Friends of Grasslands
supporting native grassy ecosystems
PO Box 440
Macquarie ACT 2614
NSW Department of Heritage and the Environment
Biodiversity Offsets Policy for Major Projects
Friends of Grasslands (FOG) is a community group dedicated to the conservation of natural temperate grassy ecosystems in south-eastern Australia. FOG advocates, educates and advises on matters to do with the conservation of grassy ecosystems, and carries out surveys and other on-ground work. FOG is based in Canberra and its members include professional scientists, landowners, land managers and interested members of the public. While based in the ACT, FOG has many members in New South Wales, particularly in the south east.
FOG has comments about the documents, as follows.
Draft NSW Biodiversity Offsets Policy for Major Projects
FOG supports objective 1, in particular the aims of providing clear guidance on avoidance and minimisation of impacts on the environment, and objective and repeatable assessment methods for biodiversity values. It also supports objective 2. While understanding the need for practical and achievable offset schemes, FOG has a couple of concerns about objective 3.
The first concern relates to the broadening of the “like-for-like” requirement. If the offset is not strictly matched to the biodiversity being impacted on, it must be targeted to relevant higher conservation priorities, particularly as those ecosystems or species where “like-for-like” is not available are those most at risk of extinction. We note that the word “must” is used under Principle 3, and would like to see the same terminology in objective 2.
The second concern with objective 3 and principle 7 relates to the discounting in exceptional circumstances. While FOG might accept that in some exceptional circumstances a project impacting on high value conservation area may need to proceed because of its high “public good” (e.g. major infrastructure that cannot be rerouted), we do not think that economic benefits should be sufficient to allow destruction of areas of high conservation value. This opens the door to commercial interests arguing a case for developments to proceed despite their impact on the environment, i.e. without the developer paying the true cost of the project. While offsets are meant to ensure that this doesn’t happen, we are not certain that this will, in the long term, be the case and that there will truly be no net loss across the landscape. FOG considers that the word “economic” should be removed from this section.
FOG supports principle 4, i.e. that offsets must be in addition to other legal requirements. In relation to the paragraph about carbon credits under this principle, we think that if the same site is generating both biodiversity and carbon credits, then management for biodiversity must take precedence over management for carbon credits. While this is implied under principle 5, it should also be stated explicitly under the section on carbon credits.
Draft Framework for Biodiversity Assessment
The comment about the use of the word “social” above also applies to this document, in particular to principle 7 on page 2.
Section 11.6 talks about management actions that improve biodiversity values, and that these must be implemented on the offset site to achieve the predicted gain in site value. It isn’t clear to FOG whether this means that the management actions must continue until the predicted gain in site value is achieved, or if these management actions can be implemented as agreed, but if they do not lead to the predicted gain no further action is needed.
NSW Biodiversity Offsets Fund for Major Projects
We support the concept of an offsets fund to complement the policy for Major Projects. While we have no specific responses to the questions in the discussion paper, we believe that such a fund should be administered in such a way that the following criteria are achieved:
- The program must be supported by suitably qualified ecologists who will provide advice and otherwise support landowners to implement strategic conservation management.
- Funds must be directed to achieve an increase in the conservation values remaining in any offset areas (not to simply maintain a status quo).
- Any lands so “purchased” are to be managed under a strategic management plan that is peer reviewed by a suitably qualified trust appointed to review such plans and to provide advice.
- As there will be a reduced incentive for the development proponents to ensure the offset outcomes are successful, there needs to be review of the effectiveness of this program and full transparency to the public of this review of the outcomes.
- There must be an effective monitoring program to determine the ecological outcomes of the offsets.
To achieve these criteria we believe that there is a third functional area associated with the fund, to provide management advice, assist with the development of strategic management plans and facilitate reporting of offset ecological outcomes. In addition we believe that such a fund should also be applied to conserve in perpetuity key areas of crown land for conservation. This would include those Travelling Stock Reserves and Roadsides that contain remnants of box-gum woodland and natural temperate grassland.
30 April 2014