22 March, 2013

Land clearing

Vegetation Management

The Qld Government has announced proposed reforms to state vegetation management laws which are intended to pave the way for development of new agricultural areas in Qld’s Gulf Country but has implications across the state for agriculture, mining and property development.

In 2006, clearing of remnant vegetation to create pastures for agriculture was the principal activity that was stopped and which previously accounted for the vast majority of land clearing.

The high rates of land clearing and habitat fragmentation prior to 2006 in Australia, particularly in Qld, have been identified in State of the Environment reports as the single most significant threat to terrestrial biodiversity in Australia and Qld. For example, the State of the Environment Queensland 1999 reported:

The factor contributing most to the loss of biodiversity in Queensland has been and continues to be the destruction of native habitat by broadscale land clearing. Immediate effects on biodiversity include the removal or killing of species, the most obvious being plants, and the rapid reduction in habitat for other species. Habitat loss is a major factor in loss of woodland bird diversity in Australia: it has been estimated that 1000–2000 birds die for every 100 ha of native bushland cleared

Broadscale land clearing not only reduces the extent and diversity of natural ecosystems but also fragments them into remnant patches that, in many cases, are too small and too isolated to maintain viable populations of species.

In 2012, AgForce reinstated the AgForce Vegetation Management Committee to gather information on the limitations of the current Vegetation Management Act 1999.  The Committee has been assisting the Qld Government understand what AgForce considers to be the key failings of the Act.

The Agforce Committee has overseen a consultation process with their members across the state to provide feedback on the legislation, its regulation and associated codes and has suggested changes to the legislation.

Now amendments are proposed in the Vegetation Management Framework Amendment Bill 2013 will allow land clearing activities to support the development of high value agriculture in areas with appropriate land and climate characteristics.

The clearing of native vegetation in Queensland is currently regulated by the Vegetation Management Act 1999. The Act currently sets down the rules and regulations that guide what clearing can be done, and how it must be done to meet the requirements of the law.

The act currently regulates clearing of remnant vegetation on a regional ecosystem and remnant map on freehold and Indigenous land and State tenures. Regulated regrowth vegetation on freehold and Indigenous land and leasehold land for agriculture and grazing is also protected. On some other State tenures native woody regrowth may also be protected.  The Qld Government proposes to introduce self-assessable codes for routine vegetation management activities such as weed and pest management, fodder harvesting and thinning.

Clearing for some activities are already exempt. These include most routine activities like fence lines, yards, firebreaks and burning off.

Clearing remnant vegetation on a regional ecosystem or remnant map, if not exempt, can currently only be done under a permit. Landholders wanting a permit must apply to the department of Natural Resources and Mines. The department assesses applications against regional vegetation management codes. These codes are also used to assess applications to clear native woody regrowth on State tenures other than leasehold land for agriculture and grazing.

Permit are not required to clear regulated regrowth. However, landholders currently need to notify the department that they intend to clear and any clearing must comply with the regrowth vegetation code.  The proposed amendments will remove these requirements.

The Bill proposes to remove regulations regarding regrowth control on freehold and indigenous land, these regulations will still apply to leasehold land and in reef watercourses.

The Qld Government proposes to detect inappropriate vegetation management practices that show no regard for the environment through satellite monitoring.

Key reforms proposed under the Vegetation Management Framework Amendment Bill 2013 include:
· The introduction of new clearing purposes under the Act for high-value agriculture and environmental works (such as land rehabilitation)
· The removal of regrowth regulations on freehold and indigenous land, but the retention of controls on regrowth control on leasehold land and in reef watercourses
· New provisions to allow for the creation of self-assessable codes for routine management activities such as weed and pest management, fodder harvesting and thinning
· The creation of simplified statewide vegetation maps to clearly define areas where regulations will apply
· The removal of the guide to sentencing under the existing Vegetation Management Act to ensure more consistent and equitable penalties in cases of inappropriate clearing

These proposed reforms will now be referred to the State Development, Infrastructure and Industry parliamentary committee for thorough examination and full public consultation.  More information on the amendments and how to make submissions to the Parliamentary Committee is available under Vegetation Management at: www.dnrm.qld.gov.au/home.

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