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April 2007 - Gwydir landclearing scandal in NSW, international wetland

Page 1 Sydney Morning Herald 21 May 2007

Bulldozed: a vital wetland

May 21, 2007

ONE of the nation's most significant waterbird breeding habitats - the size of up to 750 football fields - has allegedly been cleared by a Moree farmer.

If proven, the case may turn out to be one of the worst since legislation was introduced in 2003 to protect native vegetation.

The new Minister for Climate Change, Environment and Water, Phil Koperberg, has lashed out at anyone who continues to flout laws that protect remnant bush.

"I find it very hard to understand how anyone could think it was acceptable to mow down a large tract of native vegetation at a time when climate change is so crucial," Mr Koperberg told the Herald.

"This case is being investigated by the Department of Environment and Climate Change so I'm not going to comment on the specifics of it. But in general terms I'm very concerned about any incidents that not only damage our natural environment but also threaten important breeding grounds for bird life."

Fines of more than $1 million are possible, but the State Government's prosecution record on this issue has been woeful.

It is believed that the Government was alerted in early April to allegations that a vast area of floodplain had been bulldozed.

Between 500 and 750 hectares of Gwydir River floodplain wetland, consisting of lignum, coolabah and a type of wattle known as River Cooba, were allegedly flattened on a property known as Yarrol. It is owned by John and Lynette Hudson.

Yesterday, when the Herald called the property, the couple who  answered refused to give their names and said they were not aware of the clearance. They declined to comment further.

While the facts of the case are still emerging, it is thought that the Border Rivers Gwydir Catchment Management Authority had a meeting with the landowner. It is not known whether the authority knew of or approved any clearing.

A river and waterbird expert at the University of NSW, Richard Kingsford, said that in the mid-1990s more than 100,000 birds had bred at the property. These included egrets, several species of ibis and a variety of native ducks.

"It's the death knell of this colony," Professor Kingsford said. "Firstly there hasn't been enough water allocated to allow them to breed and now their essential nesting habitat has been destroyed.

"These birds faithfully return to the same place to breed but when the next flood comes they will have nowhere to lay their eggs and keep their nests out of the water.

"I am shocked at the scale of the clearing and the fact that it had occurred on one of the most important waterbird breeding sites in Australia."

The federal Environment Minister, Malcolm Turnbull, is also investigating the allegations to determine if any Commonwealth legislation has been breached. If the reports of land clearing are confirmed then the Gwydir case will be the first big test of the State Government's resolve to halt broadscale clearing since it handed native vegetation management to the Department of Environment and Climate Change.

Amy Hankinson, the co-ordinator of the Inland Rivers Network, said it was devastating to see such a priceless area cleared: "We are going to see more wetlands destroyed if the NSW and Commonwealth governments continue to fail their international obligations to wetlands and the birds that depend on them," she said.


Gwydir wetlands land clearing - a travesty for NSW, a test for Minister Koperberg

The Wilderness Society (Sydney) Inc
21 May 2007

The Wilderness Society has condemned the clearing of between 500 and 750 hectares of native vegetation on a property within the Gwydir River floodplain adjacent to internationally recognised RAMSAR wetlands.

“The bulldozing of native bush on this scale in the Gwydir wetlands region will be catastrophic to the huge array of migratory birdlife it supports. It is almost inconceivable that someone would deliberately set out to destroy the environmental values of this wetland”, said Reece Turner, NSW Campaigner with The Wilderness Society.

Stern words from the new Minister for Climate Change, Environment and Water, Phil Koperberg have been welcomed by The Wilderness Society.

“It is good to hear that Minister Koperberg has responded with vigor in this case but there is a huge task ahead for the Premier and the new minister to address the broader issue of land clearing in this state”, said Turner.

“We know that illegal and legal land clearing is out of control in NSW. Premier Iemma has made a clear election promise to address clearing and now is the time to show the public that he and his new Minister are serious”, continued Turner.

New legislation to end broadscale land clearing was brought into operation in December 2005. Since then there has been only one known prosecution under the laws.

“When the Queensland Government is achieving between 20 and 50 successful prosecutions per year and we know that clearing breaches are being reported to the Government, it is simply not satisfactory”, said Turner.

“The NSW Government needs get tough with illegal land clearers by refining the laws to give more powers to investigating officers, expand monitoring and vegetation classification programs to track vegetation changes and start sending messages that this environmental vandalism will not be tolerated”.

“We know the impacts of broadscale clearing - it is the number one cause of wildlife extinctions, leads to dryland salinity, and is a significant cause of greenhouse gas pollution. Greenhouse pollution is released into the atmosphere when trees are bulldozed, logged or burnt”, concluded Turner.

For more information, please contact:

Reece Turner
New South Wales Land Clearing Campaigner
Email Reece Turner

Workphone: 02 9282 9553
Fax: 02 9282 9557


Authorities investigate Gwydir wetlands clearing

The New South Wales and federal governments are investigating the clearing of part of a crucial wetland recognised for its huge array of waterbirds.

The Gwydir wetlands in north-western NSW are an internationally recognised breeding and nesting site for a huge colony of waterbirds, including the ibis and the egret.

But about 750 hectares has been cleared by a local landholder.

Richard Kingsford from the University of NSW says it will have a devastating impact on an already struggling colony of birds.

"There are only a handful of sites in the whole of the Murray-Darling Basin that were as important as this for waterbird breeding".

NSW Environment Minister Phil Koperberg says officers from the department will spend the next week investigating the claims.

"If they are proven and if it leads to prosecution and conviction then there are a range of somewhat complex penalties for an individual, depending on the seriousness of the breach," he said.

"It can be $1,000 - $5,000 for a corporation. But in the event of the breach being sufficiently serious, which this may well be, fines of up to $1 million can apply."

Federal Minister for the Environment Malcolm Turnbull says he is also concerned.

"We are aware of the issue. We've received complaints about it and I've asked my department to investigate and report back to me," he said.


Probe of bird-breeding wetland clearing

COMMONWEALTH and NSW authorities are investigating claims a large wetland important for bird-breeding has been illegally cleared.

Between 500 and 750 hectares of wooded Gwydir River floodplain have allegedly been flattened on a northern NSW property.

NSW Environment Minister Phil Koperberg said today the clearing was potentially disastrous.

"The site is just so significant as to make one wonder what on earth may have possessed the owners to do this - if in fact they did," Mr Koperberg told ABC radio today.

The Federal Government is also responsible for the wetland because it attracts migratory birds.

Federal Environment Minister Malcolm Turnbull said today his department was currently acting on complaints about the clearing.

A river and water bird expert at the University of NSW, Richard Kingsford, said that in the mid-1990s more than 100,000 birds had bred at the property.

"It's the death knell of this colony," Professor Kingsford told the Sydney Morning Herald.

A complex system of penalties applies to illegal land clearing, depending on the seriousness of the breach, and who is responsible.

Fines ranging between $1000 and $5000 apply for a corporation, but in the event of the breach being sufficiently serious fines of up to $1 million can apply.

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