now we are stuck with a bad law that could do tremendous harm to the environment. 

“If these codes stand, it will be a black mark on the record of Matt Kean who in many respects has been a good minister for the environment. It would be shame if he were remembered for this rather than his more positive contributions.” 

NSW National Party MPs last year used the tragedy of the catastrophic 2019-20 bushfires to push their agenda of further weakening of land-clearing controls. 

They proposed letting landholders clear a 25m strip around their boundary even though none of the bushfires inquiries recommended such measures. 

Under the code, if neighbours took up their new rights, 50m-wide strips of clearing would occur across large parts of the state. 

The government passed the Bushfires Legislation Amendment Bill to enable the clearing last November but the devil was always going to be in the detail of the codes.  

Late last year, the Nature Conservation Council wrote to key ministers detailing minimum environmental standards any new code must meet, especially excluding areas of koala and other threatened species habitat. 

“The code could mean the difference between survival and extinction for koalas and other threatened species in some parts of the state, so it was vital that the government got this right,” Mr Gambian said.   

References 

[1] Rural Boundary Clearing Tool  

[2] Bush Fire Environmental Assessment Code 


Fresh approach to extinction crisis is welcome

The Nature Conservation Council welcomes the NSW Government’s commitment to a new suite of measures to protect the state’s most threatened species and ecosystems. 

Environment Minister Matt Kean has committed to a target of zero extinctions in national parks and released details of a plan to designate key ecosystems and species as Assets of Intergenerational Significance (AIS) that will be protected through conservation action plans. [1] 

“The target of zero extinctions is exactly the level of ambition the public expects for our national parks,” Nature Conservation Council Chief Executive Chris Gambian said. 

“We would have hoped all species in our national parks —the most protected and valued ecosystems in the state—were already safe from extinction. 

“But this has not always been the case. The sad truth is the number of threatened species in NSW has increased over the past 230 years and the number now stands well above 1000. 

“The existing strategies to reverse the tide for species have clearly not been up to the job so we applaud the government for trying something new.” 

Mr Gambian said the government’s commitment to include natural assets, including species and ecosystems, in Bushfire Management Plans that cover national parks was a positive step and urged the government apply that approach to the whole state.   

“With the increasing severity of bushfires across NSW, it is crucial we identify those ecosystems and species that, once lost, can never be recovered,” he said. 

“We believe all Bushfire Management Plans across the whole state should identify areas of outstanding biodiversity, not just those plans that cover the national parks estate.  

“In other words, this approach should be tenure blind, applying equally to public and private land. 

“There is already potentially a mechanism to target such places through the process used to identify Areas of Outstanding Biodiversity Value. 

“We look forward to working with the government to making that a reality.” 

[1] Zero extinction target for NSW national parks welcomed by environment groups, The Guardian, 7-9-21 


Funding for on-farm habitat restoration in the Central West is welcome

The Federal Government’s new Enhancing Remnant Vegetation Pilot project will provide much-needed investment in habitat restoration in the heavily cleared Central West region of NSW. 

The project, announced today by Federal Agriculture Minister David Littleproud, will also hopefully advance our understanding of the most effective habitat restoration techniques, which can then be rolled out across the region. [1] 

“With almost 90% of the native vegetation in the Central West cleared for crops and livestock over the past 230 years, we must urgently find ways to protect whatever remnants are left,” Nature Conservation Council Chief Executive Chris Gambian said.  

“In some districts less than 5% of the pre-European vegetation cover remains, much of it in poor condition, and the amount of bushland continues to decline due to land clearing. 

“Relatively little of this immense region is protected in national parks or travelling stock routes and opportunities to add to the parks estate are very limited. 

“Now much of the best unprotect remnant habitat in the Central West is on private land.  

“That means farmers are out last line of defence in the fight to protect our unique natural heritage and to ensure we pass it on to future generations. 

“While most acknowledge their duty in this regard, some can’t afford to do what’s required. This project recognises this bind and sees to address it in a very practical way.” 

Funding under the Enhancing Remnant Vegetation Pilot project will be available for on-farm projects conserving high-quality patches of remnant native vegetation range in size from 5ha and 220ha. The project pilot will run for 10 years.  

References 


150 hectares of habitat lost each day in NSW

Latest land clearing data shows 150 hectares of wildlife habitat is bulldozed or logged every day in NSW, almost twice the average annual rate recorded before the Coalition overhauled nature laws in 2016. [1] 

The annual Statewide Land and Tree Study (SLATS) data shows 54,500 hectares of native forest were destroyed for farming, forestry and development in 2019. 

