Friends of Grasslands
supporting native grassy ecosystems
PO Box 440
Macquarie ACT 2614
Biodiversity Reforms – Have
PO Box A290
Sydney South NSW 1232
Biodiversity Conservation Reform Package
Friends of Grasslands (FOG) is a community group dedicated to the conservation of threatened natural temperate grassy ecosystems (native grasslands and grassy woodlands) in south-eastern Australia. FOG advocates for the protection and sustainable management of grassy ecosystems, and communicates about them through its newsletter, website, grassland visits and on-ground work. FOG is based in Canberra and its members include interested members of the public, landowners and land managers, and professional scientists from the Southern Tablelands and elsewhere in Australia. Over the past twenty years, FOG has, in New South Wales, visited many native grassland and grassy woodland sites, undertaken restoration work (e.g. at Old Cooma Common), and advocated for conservation of grassy ecosystems through numerous public submissions.
FOG has many concerns with the Biodiversity Conservation Reform Package, both with the general approach and intent of the different components, and with specific sections of it. Our concerns relate to conservation issues in general as well as specific issues relating to the conservation of grassy ecosystems and dependent species, particularly those already listed as threatened with extinction. We do not support adoption of these two Acts.
We believe that the changes identified in these Acts will have a detrimental impact on natural biodiversity, and result in significant loss and destruction of threatened and other native vegetation and species habitat. We believe it is a retrograde step to adopt legislation that will undermine the progress that has occurred in the past 20 years – progress which has resulted in increased protection for areas of important biodiversity, enhanced knowledge and understanding of users of this land and facilitated measures to enable those users to better manage and protect those elements on their land. We believe that legislation needs to enhance threatened species and communities as well as all other functioning native vegetation and fauna so that biodiversity is retained for all Australians.
A summary of major concerns follows, and more detailed comments on specific components of the package are in the attachments.
Need for new legislation
It is not clear to FOG as to why an Act is needed to replace the Threatened Species Conservation (TSC) Act 1995 rather than an amendment being made to the TSC legislation. The TSC Act worked well initially, but many of the later problems with this Act relate to inadequate resourcing (both funding and skilled personnel) rather than to the provisions of the Act itself. The effectiveness of the current legislation has been hampered by inadequate resources to assess, manage and monitor lands covered by the Act, or to enforce breaches of the Act. In this context, FOG is concerned about the level of resourcing to be provided for implementation of the package. If the effectiveness of the current legislation has been hampered by inadequate resources, there is no guarantee that the same won’t happen with any new legislation.
Recommendation 1: That the need for completely new legislation be reviewed and consideration be given to amendment of the existing legislation.
Recommendation 2: That sufficient resources be provided to allow proper implementation of threatened species and biodiversity legislation, including compliance actions.
Given the complexity of the package and the amount of material to digest, the consultation period is far too short for the community to be able to assess the impact of the proposed changes properly. As well, given the number of issues with the proposals, once the current comments are considered and the package amended, there needs to be another consultation period of adequate length. Information should be provided to demonstrate how the new legislation avoids resulting in further degradation and loss of habitat, and how it avoids further endangering threatened species and ecological communities.
There appears to be limited opportunities for public input into the process in the future, including limited appeal rights under the legislation. Yet at present, some processes are not outlined in the material provided to date, making it difficult or impossible to comment at this stage on the entire package.
Recommendation 3: That the consultation period on the draft package be extended.
Recommendation 4: That there be opportunities for the community to comment on future versions of the package in an iterative process.
Aims of the Biodiversity Conservation Act
The aims of the draft Biodiversity Conservation (BC) Act are considerably weaker than those of the TSC Act it is replacing. The TSC Act endeavoured, amongst other things, to prevent the extinction and promote the recovery of threatened species, populations and ecological communities. The six aims of the TSC Act have been replaced by three in the BC Act, two of which are actually the first aim of the TSC Act, and the third of which is new. In other words, we are losing from the legislative framework many of the aims and protections previously provided for our threatened species and communities. In the draft Act there is no mention of trying to improve on what we have now, despite the parlous state of many native ecosystems. Not only that, the aim that has been retained is now only to be applied at bioregional and State scales, and threatened populations are no longer included. Given the fragmentary nature of our remaining grassland and grassy woodland areas, this restriction is detrimental to long term conservation of these communities. There is also no mention of trying to eliminate or manage threatening processes – quite the reverse in fact. As discussed in the next point, the Local Land Services (LLS) Act amendment itself could be considered a threatening process.
