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Clearing rate in NSW 116,000 to 216,000 hectares per year: NSW Govt report

Illegal land clearing strips vast swathes of state ...

By Stephanie Peatling, Environment Reporter
November 17, 2003, Sydney Morning Herald

The equivalent of up to 200,000 football fields may be illegally stripped of native trees and grass each year in NSW, figures suggest.

The first estimates on the extent of the clearings, which the Department of Natural Resources field staff prepared for the Government's vegetation taskforce, suggest the figure could be as high as 100,000 hectares a year.

The figures show between 150,000 hectares and 560,000 hectares were illegally cleared between 1997 and 2002.

The advice is the first official guess at NSW's illegal clearance levels. The highest rates are in the Barwon, Central West and Far West regions where much of NSW's remaining native vegetation is located.

The figures have shocked environmentalists, who stress the urgency of making changes to the state's natural resource management system, which Parliament is debating this week.
A Wilderness Society campaigner, Francesca Andreoni, said: "The new system needs to be fair to everyone, particularly farmers doing the right thing.

"The shocking extent of illegal clearing confirms the urgent need for the Government to implement its decision to end broadscale clearing."

Figures recording the rate of illegal land clearing each year are almost impossible to compile because it so hard to charge people who breach native vegetation laws. There is also a complicated system of exemptions which allow people to clear land for purposes such as maintaining fire access trails.

Monitoring illegal clearing is potentially dangerous for departmental compliance officers. After reports of illegal clearing earlier this year on a property near Nyngan, in the state's west, department officers were prevented from entering the property by an angry crowd of up to 150 people.

When the amount of land illegally cleared is added to land that is legally approved for clearance, the department estimates between 700,000 hectares and 1.3 million hectares of land were cleared between 1997 and 2002.

The figures suggest clearing was faster than the Department of Natural Resources' previously admitted figure of about 60,000 hectares a year. That figure would give NSW the second-highest clearing rate in the country behind Queensland.

Debate on the Government's package to overhaul native vegetation laws, based on an election promise to end broad-scale clearing, will take place this week. Last month the Premier, Bob Carr, announced a $406 million deal between farmers and environmentalists to end broad-scale clearing.

Most of the money is expected to go towards such things as tree planting and fencing waterways to help counter salinity and erosion. But local authorities may also compensate farmers for not clearing land. Clearing will still be allowed where it is deemed environmentally necessary.

Under the new system, natural resource management is being overhauled. Thirteen catchment management authorities will replace 19 catchment management boards, 20 regional vegetation committees and 33 water management committees.

Scientists often name land clearing as one of Australia's most urgent environmental concerns. It contributes to soil salinity, loss of biodiversity and greenhouse gas emissions because carbon dioxide is released into the atmosphere when the cleared timber is disposed of, usually through burning.

We're hurting: irate farmers block inspections in protest
By Daniel Lewis, Regional Reporter, Sydney Morning Herald
March 12 2003

As anger over the State Government's management of natural resources continues to rise in the bush, whipped up by election rhetoric, farmers have started stopping inspections of farms.

Legislation on water sharing, native vegetation, bushfire and threatened species all have rural communities up in arms.

Groups such as the NSW Farmers Association say they have caused social and economic hardship without producing any environmental benefits.

On Monday between 100 and 150 people from Nyngan blockaded the farm of the mayor to stop officers from the Department of Land and Water Conservation (DLWC) checking suspected illegal land clearing.

The Mayor of Bogan Shire, Ray Donald, denies he has done anything illegal and believes he has been victimised before the state election for being an outspoken critic of the State Government's policies.

DLWC officers were trying to make their sixth inspection of his property since January 30 when the blockade stopped them on Monday, Mr Donald said. He said the blockade was the result of frustration over the State Government not gazetting the native vegetation committee's regional plan for the Bogan, despite it having community support and meeting the relevant act's legal guidelines.

A Nyngan farmer, Doug Menzies, helped organise the blockade. Like Mr Donald, who sits on the native vegetation committee, Mr Menzies cannot understand why the regional plan has not been approved.

"There's absolutely nowhere in our plan that says you can knock over a mature virgin tree," he said. Taking the illegal blockade action was "way outside our comfort zone", he said, but the only way of getting justice.

Mr Menzies said local farmers were also disgusted by the heavy police presence outside Nyngan RSL club two weeks ago when the Minister for Land and Water Conservation, John Aquilina, arrived to address the annual conference of the state's western shires. The conference, which passed motions condemning the State Government's resource management, was told by Mr Aquilina that the regional plan had to satisfy more than just the regional community.

Environmentalists oppose the plan for the Bogan.

Mr Aquilina promised to get back to Nyngan's farmers this week with details of what was still unacceptable, but his spokesman said yesterday that the blockade would delay this. The minister condemned the illegal protest, and the leader of the National Party, George Souris, for supporting it.

The party has made attacking the DLWC a big part of its campaign. Mr Souris said: "Labor has forced the DLWC into a role of compliance and policing, rather than assistance and advice."