“This astounding rate of deforestation is a disaster for wildlife and the climate. We call on the government to take urgent action to reverse the trend,” Nature Conservation Council Chief Executive Chris Gambian said.   

“In just one year we have lost an area of forest four times the size of Royal National Park. It is simply unsustainable. 

“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. [2] 

“After the government weakened land clearing laws in 2016, deforestation rates doubled and have remained at these dangerously high levels ever since. 

“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% of clearing is designated as ‘unexplained’ in this report shows the government has lost control of deforestation in NSW.  

“We welcomed the government establishing new national parks over the past year, but the national parks system covers less than 10% of the state.

“The government must stop uncontrolled deforestation on private land and in state forests if it is going to tackle the extinction crisis.” 

[1] Land cover change reporting, DPIE, June 2021  


Rallies across NSW on World Environment Day demand action to save koalas

People have rallied across the state today, calling on the NSW Government to strengthen protections for koalas and their habitat. 

More than 500 people gathered in Hyde Park, Sydney, and were addressed by a range of speakers, including:  

  • Nature Conservation Council Chief Executive Chris Gambian, 
  • Animal Justice Party MLC Mark Pearson, 
  • Greens MLC David Shoebridge,
  • Muruwari and Budjiti man Uncle Bruce Shillingsworth, and
  • Bob Brown Foundation Campaign Organiser Doro Babeck. 

Rallies were also held at Lismore, Bowral, Coolongolook (Port Stephens), Hornsby, Ku-ring-gai Chase and Tahmoor.   

Mr Gambian said: “Koalas in NSW are on death row. Business as usual is simply no longer an option – this is an emergency that requires drastic action. Their numbers were plummeting before the Black Summer bushfires killed thousands of koalas and incinerated millions of hectares of forest. We need a step-change in our conservation efforts or koalas will join the Tasmanian Tiger as an emblem of our failure as ecological stewards.  

“Any credible strategy for the species’ long-term future must include a strict ban on the destruction of koala forests and significant investment in new nature reserves, habitat restoration and ecological research. This issue is above politics – it is now time all parties worked together to implement the solutions we need.” 

Doro Babeck from Bob Brown Foundation said: “We must do all to protect this iconic species from extinction. The world is looking at us and what we do to protect them. We must stop logging their habitat, whether it is on private land or public. If we can’t even stop koalas from becoming extinct, what hope do we have?   

“People love koalas all over the world, yet, here, we have a government that sits on its hands and does nothing to protect them. Koalas are dying the death of a thousand cuts, as development after development gets approved and each time we say ‘oh, it’s just a few hectares lost here and there, it won’t affect the koala population overall’. But it does affect the koala population as we need to look at their cumulative effect.”   

Muruwari and Budjiti man Bruce Shillingsworth said: “Koala’s are First Nations totems that need to be protected. Our totem’s die, we die.”  

Alea Babeck, SS4C youth activist: “This has become the most urgent issue. Land clearing and logging are huge contributors to the climate emergency we are facing. We need our forests as vital carbon sinks and as habitat for our wildlife, like koalas. We are logging more forests than any other developed country. We should be doing all we can to protect the remaining wild places, not cut them down for woodchips. We can’t afford to do this anymore.”  

THE KOALAS NEED TREES CAMPAIGN 

The Nature Conservation Council in March launched its Koalas Need Trees campaign, which is underpinned by a policy agenda that includes: 

  • Adding of 200,000 hectares of koala forest to the national parks estate; 
  • Banning the destruction of koala habitat, on both public and private land; 
  • Setting up a $1 billion koala conservation and restoration fund; and 
  • Ending native forest logging.   

BACKGROUND  

Koala populations in NSW have plummeted in the past 30 years - estimated to be fewer than 20,000 before the Black Summer Bushfires that destroyed almost 25% of koala habitat on public land. 

In late 2019, the NSW Government introduced a new Koala State Environmental Planning Policy (Koala SEPP 2019) that marginally increased legal protections for koalas. 

In late 2020, the National Party threatened to “blow up” the Coalition if the SEPP was not scrapped. The Nationals objected to the policy controlling logging on private land (private native forestry) and land clearing for farming and property development.   

To end the war, the Coalition partners agreed to: 

  • Limit the application of the new Koala SEPP to  Sydney, the Central Coast and Blue Mountains;  
  • Exclude rural areas from the new Koala SEPP; and   
  • “Protect” koalas in rural areas through amended land-clearing and logging codes. 

Conservation groups and environmental lawyers have grave concerns the new codes will weaken rather than strengthen protections. 

The process for developing those new codes, a new Koala Strategy, and the timing for the release of both, have still not been made public. 