If the goal of what should be done to conserve biodiversity is continued to be narrowed, in the end there will be no biodiversity to conserve.
Recommendation 5: That the aims of the Biodiversity Conservation Act be expanded to cover those in the Threatened Species Conservation Act, and the content of the Act be amended accordingly.
The aims and provisions of the BC Act and the amended LLS Act are inconsistent. While the LLS Act aims to “ensure the proper management of natural resources consistent with the principles of ecologically sustainable development”, FOG’s view is that development inherently puts our natural ecosystems at risk and that the processes to be allowed by the draft LLS Act amendments threaten our endangered ecosystems and species. In other words, the general thrust of the LLS Act is contrary to the BC Act’s aim of conserving biodiversity.
There are also inconsistencies between this legislation and the Commonwealth’s Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation (EPBC) Act and associated agreement between the Commonwealth and NSW on implementation of the EPBC Act. For example, how will the ecological community Natural Temperate Grassland of the South Eastern Highlands (NTG–SEH), newly listed as Critically Endangered under the EPBC Act, be dealt with under the BC Act? This community is not included in Schedule 2 of the BC Act. Our belief is that implementation of the LLS and BC Acts will fail meet the requirements agreed to in the Bilateral Agreement between NSW and the Commonwealth Department of Environment.
Recommendation 6: That inconsistencies between the Biodiversity Conservation Act and the amended Local Land Services Act be resolved without compromising protection of biodiversity.
Recommendation 7: That inconsistencies between the Biodiversity Conservation Reform Package and the Commonwealth’s EPBC Act, particularly in relation to the coverage of grassy ecosystems.
Conservation agreements and covenants
Individuals placing a conservation agreement on their land do so on the understanding that the biodiversity values of that land will be protected in perpetuity. The draft BC Act allows termination of these agreements by a later landholder, or by the Minister of the day if mining interests are found. It also allows covenanted land to be sold off by the Biodiversity Conservation Trust, or potentially to be used as offsets, if the Trust decides a condition on the covenant is not required. There appears to be no public scrutiny of the appropriateness of such actions, which are in contradiction to the wishes of the original landholder.
Recommendation 8: That the ability to remove covenants and conservation agreements on land with biodiversity values be taken out of the Acts.
FOG is yet to be convinced that offsets are effective in delivering “no net loss” when new developments impact on endangered species or communities. Thus, when a new development is proposed, there should be a heavy emphasis on avoidance for any area containing Critically Endangered Ecological Communities (CEECs), Endangered Ecological Communities (EECs), or threatened species – offsets are not appropriate for a development impacting on such areas that is for the economic gain of a few. The package appears to allow more offsetting, and to reduce the need to avoid and mitigate development impacts.
The aim of biodiversity offsets is to prevent further loss of our native ecosystems and species. In fact, to ensure that these remain in the long term, we should be trying to improve on what is there now, not aim at the status quo. It is inevitable that we will fall short of the aim of any biodiversity offsetting, so aiming at the status quo will eventually result in extinction of both species and communities. In FOG’s view the package fails to prevent further losses. Our general concerns are:
- Like-for-like rule: FOG is totally opposed to varying the like-for-like rule for offsets. It is essential that offsets are of the same vegetation community in the same Interim Biogeographic Regionalisation for Australia (IBRA) region, particularly when the area being impacted contains CEECs or EECs such as natural temperate grasslands or box-gum grassy woodland. If this principle is not followed the risk of these communities becoming extinct is much higher. If offsets cannot be found for CEECs, EECs and threatened species, then that should act as a red-light to prevent further clearing of those entities.
