Friends of Grasslands
supporting native grassy ecosystems
PO Box 440
Macquarie ACT 2614
Transport Canberra and City Services
Draft Urban Forest Bill
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 native 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.
Protection and replacement of remnant trees in the urban environment
This submission primarily addresses the Objects of Act: Part 2, S6, f): to uphold the vitality of the urban forest ecosystem, including maintaining and enhancing biodiversity, habitat and resources for wildlife.
Despite this Object we note that there are only 13 references to remnant trees in the bill: once in relation to a definition of protected trees on (i) a future urban area; or (ii) an area that is the subject of an estate development plan; 3 times to define a remnant tree; and 9 times in relation to the conservator as decision-maker relating to a registered, regulated or remnant tree.
The bill does not adequately address the long-term protection of remnant trees in the urban environment, either on leased or unleased (public) land, or address the need to protect natural regeneration or plantings of remnant species (including non-Eucalyptus species). Large remnant trees (over 100 mm diameter at breast height (DBH)) are likely to be 200 to 400 years old, smaller mature remnant trees (over 50 mm DBH) are likely to be in the order of 100 years old and smaller ones are the mature and hollow-bearing trees of the future.
We note internal inconsistencies related to senescent (dead) trees: while dead trees that are over 600 mm DBH are regulated, there are no restrictions on destroying them (cancellation of registration of a dead tree that has died of natural causes (Section 70 to 72). Protection of remnant senescent trees should be applied so that such trees can remain where they do not cause any safety hazard, including where possible, landscaping the area under them to prevent recreational use. First choice of replacement tree species not in residential blocks (to take into account safety issues) should be remnant species, mandatory when remnant trees are removed.
There is inconsistency between the Urban Forest Bill and the objectives, descriptions and criteria in the Draft Action Plan to Prevent the Loss of Mature Native Trees. This should be rectified in the Urban Forest Bill in relation to remnant trees. In the Urban Forest Bill the criteria to protect remnant native trees and the penalty units or costs applied to their damage or approved removal is the same as applied to any planted tree of far lower biodiversity and heritage value, which are easily replaceable. This is totally inadequate and inappropriate. Much greater emphasis should be given to protecting remnant mature trees.
Consistent with our submission on the MNT Draft Action plan we recommend that an additional protected category, Exceptional, should be applied to remnant mature native trees. All remnant trees should be identified as protected, not just on future development areas or an area that is the subject of an estate development plan. Indeed, rather than encouraging Canberrans to consider “different sustainable design options when building new structures to safely retain mature trees for current and future generations,” planning for new structures, future development areas or an area that is the subject of an estate development plan should proceed only after remnant trees and appropriate areas of protection have been identified and protected.
Penalty points should be graded according to the biodiversity value of trees, with a much higher penalty for destruction of remnant trees than for exotic trees, far tighter rules to reduce removal of remnant trees, and only removal of Exceptional trees (likely to be in the order of 200 years old and ecologically irreplaceable) under extreme circumstances.
All remnant trees within the urban area should be mapped and registered, including on leased land (e.g. universities, schools, other commercial properties and residences). Categories of protected, registered and exceptional should be applied as per defined criteria, based on size, estimated age and biodiversity values (as individual trees and as part of the greater landscape). Tree management plans should be developed as a priority for remnant trees based on the mapping results. We believe community support for mapping and measuring remnant mature native trees would be very high, particularly from ParkCare and Landcare groups and the catchment groups; many of these groups would already have records of such trees.
Logistical advice should be provided to lessees (residential, commercial or institutions) to mitigate against the loss of remnant trees.
It is unclear how a target of 30% canopy cover, ensuring landscape connectivity and species selection (endemic/native/exotic) will play out in greenfields development, given the current rates of tree clearing.
Increasing canopy cover: Tree planting to achieve =>30% canopy cover should be preferentially done in weedy grass areas to reduce weed populations and herbicide use. Tree planting over such areas (after surveying) will create cooling and biodiversity benefits. We reiterate the advice provided by FOG on the Urban Forest Strategy (submitted 24 August 2020), that “other non-reserved areas containing remnant Natural Temperate Grassland patches within the urban framework are inappropriate for trees due to their conservation values”. We urge that tree planting must avoid high quality native grassland.
Thank you for the opportunity to comment on the draft Urban Forest Bill. In addition to this response, we refer you to FOG’s submission on Draft Action Plan to Prevent the Loss of Mature Native Trees, to ensure consistency of approach to long-term protection and management of biodiversity in the urban context.
Professor Jamie Pittock
2 June 2022