THE Primary Industry Minister’s office says it is “wrong, alarmist and completely misinformed” to claim the state is in the midst of a land clearing emergency, despite environmental concerns over a spike in new property vegetation plan approvals from mid-2014 to mid-2016.
Facing strong criticism over the acceleration of new land clearing since 2014, Minister Niall Blair’s office pointed to an increase in several new conservation measures over the same time, including private conservation agreements more than doubling, and more than 35,000ha of farmland being set aside from clearing under new legislation.
The state’s farm sector had earlier copped an environmental backlash with green groups saying the acceleration of approved land clearing to 7300 hectares in 2015-16 was ‘damning evidence’ government had failed NSW native veg management.
There was also concern over an apparent reduction in some vegetation management practices, such as weed control, as well as veg restoration.
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Government released the latest clearing figures late last week after a lengthy freedom-of-information battle with The Guardian.
Previously, only stats up to 2012-13 were available, while the most recent report from 2016-17 is yet to be finalised.
Government told The Land while drafts of the report had been in development for some months, a final verified version of the OEH report was only just produced.
Familiar native vegetation law opponents, including the Nature Conservation Council, insist worse is yet to come on account of new farmer-friendly rules in NSW that involve self-assessment at the lower end of the clearing scale.
“The spike in clearing shown by these data occurred under the old stronger laws and before weaker environmental protections were introduced in August 2017,” said the Council’s campaigns director Daisy Barham.
The 2014-16 Native Vegetation Report Card showed approved PVPs had dropped significantly (by about two thirds) in the 12 months to 2013-14, before increasing eight-fold over three years from 900ha to 7300ha by the end of 2015-16.
Approved Property Vegetation Plan (PVP) clearing in NSW
- 2012-13 – 2890ha
- 2013-14 – 900ha
- 2014-15 – 2730ha
- 2015-16 – 7390ha
- Annual average over the 10-years to 2015-16 - 3,660ha
- Annual average between mid-2014 and mid 2016 – 3,673ha
Niall Blair’s office acknowledged there had been a three-year spike in new clearing, but said the total cleared during that time amounted to slightly over the annual average cleared with property vegetation plans since 2005-06 - about 3300ha.
“Any claims that there is a “land clearing emergency” is wrong, alarmist and completely misinformed,” a spokeswoman for Mr Blair said.
“To put this into perspective, in both 2012-13 and 2013-14, the amount of vegetation lost attributable to agriculture was about 9200ha compared to 71,000ha due to fire.
“For further context, vegetation loss attributed to agriculture in Queensland in 2014-15 was 276,000 ha - a 28-fold increase over NSW.”
Mr Blair’s office also said a number of positive conservation, restoration, revegetation and management statistics in NSW had gone unnoticed in the 2014-16 Native Veg Report Card, particularly in the most recent year of the report.
For example, the amount of veg put in new conservation areas in 2015-16 (27,590ha) may not have been as much as an outlier year in 2014-15 (46,970ha), but it was greater than any annual total conserved from mid-2010 to mid-2014.
Also, private conservation agreements more than doubled to 4460ha in 2015-16 (from 1740ha the year before).
Private conservation areas in NSW – conservation agreements
- 2012-13 – 3,170ha (total new conservation agreements 24,740ha)
- 2013-14 – 2,660ha (total new conservation agreements 25,300ha)
- 2014-15 – 1,740ha (total new conservation agreements 46,970ha)
- 2015-16 – 4,460ha (total new conservation agreements 27,590ha)
Meanwhile, PVP offsets rose three-fold from 8260ha to 23,130ha between mid-2015 and mid-2016, lifting the 11-year average to 8234ha.
PVP offsets in NSW
- 2012-13 – 12,620ha
- 2013-14 - 2970ha
- 2014-15 – 8260ha
- 2015-16 – 23,130ha
- Annual average over 11 years to 2015-16 – 8234ha
- Annual average between mid-2014 and mid-2016 – 11,453ha
Non-PVP revegetation incentives doubled from 18,500ha to 35,440ha, though were well below the 11-year average of 136,720ha.
Non-PVP revegetation incentives in NSW
- 2012-13 – 252,370ha
- 2013-14 – 152,970ha
- 2014-15 – 18,500ha
- 2015-16 – 35,440ha
- Annual average over 11 years to 2015-16 – 136,720
Notification set-asides jumped from 3220ha to 4870ha in the final year, too.
The total amount of new restoration and revegetation (116,170ha) was, however, slightly down (by 1.8pc) over the final year of the report, and the lowest in the 10-years recorded.
For new management measures between 2014-15 and 2015-16: Invasive native scrub notifications under the Native Vegetation Act rose from 28,720ha to 68,430ha, improved rangeland Management dropped from 220,350ha down to 72,670ha, and there was slightly less weed removal programs (26,670ha down from 29,790ha).
In total, new management measures dropped from 679,500ha to 504,620ha over the space of a year - but was still higher than the 2013-14 figure of 333,510ha.
The 10-year average for new management measures is 783,530ha.
On whether approved clearing would continue to rise under the new native vegetation laws, Mr Blair’s office said it was important to note a change in the settings.
“The new reform centres on triple bottom line outcomes and delivers a far more integrated package that better supports landholders to manage their properties as well as providing unprecedented investment for private land conservation under the Biodiversity Conservation Trust.”
Meanwhile the new native veg laws are back in court – with green groups hoping for a repeat of March’s embarrassing admission by government it had not properly signed off on new land clearing codes.
The NSW Environmental Defender’s Office, representing the Nature Conservation Council, will argue new freedom of information documents show Environment Minister Gabrielle Upton did not properly consider the impacts to biodiversity when agreeing to the native vegetation code.