- The proposed changes to conservation agreements and covenanted land remove some of the security from existing offsets, or new offsets over time.
- The proposed offset system allows payments into a trust rather than on-ground offsets. Given the few quality areas left of many of our different ecosystems, allowing development to destroy these areas following a cash payment is unacceptable. If it is not possible to locate a suitable offset then, as already stated, this should act as a red-light to prevent further clearing of CEECs, EECs and threatened species.
- The implications of the package appear to be that it will be possible to offset an offset. This is totally unacceptable – offsets on CEECs, EECs and threatened species are meant to be in perpetuity (otherwise it is not an offset at all) and should be “no go” zones.
Recommendation 9: That the use of offsets should be minimised and that the principle of avoiding impacts to threatened species and communities be adhered to.
Recommendation 10: That any offsets:
- Must be like-for-like and in the same IBRA region;
- Must deliver on-ground results – cash payments are not acceptable; and
- Are set aside in perpetuity.
FOG is concerned about the implications of the proposed assessment processes for grassy ecosystems. While a single method of assessment of vegetation might streamline the process, in fact different plant communities can have widely different characteristics that cannot be captured with a single methodology. In particular, applying the proposed methods to native grasslands without modification will be detrimental to the long term retention and survival of these CEECs and EECs. As well, the expertise to assess these communities accurately is different from that needed for forests, woodlands and so on. It is essential that the assessment process specifies that the assessment must be undertaken by ecologists and others with the relevant skills. Further comments on this matter that relate to specific sections of the Acts can be found in attachments B and E.
Recommendation 11: That the assessment process be modified to ensure that communities such as grassy ecosystems are assessed using appropriate measures by ecologists expert in grassy ecosystem flora, fauna and habitat.
The package (in particular the Biodiversity Assessment Method) relies on base data which is not at the standard needed to assess vegetation communities adequately. In particular, the base datasets do not deal well with grasslands and grassy woodlands. Grassland ecosystems are notoriously difficult to properly assess because their primary vegetation is herbaceous and its presence above ground is seasonally-dependent. FOG’s view is that all grasslands containing native species should be designated as category 2 until proven otherwise.
Recommendation 12: All grasslands containing native species should be designated as category 2 until proven otherwise.
The set-aside ratios in the codes (1:1 to 1:3) could mean that one hectare of high quality vegetation can be removed and replaced by three hectares of revegetation (i.e. lower quality habitat). Our reading of the codes is that wooded areas with mature trees can be replaced by revegetation areas, e.g. pasture with a few seedlings. Also, the implications of the set-aside ratios are that up to half of all remnant vegetation that is not part of an EEC could potentially be lost across the rural landscape in NSW. In other words, the ratios proposed facilitate an increased rate of clearing of native vegetation across NSW.
Recommendation 13: That the proposed use of set-aside ratios be reconsidered and alternatives that reduce the rate of clearing of native vegetation be substituted.
In considering this package, FOG found many other issues of concern, detailed in the attachments.
Recommendation 14: That the issues raised in attachments A to E be addressed.
The Biodiversity Reform Package weakens Australia’s ability to preserve native species and ecosystems for future generations. Instead, if the package is implemented, we can expect increased loss of both threatened species and communities, and native species and vegetation in general. The package encourages the use of offsets instead of avoiding destruction of threatened species and communities, and will hasten these species’ and communities’ extinction.
FOG is completely opposed to the package in its current form, and considers it a backward step in conserving native grassland and grassy woodland communities.
FOG has made a number of recommendations about the package, and asks that these be implemented.
