Concern over regulation changes

Open Letter to the Victorian Government on Proposed Changes to Native Vegetation Regulations – May 2013

BEAM Mitchell Environment is deeply concerned about the State Government’s proposed changes to the native vegetation regulations.

Clearing established habitat and vegetation is of great concern

Clearing established habitat and vegetation is of great concern

BEAM is based in Mitchell Shire.  The Group has been working and lobbying on environment matters, mostly with positive results for the community and the Shire, for 23 years.  Our role in and support of the local community is recognised by Mitchell Shire Council.  We have more than 70 members.

BEAM understands that the objectives of the proposed reforms of the State Government’s native vegetation clearing regulations are to produce more targeted environmental outcomes while reducing red tape for landholders.  We agree that these are worthy objectives. But we have deep concerns about some aspects of the reforms which lessen the regulations around permitted clearing and will leave many areas of environmental significance unprotected.

BEAM’s main objections to the policy are:

  1. The concept of “no net loss” will not protect the environment:
    • Even the older policy has struggled with its aim of “net gain”.  In our local area, native vegetation continues to be lost through the small cumulative effects of housing development in rural and peri-urban areas, overgrazing, tidying up, firewood collection, burning off and illegal clearing in addition to the natural losses caused by drought and storms.  These losses have increased in recent months as Government actions against the environment are seen as a green light for destruction of bushland; such actions are rarely prosecuted.  It is only the work of some individual landholders, environment and landcare groups, and several agencies that has provided some balance against these cumulative losses.  Any relaxation of the laws will result in a “net loss” in our local area.
    • Many areas of Victoria have been severely cleared.  Some vegetation types are now very rare and often degraded, and many species are still in decline following the loss and fragmentation of their habitat over the past 200 years.  A delayed wave of further extinctions is likely.  Net gain is needed to avoid these extinctions.
  2. The policy relies on maps that are not sufficiently precise to assess the environmental significance of a site.  Vegetation maps are only indicative of native vegetation at a site.  They do not operate at a scale that will identify small features of significance such as large trees with hollows.  And they are based on state-wide assessment criteria so that classifying a site as “low impact” could overlook the local significance of that site.  Anyone with experience of vegetation maps will be horrified at their misuse under this policy.  Even a brief site visit will provide some certainty and avoid losses of high-quality and locally significant sites.
  3. The hands-off approach allows for across-the-counter granting of permits without any recognition of the value of each site.  Many of our small but valuable remnants will not require on-site visits or referrals to DEPI, but will be assessed by landholders often with limited knowledge of biodiversity values.  Clearing of these patches will cause further fragmentation in landscapes that are already severely fragmented.  And this could be cumulative as adjoining landholders gain permits.  The policy may reduce administrative costs.  But the savings will be tiny compared with the losses of biodiversity and ecosystem services, or with the costs of revegetation (including huge amounts of volunteer time) needed to achieve “no net loss”.  Fast tracking to avoid red tape cannot be tolerated at the expense of solid investigation with real information gathered on site.
  4. The policy puts more emphasis on “off-setting” rather than avoiding or minimising removal of native vegetation.  Landholders will be able to purchase the right to destroy our natural heritage.  Off-setting recognises conservation value at a regional scale but does not recognise the local value of native vegetation;  sites for off-setting can occur tens or hundreds of kilometres from the original site.  Off-setting replaces healthy ecosystems with plantations of a small subset of the original biodiversity, so the purchase of the right to clear by default includes a right to destroy most components of biodiversity without any effective “off-setting“.  Off-setting rather fails to protect key features within the necessary time frames for current conservation needs (eg. tree hollows will not be replaced for more than 100 years).  Overall, “off-setting” is actually a net loss for local environments.  Avoidance and minimisation should the first priorities for any planning decisions.

We value our natural environment, for its own sake and for the services and resilience it provides for a healthy and sustainable environment for people and businesses in our area.  Victoria’s biodiversity has been severely affected by human activities over the past 200 years.  Without strong protection, this biodiversity will continue to decline and will have less resilience against the now unavoidable impacts of climate change.

This new policy will further weaken the legislative protection of the natural environment in Victoria.  It follows on from several other Government policies that also fail to protect or even encourage destruction of our environment.  The Government is reversing forty years of legislative evolution to protect Victoria’s environment for the future.  It undermines many decades of hard work in environment protection by the community, by community groups like BEAM and Landcare, and by local and state governments.

We think the actions of this Government are disgraceful and something we should all be very concerned about.

Caroline Morris
BEAM President

Joint statement

BEAM supported a joint statement released by the Victorian National Parks Association in April. See the media release here.

Further Action

Many environment groups are concerned about this issue and are planning actions when the matter comes before Parliament around September.  BEAM will again be working with these groups so that politicians get the message loud and clear.  This will include opportunities for letters and on-line petitions to politicians.

In the meantime:

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