New laws put more land under threat, say Greens
By Stephanie Peatling, Environment Reporter
December 5, 2003

Environmentalists have attacked a Carr Government promise to end broadscale land clearing, claiming new laws will allow more land to be cleared than under the previous system.

The most comprehensive overhaul of natural resource laws in the state's history was expected to be passed by Parliament last night, angering environmentalists who claim widespread land clearing will still take place.

"Exemptions under the new legislation will allow more than 70,000 hectares of land to be cleared each year, the equivalent of 81 suburban blocks cleared every hour," Greens MP Ian Cohen said last night.

The Department of Natural Resources estimates about 60,000 hectares of legal land clearing now takes place each year.

But the Greens claim that the list of exemptions allowing clearing to continue will increase the overall land clearing rate in NSW.

There would be no certainty for the environment under the new laws, Mr Cohen said.

The natural resources campaigner for the Nature Conservation Council of NSW, Samantha Newton, said the new laws contained too many loopholes.

"We are not convinced the new laws will reduce the level of clearing in NSW or protect the state's remaining vegetation," Ms Newton said.

But a spokesman for the Minister for Natural Resources, Craig Knowles, said environmentalists and farmers had been instrumental in drafting the new laws.

"Ending broadscale clearing but also giving incentives to farmers on the ground to do the right thing is the whole point," the spokesman said.

Claims that clearing would increase were being made by people who were not part of the consultation process, he said.
The last-minute lobbying over the new laws demonstrates what a political hot potato land clearing is for the Carr Government, which has spent nearly a year trying to strike a deal between farmers and environmentalists.

Land clearing is frequently named by scientists as one of the most urgent environmental issues because of its impact on biodiversity, salinity and water quality.

During the March election campaign the Premier, Bob Carr, received a report by the Wentworth Group of scientists recommending an end to the removal of the state's remaining native vegetation.

A $406 million deal between farmers and environmentalists was announced by Mr Carr in October. Most of the money is expected to go towards activities such as tree-planting and fencing waterways to help counter salinity and erosion. Local authorities may also compensate farmers for not clearing land.

The change in vegetation laws is part of a comprehensive shake-up of natural resource management. Thirteen catchment management authorities - monitoring land and water - will replace 19 separate catchment management boards, 20 regional vegetation committees and 33 water management committees.

The new laws also allow for the creation of an independent Natural Resources Commission.

But concerns have been raised by indigenous groups that their concerns will not be represented on the new committees.

"Aboriginal interests have no meaningful role in the proposed new natural management resources regime," the chief executive officer of Native Title Services, Warren Mundine, said.

"This is not surprising, given there has been no meaningful consultation with Aboriginal interests."



This earlier memo to 4 Corners is vindicated by the Fairfax article on clearing rates above, but not the only misreporting by any means:

Memo - 13/3/2001
To: ...........4 Corners ABC TV
From: Tom McLoughlin, ....
Re: clearing rates in NSW, 4 Corners Programme 12/3/2001 "Water pressure"

Dear ........
Thought your show was a great and incredibly timely contribution and reporting of comments from Tim Fisher of ACF as quite profound. ........

However I have a [constructive] criticism of one narrow aspect. You stated there is 30,000 hectares of clearing "in NSW" per year. This is way underestimated ..... The truth is more like 100,000 ha or more every year for many, many years has been cleared. This in a state historically "over developed" and over cleared ahead of most other parts of Australia - as your show acknowledge. What is the evidence ...? [We refer to] "Land clearing controls remain despite condemnation" of 21 July 1999 sourced to ....[the] ABC Radio News quoting the NSW Land Minister, Richard Amery.

In particular some simple mathematics show that proportionally, based on Lands Minister Amery's own figures, for 12 months up to mid 1999, area cleared "in NSW" was about 102,000 hectares. For the 18 months to mid 1999 the area cleared was 153,360 ha (based on the area applied for was "213,000 hectares, in the last 18 months" of which "almost 72 per cent was cleared"). These figures themselves under report illegal clearing which probably can only be really known by periodic comparison of satellite imaging.

The Minister and department have just announced figures for the year 2000 which claim clearing is down to about 77,000 ha "in NSW" which I find dubious and I think 34,000 ha "in the Western Division of NSW" - as reported .....on ABC Radio Broken Hill - see attached summary transcript ..... Again these figures don't seem to cover illegal clearing. Your figure of "30,000 hectares in NSW" looks more like just the Western Division (thus excluding central and eastern divisions of NSW).

Granted you were focussing only on the Murray Darling catchment, but even so this should aggregate areas of land cleared in western AND central division of NSW - much more than 30,000 ha.

Granted again - the general viewer still got the point - crazy clearing rates still and probably don't understand the significance of the range of various "big numbers". .....As you can see, on the govt's own figures, they are allowing great rates of clearing and the suspicion surely is that Mr Carr's aspirations for "Country Labor" overide a sustainable environmental future.

Yours truly, in support of the public broadcaster, Tom McLoughlin, NSW policy officer, ....

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