Attachment A: Biodiversity Conservation Bill 2016
Attachment B: Local Land Services Amendment Bill 2016
Attachment C: LLS Codes of Practice
Attachment D: Native Vegetation Regulatory Map – Map Method Statement
Attachment A: Biodiversity Conservation Bill 2016
1.3 Purposes and objectives of Act
The aims of the draft Biodiversity Conservation (BC) Act are considerably weaker than those of the TSC Act it is replacing. The purpose of the BC Act is to conserve biodiversity and ecological integrity at bioregional and State scales, to be achieved by “taking conservation and threat abatement action to slow the rate of biodiversity loss”. Given the losses that have already occurred, if there is still to be a diverse Australian landscape for future generations, the aim should be to halt the rate of biodiversity loss and to improve the quality of what still remains. The aim of promoting the recovery of threatened species, populations and ecological communities has been lost from the new Act.
The aim of the BC Act is now only to be applied at bioregional and State scales, and threatened populations are no longer included. Given the fragmentary nature of our remaining grassland and grassy woodland areas, this restriction is detrimental to long term conservation of these communities.
Other important objectives of the TSC Act have also been lost. Firstly, there is no mention of trying to eliminate or manage threatening processes – quite the reverse in fact. FOG’s view is that the Local Land Services (LLS) Act amendment itself could be considered a threatening process. Secondly, there is no mention of protecting critical habitat of threatened species, populations and ecological communities.
The aim of “establishing market-based conservation mechanisms through which environmental impacts of development and activities can be avoided, minimised or offset at landscape and site scales” implies that offsetting is a reasonable approach. This aim should emphasize avoidance and include offsetting only as a last resort – offsets should only be considered for impacts on CEECs and EECs where the development has significant benefit to all Australian people, not just economic gain for a few.
We do see the addition of some important concepts in the list of ways that these objectives are to be achieved, such as assessing extinction risk, data sharing, and monitoring and reporting on biodiversity status and effectiveness of conservation actions. However, this important list is missing the next step of applying this information on the ground to achieve species and ecological community recovery.
Part 4 Threatened species and threatened ecological communities
This section makes no reference to Endangered Populations, except to say that if a population is already part of a listed species, then it cannot be listed. Endangered populations are still listed, according to the schedules, but there is no clarity as to how they are to be treated. To omit this category is a retrograde step, unless this category is now encompassed under the new category of “Area of Outstanding Biodiversity Value”, though it is unclear how this declaration will assist large areas that have been identified as containing Endangered Populations.
5.23 Duration and variation of conservation agreements
Section 3 states that a conservation agreement (CA) has effect in perpetuity unless it is terminated by consent of all the owners of the land at the time of the termination or in any such other manner or in such circumstances as may be set out in the agreement.
This clause effectively makes the CA valueless as it is only in force for as long as the current owners agree to keep it in force. This means that should a site with a CA be sold, then the new owners may terminate the agreement immediately. This is in contrast to the CAs of the current Act, in which the CA could only be terminated by the Minister.
This section also allows the Minister of the day to terminate a CA if a mining or petroleum authority is granted on the land. This means that mining interests can override conservation and biodiversity values on political grounds and against the wishes of the landholder. Such development is a threatening process to endangered communities, should not be allowed under the Act, and again makes CAs valueless if mineral resources are found on the land.
6.2 Biodiversity offsets scheme
The first extremely long sentence in (d) does not appear to make sense
6.4 Biodiversity conservation offsets under scheme
Under the regulations for this section, it is suggested that offsets may not necessarily be like-for-like. This is unacceptable, as it will mean that particularly rare examples of EECs or threatened species habitat will not be adequately offset and may result in local or regional extinction of the EEC.
6.30 Payment as alternative to retirement of biodiversity credits
This section appears to imply that a person needing to retire biodiversity credits may satisfy that obligation by making a payment into the Biodiversity Conservation Fund rather than by meeting their obligations on the ground. In other words, there is no obligation to identify a site that is similar to the site requiring offsetting. As particular species and communities become rarer, it will become more and more difficult to find sites that allow like-for-like offsets. This clause allows payment with no guarantee that a suitable similar offset will ever be found.