Conservation movement ready to work with the new Labor leadership on koalas, climate, water and forestry

Statement by Nature Conservation Council Chief Executive Chris Gambian 

“We welcome Chris Minns’ election as leader of NSW Labor and look forward to working with the new Labor leadership team to put climate action and the protection of nature at the top of the political agenda. 

“The people want an effective Opposition with a comprehensive set of policies to tackle our most urgent environmental issues and force the government to compete for votes in these vital areas of public policy.  

“We hope that the new Labor leadership team can start a race to the top against the Coalition in the critical areas of koala conservation, climate action and the reform of water and forestry management. 

“Labor has an opportunity and a responsibility to come up with a plan to end native forest logging in a way that supports workers into a sustainable plantation-based industry. 

“And Labor must take up the fight on land clearing, especially terrible proposals that would accelerate the extinction crisis for koalas. 

“The Coalition government is taking strong action on the energy transition and national parks, but is getting wrong on water, koalas, logging and land clearing. 

“The new leader must lead on climate action policies that go beyond a just energy sector transition and includes electric vehicles and agriculture. And end the false choice between jobs and a livable climate.  

“Labor must recommit to supporting a healthy Murray-Darling Basin through better water management and flow targets. 

“It must also show leadership on the pressing issue of native forest logging. Our forests and the wildlife they support are dying because of unsustainable logging.” 


Forestry Corporation must investigate breaches of post-fire logging standards in Mogo State Forest

Forestry Corporation appears to have breached its own post-fire logging rules in Mogo State Forest by cutting down a large ironbark, a feed tree for the critically endangered swift parrot.

Swift parrots migrate from Tasmania to the mainland during winter and feed on the nectar of a trees including South Coast ironbarks.

The breach was detected by the NSW Nature Conservation Council and Friends of Mogo Forest during a fact-finding tour of Compartment 180A on Friday, May 7.

NCC has written to Forestry Corporation asking it to investigate the alleged breach and put in place measures to ensure it doesn’t happen again.

Forestry Corporation’s Harvest Plan for Mogo State Forest Compartment 180A clearly states that “ALL trees >100 cm DBHOB must be retained (also marked with a “H”)”.

During the field trip, NCC and the Friends of Mogo State Forests discovered the stump of an ironbark with a diameter of more than 1.15 metres.

“Every tree being removed from that forest is a potential source of nectar for the swift parrot on its annual migration from Tasmania to the mainland,” said Friends of Mogo Forest spokesperson Nick Hopkins said.

“Logging swift parrot feed trees puts another nail in the coffin for this amazing species. The forests between Ulladulla and Merimbula are listed as a Key Biodiversity Area for this species, with the greatest threat facing this species and habitat being logging. The community is outraged this is happening in our backyard.”

NCC Nature Campaigner Wilson Harris: “There are believed to be only 350 swift parrots left in the wild, which makes it one of the rarest birds on earth.

“Swift parrots use ironbark trees like the one the Forestry Corporation contractors cut down as a vital food source.

“Most of the trees being cut down will end up being used for toilet paper or firewood. What an outrageous waste of desperately needed wildlife habitat.

“NCC and the Friends of the Forest Mogo are calling for an immediate moratorium on native forest logging and a rapid transition to plantation forestry.

“This region simply can’t sustain a native forest logging industry after the Black Summer bushfires.

“The South Coast was one of the hardest hit areas in the state, with 80 per cent of bushland burnt in the Shoalhaven local government area and 65 per cent in the Eurobodalla and Bega Valley shires.

“Logging so soon after the devastation to our forests gives wildlife and the ecosystems little chance of long-term recovery and will tip some species over the edge.

“Now the destruction of South Coast forests is about to intensify, with Forestry Corporation earmarking 18 more compartments for logging between Ulladulla and Batemans Bay.

“It is time for the destruction to stop.”

PROTEST RALLY

What: Rally to Save Swift Parrots. Speakers from NCC, Birdlife Australia and local activists will be there.

When: 1:15pm, Saturday, May 22

Where: 2 Museum Pl, Batemans Bay

Why: The community will rally at Batemans Bay Forestry Corporation office to oppose native forest logging on the South Coast and destruction of swift parrot habitat.

 


Climate, air quality, deforestation and river health should be top of the agenda for Upper Hunter by-election candidates

The Nature Conservation Council urges all candidates in the Upper Hunter by-election to put climate change, air quality, the protection of wildlife habitat, and river health at the top of their agendas.

