Re: Draft Biodiversity Conservation Regulations and Codes & draft (urban) Vegetation State Environmental Planning Policy (SEPP)
EcoNetwork-Port Stephens is a grassroots network of 25 affiliated community groups and eco-businesses addressing local environmental and associated planning issues for the protection and conservation of our unique environmental assets. Our organization is a member of the Better Planning Network and Nature Conservation Council. We are not politically aligned and do not provide donations to any political party.
In this submission, we would like to focus on broadscale land clearing, koala habitat and biodiversity offsets. We are concerned that the draft instruments are too loose and leave the way open to broadscale clearing; provide insufficient protection for koalas, and other native species; and that the biodiversity offsets scheme is framed in a way likely to negatively impact on native fauna and flora.
Broadscale land clearing
Habitat loss due to excessive tree clearing threatens many plant and wildlife species, and drives climate change by removing an important natural means of carbon capture.
The proposed Land Management (Native Vegetation) Code 2017, provides for significant clearing of native vegetation on Category 2-regulated land, for the re-categorisation of areas cleared of native vegetation and establishment of set aside areas on land containing remnant vegetation. The code has the effect of potentially allowing broadscale clearing.
The code allows the removal of native vegetation of small areas thereby undermining the connectivity of vegetation, which negatively impacts the ecology. It also allows removal of native vegetation to a cumulative maximum of 625 hectares, which is in effect broadscale clearing.
We recommend the Equity and Farm Plan Codes should be removed and code-based clearing applied as the biodiversity panel originally intended, to small-scale everyday works such as clearing for fence lines.
As the NSW Government is in the process of developing a whole-of-government NSW koala strategy and a state-wide map of koala habitat, we would hope that it is keyed to the definition of core koala habitat identified under SEPP 44.
Under the proposals, core koala habitat will be considered part of Category 2 – sensitive land but the definition needs to be broadened because very few areas are protected and mapped under Koala Plans of Management – we understand only 5 local government areas across NSW have comprehensive Koala Plans of Management. It means the majority of core koala habitat on private land remains formally unidentified and therefore unprotected.
Code-based clearing should not be permitted within the range of the koala. Koala habitat should be determined by the review of SEPP 44 and local government mapping of core koala habitat in koala plans of management.
Our view is that the Biodiversity Conservation Regulation 2017 proposes offset rules that are flawed and, by undermining the price signal in the offset market, will set the scene for a decline in native vegetation, especially where there is pressure to develop.
We are concerned that the use of offsets will result in inappropriate clearing and degradation of significant biodiverse areas in exchange for cash payments.
While like-for-like offsets have been legislated through the Biodiversity Conservation Act, we believe the other alternatives in the 6.2 Offset rules such as supplementary conservation actions and payments to the BC Fund should be restricted. Indeed, the variation rules should be removed from the Regulations. Flexibility in the offsetting rules means the price of credits can be artificially lowered so that scarce biodiversity is undervalued.
Offsets should be based on the ‘maintain and improve’ principle; should be genuine like-for-like plant communities or fauna habitat; restricted to within the close vicinity of where the native vegetation has been cleared; not subject to discounts at the discretion of the Consent Authority; and not include cash payments in lieu of genuine offsets.
As the Biodiversity Conservation Investment Strategy has not been released, the new laws should not come into force until the community has had an opportunity to comment.
We recommend that the draft instruments be tightened up to deter broadscale clearing, to protect populations of koalas and other native species, and to ensure the offsets scheme is not exploited in a way that will seriously damage fauna and flora in NSW.
We believe the public exhibition of all Regulations and Codes under the Biodiversity Conservation Act 2017, as well as the Vegetation SEPP should be extended to allow for public feedback on the components.