7.3 Test for determining whether a proposed development or activity is likely to significantly affect threatened species or ecological communities, or their habitats
This test fails to ensure that habitats of threatened species and endangered ecological communities are not subject to the continuing “death by a thousand cuts” syndrome. The terms “likely to have an adverse effect”, “viable local population of the species”, “local occurrence”, “substantially and adversely modify the composition of the ecological community”, “importance of the habitat to be removed, modified, fragmented or isolated” are all subjective in nature and require strict definitions. Clause 2 make it clear that the Minister “may” issue guidelines regarding these terms, but there is no guarantee that this will happen. In the event that previously issued guidelines are to be adopted, then it is to be noted that the previously published guidelines that support the NSW Threatened Species Conservation Act (1995) acknowledge that it is difficult to determine the risk of extinction of an ecological community or threatened species.
9.2 Minimum public exhibition periods for proposed public consultation documents
Section 9.2(4) allows summaries rather than full documents to be made available for public consultation. This judgement will be made by the proponent, whose view is likely to be biased. There is no provision for the public to request the full document if, in their view, they need the detailed information to understand the issue fully and make a considered submission.
9.10 Restriction of access to certain information in registers
This section allows the Environment Agency Head to restrict access to information about high value conservation areas. This is open to abuse and definitional difficulties (what is “the public interest” with regard to a natural area when there are conflicting views on its future – conservation or commercial?). As well, Part (3) allows landholders to damage an area of high conservation value and then argue ignorance of its values, instead of utilising the precautionary principle to determine that an area has values until proven otherwise.
Attachment B: Local Land Services Amendment Bill 2016
60C Meaning of “clearing” native vegetation
The new act retains “burning” under the definition of clearing of native vegetation. This is erroneous, as burning, especially as “managed burning” in its various guises does not kill most species of plants in a vegetation community and is a widely-applied method of stimulating the regeneration of native vegetation and vegetation health.
60F Responsibility for preparation and publication of maps
What situation applies in the time between enactment of the Act and the production of the native vegetation regulatory (category 1 and 2) map? We foresee that production of a map showing categories will be difficult, because, so far, no reliable technology has been developed to map the quality, condition and value of native grasslands using remote sensing.
60G Category 1 – exempt land mapping
Section 2(a) makes reference to low conservation value grasslands (LCVG). How is this vegetation category to be defined? This is the only reference to this type in the Act and there is no definition. The newly listed Critically Endangered Ecological Community, Natural Temperate Grassland of the South Eastern Highlands (NTG–SEH) (http://www.environment.gov.au/biodiversity/threatened/communities/pubs/152-conservation-advice.pdf), provides guidance for a definition of LCVG, but how will this be translated to a regional or state-wide map for this community? What about other listed grassland communities? Similarly, how will low conservation value grassland sections of Box-Gum Woodlands (NSW and EPBC listed) and other woodland EECs be defined?
60H Category 2 – regulated land mapping
The same statements apply to section 2(e) as above for LCVG.
60I Matters relating to determination of mapped category of land
Section (2) states that native vegetation that comprises grasslands or other non-woody vegetation is considered cleared if the native vegetation was significantly disturbed or modified. How is this to be determined? What is the scientific justification for this clause? How does it relate to 60G Section 2(a)?
60J Re-categorisation of mapped land
Sections 3(e) and (f) make reference to “rotational farming practices”, being those practices that may be used in justification of re-categorisation land from 2 to 1. “Rotational farming practices” is left subject to be defined in the regulations (section 8). This leaves much in doubt as to the way the Act will operate.
Section 6 states that the” Environment Agency Head, when making a determination that grasslands or other non-woody vegetation was significantly disturbed or modified on 1 January 1990 or between that date and the commencement of this Part for the purposes of a re-categorisation of the land, is to take into account any evidence provided by the landholder”. There are no provisions for guidelines to be established as to how this is to be determined.
Division 5 Clearing native vegetation under land management (native vegetation) code
The Act provides for special cases to be made via the development of codes (codes of practice) for particular instances. This means that the Act hands over responsibility for these special cases to the development of codes, and also means that there will need to be further rounds of consultation for the production of each code. The Monaro grasslands issue is highly likely to be one such special case. Previous experience has shown that development of codes and adoption of these is fraught, with the risk of political imperatives taking precedence over biodiversity considerations.
