The state government is reviewing native vegetation clearing regulations, which readers will remember were weakened by the previous government on the grounds of loosening red tape. The terms of the Review can be seen here.
As part of the review, FOBIF representatives and members of other conservation groups, DELWP, the CMA, developers and organisations like bee keepers, farmers, miners and prospectors, attended a consultation session at DELWP Epsom on July 22 to discuss the issue.
As can be imagined from such a disparate gathering, it seemed that almost everyone has an issue with current clearing regulations, but often for conflicting reasons.
Some of the issues raised in the meeting were
- Lack of resourcing – (staff and funding). This impacts on
- Accuracy of mapping: Department maps are often desktop interpretations based on priorities under the environment protection laws [Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act/Flora and Fauna Guarantee], with no input of local knowledge. The maps are often wrong, sometimes to the advantage of the environment, sometimes to the advantage of developers; this leads to widespread lack of faith in the process.
- Management of the permit process – applications, ground truthing, reporting of illegal clearing: at the moment a huge amount depends on community vigilance and compliance, which you won’t get unless the regulations inspire more confidence.
- Recording and monitoring of the clearing to measure the cumulative effect of clearing. The exemptions for vegetation clearance are too wide-ranging, and are not being monitored in any systematic way. How there be no net loss (or net gain occur) if there are multiple exemptions for vegetation loss that (a) are not being tracked, and (b) have no offsets or other compensatory actions?
- There’s a lack of clarity because so many agencies/departments are involved – if regulations were more specifically aimed at net gain rather than ‘no net loss’ then permits/exemptions could be better managed.
- Lack of vision – this program should be clearly designed for net gain. The importance of healthy native vegetation should be up front.
- ‘Offsets’ have become a problem: the idea of offsets is now so entrenched that it is hard to criticise it, but too often it becomes a cover for vegetation clearing. The whole notion of ‘net gain’ is hard if not impossible to implement. Too often offsets just don’t offset: the function of a cleared area is lost once it is cleared, and doesn’t transfer to the new location. Would it be possible to identify large areas of good vegetation that could be expanded, using offsets to strengthen these areas?
A discussion paper on the matter will be produced when consultations around the state are concluded. Given the scandal of the trashing of 900 ancient trees along the Western Highway recently [see our post above], it would be good to get some clear [and clearly administered] guidelines on this soon. In the case of the Western Highway, Vicroads has partly tried to justify its actions by announcing it will plant thousands of replacements: a classic case of using a [dodgy] version of the offset principle to justify environmental destruction.