Clear-cut bias on native veg laws

Clear-cut bias on native veg laws

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Mining in the Hunter Valley. Photo Dean Sewell.

Mining in the Hunter Valley. Photo Dean Sewell.

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NSW's native vegetation laws tell a tale of two starkly different systems for primary industries.

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NSW's native vegetation laws tell a tale of two starkly different systems for primary industries: there's mining - and then there's the rest.

As recently as 2010, the state government granted approval for coal mines to clear more than 17,500 hectares of native vegetation.

Meanwhile, farmers wait for reform to the much-maligned native veg laws, and remain nearly paralysed by onerous regulations.

"The laws are too prescriptive and restrictive," said NSW Farmers conservation and resource management committee chairman Mitchell Clapham.

"You need to go though a whole long process to clear a single tree.

"The (Native Vegetation) Act classifies as little as a single plant as broad- scale clearing."

New analysis from Lock the Gate revealed the clearing approvals issued to 12 mines permitted more than 6000ha of clearing of critically endangered box gum grassy woodland.

Six of those mines can also clear more than 1500ha of native vegetation each.

"We are always jumping up and down over the disparity between what primary producers can do and what can be done for state significant projects (such as a mine)," Mr Clapham said.

"Farmers have demonstrated ad infinitum and compiled extensive research to prove they can be trusted to be responsible managers of natural resources.

"Take a drive from Cowra to Wagga Wagga. You'll see a lot of good cropping country - granted that was probably cleared in the first half of the last century - and you'll see the amount of shelter belts and native veg that's been put back into the landscape."

Mr Clapham said producers had managed this landscape "to maintain productive ecosystems", but the current native veg laws "blocked farmers from achieving a good balance in biodiversity outcomes".

Removing protected habitat, such as box gum, is permitted only for select purposes such as mining, road developments and some major developments.

However, NSW's native vegetation regulations expressly prohibit other primary industries, such as forestry and farming, from clearing protected habitat.

NSW's most recent mine approval, Shenhua's Watermark coal mine at Breeza on the Liverpool Plains, plans to clear 937ha of native vegetation.

The mine would remove 738ha of protected box gum grassy woodland, which comprises about 12 per cent of NSW's box gum woodland that is slated for the chop.

Lock the Gate spokeswoman Carmel Flint said the Commonwealth Environment Protection Biodiversity Act required the federal Environment Minister Greg Hunt to refuse projects that were likely to significantly impact crucially endangered ecosystems.

"He should be aware that more than 6000ha (of box gum) has been approved for clearing," she said.

"On these grounds alone, Greg Hunt should have rejected the Watermark project."

Mr Hunt was sought for comment but did not respond by deadline.

NSW Environment Minister Mark Speakman said planning laws required Shenhua to offset Watermark's impacts on box gum woodland "with biodiversity offsets to the equivalent of 11,196ha".

In 2014, the government commissioned an expert panel to review the biodiversity laws, including the Native Vegetation Act, and subsequently committed to implement all the review's recommendations.

The story Clear-cut bias on native veg laws first appeared on Farm Online.

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