Much effort has been expended on development of grassland assessment methodology for establishment of codes for grasslands for several regions, including the Monaro, Brigalow Belt South Plains and Riverina, each of which has Commonwealth EPBC Act listed CEECs and/or EECs. Other regions that contain areas of grasslands, particularly secondary grasslands which are part of the Box-Gum Woodland CEECs and/or EECs (State and Commonwealth-listed), require the development of assessment methodologies and codes to ensure that these grasslands are adequately assessed under this draft Act.
60Z Provisions relating to set-aside areas
Section 2 introduces the idea that set-aside areas can be of replanted vegetation. Replanting is unacceptable as a substitute for the removal of mature remnant woody vegetation. The ecological values and functioning of a mature patch of woody vegetation cannot be compared with replanted vegetation, which may never reach the same values and level of functionality, and if it should, would take many years before the same values and level of functioning will be achieved. For example, it takes up to 100 years for hollows to form in trees in coastal regions, and probably many more years in drier environments in the Tablelands and Slopes of NSW. Given that a large proportion of NSW fauna are hollow-dependent, and many of these are threatened species, allowing revegetation to replace cleared remnant vegetation as a set-aside will result in depletion of this valuable resource. In another example, clearing of vegetation does not simply mean clearing of the trees, which could conceivably be replaced by trees planted by revegetation. A vegetation community comprises trees, shrubs and groundlayer species, as well as a range of soil biota, all existing on soil that has particular nutrient cycling processes. Such a system is impossible to be replaced with revegetation, especially if such revegetation is carried out on sites where the groundlayer and soil conditions are severely altered due to past agricultural activities.
Section 6 states that the regulations may make provision for set-aside areas to be registered on the title to the land concerned. Failure of the regulations to do so will mean that new landholders may clear in previously established set-aside areas. This clause must be strengthened in this Act; in other words, the Act should enshrine the principle that set-aside areas cannot be cleared by new landholders.
Schedule 5A, Part 2 Clearing for allowable activities – general
24 Sustainable grazing
This section states that “Sustainable grazing is grazing by livestock, and the management of grasslands used for grazing, that is not likely to result in the substantial long-term decline in the structure and composition of native vegetation. Management of grasslands includes (without limitation) the over-sowing or fertilisation of grasslands.”
The addition of fertilisers is generally considered detrimental to native grasslands. The “Approved conservation advice for the Natural Temperate Grassland of the South Eastern Highlands (NTG–SEH) ecological community” (http://www.environment.gov.au/biodiversity/threatened/communities/pubs/152-conservation-advice.pdf) makes several references to the harmful effect of addition of fertilisers to grasslands, as follows:
“Changes in fertility will also change dominance, with a few species tolerating fertilisation (e.g. Microlaena stipoides, some Rytidosperma spp.). Under conditions of very high fertility and grazing, exotic grasses tend to dominate and hence the grassland is effectively cleared (McIntyre, 2008).”
“The species composition of a site at any one time is influenced by the season of the year, previous or current rainfall or drought conditions and by the prior or on-going disturbances occurring at the site, particularly prior or current grazing regimes and the presence or absence of fertiliser application (Sharp and Shorthouse, 1996; Environment ACT, 2005; Prober et al., 2009).”
“Large perennial tussock grasses are a key functional type in this ecosystem and these are vulnerable to the effects of heavy grazing, and fertilization and grazing combined.”
“Avoid disturbances that detrimentally alter the hydrology or nutrient status of a patch. For example: avoid the influx of nutrients and water to reduce the spread and establishment of invasive species, avoid the use of fertilizers in and around patches of the ecological community.”
“NTG-SEH has also been retained on private grazing lands, where fertiliser application, cultivation and pasture modification have not been applied and grazing pressures have been minimal.”
