The Berejiklian government is embarking on the dangerous course of letting landholders decide for themselves whether they can clear many types of endangered ecosystems under new tree-clearing rules.
The draft land-clearing codes and regulations released today for public comment  would allow self-assessable, code-based clearing of high conservation value areas, including koala habitat, Crown lands, and threatened ecological communities.
Key environment groups are calling for changes to prevent an upsurge of land clearing across the state to protect economic, environmental and social services in rural and urban areas. They have also vowed to expose unacceptable land clearing.
Nature Conservation Council CEO Kate Smolski said: “It is unreasonable to expect landholders without scientific qualifications to assess the ecological value of bushland and whether it can be cleared. Putting that responsibility onto landholders is unfair and unnecessarily risky. The codes must be strengthened to ensure permission to clear is only granted after proper assessment by suitably qualified professionals.
“This is an opportunity for Premier Gladys Berejiklian put her stamp on the environment portfolio by strengthening the codes and making the Biodiversity Conservation Act less of a disaster.
“The codes will suit big agribusinesses that can pay ecologists to navigate the maze of complexity, but for the average family farmer these laws are going to be a headache. It’s likely that mistakes will be made and high conservation value bushland that our precious native wildlife depend on will be lost.”
WWF-Australia Australian Forest and Woodland Conservation Policy Manager Dr Francesca Andreoni said: “These reforms mean important endangered ecosystems and wildlife habitat can be cleared and puts iconic species such as the koala at risk.
“We will continue to work with local farmers, scientists, wildlife carers and others on ground to monitor tree clearing in areas that should be protected.
“WWF has used high resolution mapping and satellite data to identify the areas of important native vegetation in northern NSW and will be reporting on this on an ongoing basis.
“To leave our country healthy and in good shape for future generations, excessive tree clearing needs to be controlled to protect wildlife, farmland and waterways.”
National Parks Association CEO Kevin Evans said: “It beggars belief that only critically endangered ecological communities are to be spared from code-based clearing.
“The exclusions must be beefed up to make sure that vulnerable and endangered ecological communities are also protected, otherwise we’re just pushing them closer to the brink of extinction. How can this possibly be deemed okay under biodiversity legislation?
“The regulations state that core koala habitat is off limits to code-based clearing. But this only applies to core habitat identified under an approved plan of management. The stark reality is that only four local government areas in NSW have identified core koala habitat in approved plans.
“This is a loophole so big that it could hang an elephant. We need real protection for koalas, not paper protection. No ifs, no buts, no loopholes.”
Humane Society International Australia Senior Program Manager Evan Quartermain said: “The new Biodiversity Conservation Act and Local Land Services Act significantly weaken environmental protections for vulnerable native species and ecosystems.
“It is critical that before these new laws are switched on later this year, the codes and regulations must be strengthened to exclude many sensitive areas from code-based self-assessment.”
Total Environment Centre Director Jeff Angel said: “The government should seek to avoid escalating political costs as the new laws are rolled out.
“The destruction of each important ecosystem, lost soil and degraded water quality will land at their feet.
“We are leaving the door open for more improvements in this package, but we are also not prepared to endorse a package that puts native wildlife, clean water and sustainable soils at more risk.”
MEDIA CONTACT: James Tremain, 0419 272 254