“Climate change is the number-one economic and environmental challenge facing communities of the Upper Hunter and Liverpool Plains, so all candidates need to make clear what they will do for the region on climate,” Nature Conservation Council Chief Executive Chris Gambian said.

“Any candidate who does not have climate change at the top of their platform is not really representing the true interests of the community.

“All candidates need a plan for meaningful action to cut emissions, and ensure that Hunter communities have a realistic pathway to new economic opportunities in a low carbon economy.

“Change is coming to the Upper Hunter, one way or another. These changes could be very positive, or they could be very negative – it all depends on how our politicians and governments handle it.

“So far, the major parties are putting the Upper Hunter on the road to ruin by refusing to deal frankly with climate change and the decline of the coal industry.

“The coal and electricity generation industries in the Upper Hunter contribute more than any other electorate to climate change in NSW, so it must play a leading role in slashing our state’s emissions.

“It is not fair to expect people in this region to carry the burden of that alone, which is why we are calling on the NSW Government to establish a Community and Industry Transition Fund and Transition Authority.”

Mr Gambian said candidates must also advocate strongly to improve very poor air quality in some parts of the electorate, and support measures to reverse the decline in native bushland and species under threat from logging and land clearing for mines, farming and urban development.

The Nature Conservation Council calls on all candidates to support the following measures:

Support communities

  • Use coal royalties to create a multi-billion-dollar Community and Industry Support Fund.
  • Establish a Community and Industry Support Authority to collaborate with workers, communities, and industry on Community and Industry Support Plans tailored to different coal communities.

End the expansion of coal and gas

  • Stop releasing farmland and wildlife habitat for coal and gas developments.
    Rescind the recent release of land around Rylstone and Wollar for coal exploration.
  • Stop issuing coal and gas exploration and mining licences in the Upper Hunter, Liverpool Plains and Central West.
  • Ban new coal mines and gas fields.

Improve local air quality

  • Set air quality standards in line with world’s best practice and improve air quality monitoring.
  • Implement an air-pollution reduction strategy across NSW to improve air quality by slashing emissions.
  • Reduce emissions from coal-fired power stations by installing readily available technology, updating pollution licences and improving monitoring.

Protect, restore and reconnect wildlife habitat

  • End native-forest logging, a key driver of the decline of koalas and other forest wildlife.
  • Stop land-clearing for mining, agriculture and urban development.
  • Create a network of revegetated wildlife corridors through the Hunter and Liverpool Plains.
  • End the use of biodiversity offsets, except in exceptional circumstances.
  • Ban the burning of native forests for electricity and reject the proposed recommissioning of Redbank Power Station to burn forest biomass.

Restore rivers and wetlands

  • Mandate environmental flows to keep our rivers healthy.
  • Tighten the water-use monitoring regime to end water theft and give certainty to all water users.
  • Enforce the law regarding floodplain harvesting, and ensure all floodplain harvesting regulations guarantee sustainable water flow for river health and downstream communities.
  • No new dams.

The Nature Conservation Council of NSW is the peak conservation organisation for NSW, representing more than 160 local, regional, state-wide environment organisations.


Biodiversity offsetting in NSW drives habitat loss and super profits for a lucky few

The Nature Conservation Council will today refer to ICAC the sale of biodiversity offset credits in relation to major roadworks in Western Sydney.

Lisa Cox at the Guardian Australia today has revealed more details of windfall profits made by those associated with EcoLogical, a company that advised the government on biodiversity offsets in relation to the proposed M12 motorway and the Northern Road expansion. [1]

“These reports are deeply concerning and undermine public confidence in the whole offsetting system,” Nature Conservation Council Chief Executive Chris Gambian said.  

“They also raise many unanswered questions about how this scheme is being administered. 

“The community must be satisfied that people who have made huge windfall profits through the sale of biodiversity offset credits did not have access to private reports and other insights that may have given them an unfair advantage. 

“The government must explain who and on what basis credits were issued for the offset sites, how the sites were selected for purchase, and how the prices for those offsets were set.  

“How was it possible for windfall profits to be made by a very small number of people in a very short period of time? 

“We are writing to ICAC today asking it to look into this matter using its powers to investigate matters affecting community confidence in public administration.  Only ICAC can properly investigate, examine and cross-examine all the issues. 

“The problem with commodifying natural assets like water and biodiversity is they inevitably become prey to speculative investors rather than being managed and protected for in public interest. 

“We believe the whole system of offsetting now must be the subject of an urgent review to ensure it does what the public expects -- protects threatened wildlife and bushland in a rigorous and transparent way.”

[1] https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2021/apr/28/deeply-concerning-government-consultant-made-millions-from-nsw-environmental-offsets