“Two newly emerging threats have been identified as affecting NTG-SEH. The first comes from the application of a cropping technique called “pasture cropping”, which is the sowing of winter cereal crops into degraded grasslands (OEH, 2012e). This technique shows some promise in the rehabilitation of grasslands into a state that resembles NTG-SEH. However, misapplication of the technique by using it in patches of defined NTG-SEH, particularly if this includes use of herbicides or fertilisers, may have adverse effects for the integrity of the NTG-SEH.”
“Grazing by domestic stock and feral animals and the introduction of fertiliser has significantly impacted on grassland community structure and composition (Costin, 1954; Clarke, 2003; Keith, 2004; Environment ACT, 2005; Lunt et al., 2007; Eco Logical Australia, 2009; Tozer et al., 2010; SEWPAC, 2012a; Dunlop et al., 2012).”
“Elevated phosphorus and available nitrates from animal waste and fertilisers have been linked to the loss of native species and increases in annual exotic grass cover that in turn out-compete native herbaceous species (Dorrough et al., 2008; Dorrough et al., 2011).”
“Pre-settlement structure and composition can now only be inferred from the few remnants that have rarely, if ever, been grazed by domestic stock and/or subject to application of fertilisers, including remnants in country cemeteries and roadside reserves (NSW grassy ecosystems database).”
“Changes are likely to have been more extreme after the beginning of the 20th century, due to increased pressures from grazing stock and rabbits, introduction of the more intensive agricultural practices of fertilisation and cropping, coupled with the effects of severe droughts. Recent studies indicate that the introduction of fertilisers leading to an increase in nutrients, particularly in available nitrate and phosphorus, have had severe detrimental effects on native species composition in grassy ecosystems (Dorrough et al., 2008, Prober et al., 2009).”
“Grazing by domestic stock and introduction of fertiliser is known to affect the structure and composition of this ecological community by:
- Changing the dominance of particular grass species that may be prone to heavy grazing. For example, changing a kangaroo grass dominated patch to that dominated by spear grasses or wallaby grasses (SEWPAC, 2012a), as described in Criterion 3;
- Changing the composition of species. Native grasses that were dominant prior to European settlement have either been partially or completely replaced by other native or introduced species (Costin, 1954; Dunlop et al., 2012). Overgrazing by domestic stock, in conjunction with nutrient enrichment, is thought to have contributed to declines in perennial native tussock species and native forbs (Dorrough et al., 2008; Prober et al., 2009; Dunlop et al., 2012), and increases in exotic annuals (Prober et al., 2009; Dunlop et al., 2012);
- Creating gaps for the establishment of introduced herbaceous plants that may compete with native plant species, resulting in further declines in native species diversity and alterations to vegetation structure and nutrient levels (McIntyre et al., 2002; Prober et al., 2009; Tozer et al., 2010).”
“...many species in NTG-SEH are considered to have become rare because of the combined effects of high-intensity stock grazing, fertiliser application and other pastoral developments in NTG-SEH (Dorrough et al., 2008). The fact that the rarest species are generally found only at sites that have experienced very minor stock grazing pressure and little or no fertiliser application is evidence for this.”
“Increased fertility can change the community structure and floristics (Environment ACT, 2005; Dorrough et al., 2006; Prober et al., 2009; SEWPAC, 2012a). This is particularly so in run-on areas such as drainage lines, and the grasslands dominated by Poa labillardierei (river tussock) are particularly prone to functional collapse and partial or complete replacement by aggressively competing introduced pasture species (Benson, 1994). Grasslands dominated by kangaroo grass, a C4 species adapted to low-nutrient, low-moisture conditions, are also susceptible to nutrient increases, as are many forb species (Dorrough et al., 2008). Increases in fertility, including from the application of fertilisers, are associated with the replacement of a diversity of native perennial species with fewer annual exotic species, which in turn renders the grassland less resilient to drought (Dorrough et al., 2008) and results in a seasonal pattern of high and low nitrate levels limiting the ability for native species to establish (Prober et al., 2009). A range of other alterations to composition related to soil fertility changes have been noted (SEWPAC, 2012a).”
