14 May, 2013

Vegetation Clearing and Enviro Offsets

Vegetation Clearing Legislation

Twenty-seven academics from universities across Queensland with expertise in biodiversity conservation and sustainable development are urging Premier Campbell Newman to reconsider proposed changes to the Vegetation Management Act.

The scientists are expressing grave concerns about the future impacts of proposed changes to Queensland’s Vegetation Management Act and the Water Act. There are warnings of devastating habitat and species loss if changes to the state’s land clearing laws go ahead.

The concerned scientists believe amendments will include allowing a new category of broadscale native vegetation clearing and remove the protections which previously prevented clearing of mature regrowth of threatened plant communities and of vegetation along many watercourses.

However, Minister Cripps claims the package of reforms will maintain key environmental protections such as buffer zones along creeks and rivers in sensitive reef areas.

The concerns of the Scientists about the changes to Vegetation Management include:
·       Land clearing is the greatest current threat to Australia’s biodiversity,
·       Vegetation loss is a major contributor to greenhouse gas emissions,
·       degradation and reduced water quality in waterways and estuaries,
·       dryland salinity and
·       lost ecosystems.

The changes the Qld Government are proposing to make to vegetation management laws are intended to support growth in agricultural production, provide jobs and boost regional economies. However, restoration of lost ecosystems can cost more than $20,000 per hectare. Avoiding the loss of ecosystems in the first place is far more cost-effective.

Green groups are coming under fire from the Minister for Natural Resources and Mines for opposing these changes.

The World Wide Fund have produced a report that provides the first estimates of environmental values potentially placed at-risk of renewed clearing due to the proposed changes to land clearing legislation in Queensland

Successive Qld Governments in the 1990s to 2009 bought in laws which provided strong protection for bushland. Before the Vegetation Management Act came into effect Qld was experiencing some of the highest rates of clearing in the world – similar to Brazil’s clearing of the Amazon. Once the new laws started to take effect clearing rates declined from a massive 750,000ha a year before laws were introduced in 1999 to 77,590ha in 2009-10.

An amendment bill was introduced into parliament in March and referred to the parliamentary committee for State Development, Infrastructure and Industry, which is due to report back on this week.

Environmental Offset Policy Review

Environmental offsets were originally established to replace environmental values lost through development.  At the moment, the Qld Government has five Environmental Offset Policies:

·       Qld Government Environmental Offsets Policy (administered by Department of Environment and Heritage Protection –offsets@ehp.qld.gov.au)
·       Qld Biodiversity Offset Policy (administered by Department of Environment and Heritage Protection –offsets@ehp.qld.gov.au)
·       Offset for Net Gain of Koala Habitat in South East Qld Policy (administered by Department of Environment and Heritage Protection - seqkoala@ehp.qld.gov.au)
·       Policy for Vegetation Management Offsets (administered by Department of Natural Resources and Mines –vmenquireis@dnrm.qld.gov.au)
·       Marine Fish Habitat Offset Policy (administered by Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries)

General information about offsets and the policies can still be found on the EHP website, however there is currently a review of the department’s web material, which has resulted in some documents being unavailable at this time.

In relation to the future of Qld’s offset policies, the Qld Government committed, through the Six Month Action Plan July to December 2012, to review the overarching framework for the Biodiversity Offsets Policy. The review will create a single policy that incorporates requirements of all five existing Qld Government offset policies.

The Department of Environment and Heritage Protection is leading this review.

The single policy will address all Qld Government offset requirements and could be adopted as the foundation for local government offset policies if desired by councils.

The review seeks to reduce costs for government and industry; promote strategic biodiversity outcomes; and provide for shelf ready products that enable rapid approvals for projects.

This review is not linked to the review of assessment requirements or triggers under legislation. These are being undertaken separately to development of this policy.

However, where there is a State assessment requirement to avoid, mitigate and offset impacts – the single State Government Environmental Offset Policy will provide how this offset is to be achieved.

Until this review is completed, all current offset policies remain in effect.

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