“Changes to a variety of soil properties have been recorded as major impacts on NTG-SEH. These include changed drainage patterns, changed soil moisture regimes, depletion of organic matter, compaction, salinisation, creation of bare areas, erosion, loss of soil moisture and changed soil fertility regimes (Environment ACT, 2005; SEWPAC, 2012a). The component native flora and fauna, in particular invertebrates, and the integrity of ecosystem processes can be seriously affected by these changes (SEWPAC, 2012a). Disruption of ecological processes from soil changes is likely to include the vital cycling of organic matter, nutrients, gases and water (Sharp, 2011).”
Clearly, the addition of fertilisers is detrimental to native grassland, so the clause in this section needs to be modified to delete reference to addition of fertiliser being considered as part of sustainable management of grassland.
30 Maximum authorised clearing for rural infrastructure
What is the justification for having wider clearing zones in the Western zone, compared to the Central and Coastal Zones? There seems to be no justification for varying clearing zones based on where you are in the state.
The code does not make it clear as to whether the clearing zone would be allowed on each side of the fence? This needs clarification.
Clause b states that, depending on the zone and except on small holdings and for temporary fences, the allowable clearing zone varies between 40 and 15 metres. Each of these clearing zones is excessive, especially if there is remnant vegetation in adjacent areas, say for example in roadside reserves or on neighbouring properties. Additionally, clearing from each piece of infrastructure could amount to substantial amounts; clearing 30 m of vegetation from 1 km of fence line amounts to 3 ha of land cleared. Under this Act, the value of remnant vegetation appears to be placed well below the material value of such infrastructure, which includes permanent boundary fences, permanent internal fences, roads, tracks and pipelines.
What is the justification of setting the maximum allowable clearing distance of up to 40 m for large holdings, 12 m for small holdings and 6 m for clearing on category-2 vulnerable regulated land? The maximum allowable clearing rate for infrastructure should be no more than 6 m in all cases.
Attachment C: LLS Codes of Practice
The Codes as they stand are somewhat sloppily written and difficult to interpret, and by no means suitable to be enacted in their current state.
The note at the bottom of the table “Equity Code set-aside ratios” states that “Consistent with requirements under the Native Vegetation Act 2003, clearing that is compliant with land management codes will not remove the obligation of landholders to obtain approval under the Commonwealth Environmental Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 where necessary. ‘Actions’ that are likely to have a significant impact on a matter of national environmental significance require approval under the EPBC Act.” Under the current Act, officers have generally applied its provisions to entities listed under the EPBC Act. The above statement needs to be clarified, because, in the case of certain EPBC-listed CEECs and EECs that exist in the rural landscape, no state-equivalent CEEC or EEC exists, and the risk will be that such communities will fall through the cracks. It is highly unlikely that LLS staff will recommend to landholders to obtain approval from the Australian Government, nor is it likely that the Australian Government area that administers the EPBC Act will have the staff or resources to assess each clearing application across the NSW rural landscape. There is a great risk that NSW landholders will not apply to the Australian Government for approval to clear. This is simply adding another level of red-tape.
The Codes of Practice do not consider threatened species. There are no provisions for assessment to include consideration of threatened species. Many threatened species occur in the rural landscape, with some totally dependent on vegetation types found in the rural landscape. The codes introduce a grave risk that sites containing threatened fauna and flora species will be destroyed. The risk is that high quality vegetation of a particular type containing populations of threatened fauna or flora will be cleared, only to be set-aside by samples of the same vegetation type in poor condition where threatened species do not occur. This is a major failing of the Codes of Practice.
Comments concerning specific features of the different codes follow.
1. Codes Overview
The table that summarises the Codes introduces the concepts of “certification” and “notification” for high and low impact clearing, respectively. While the meaning and definition of “certification” is covered by the Local Land Services Amendment Bill 2016, and in the LLS Codes of Practice, there is no definition of or even reference to “notification”, as referred to in the LLS Codes of Practice in the Local Land Services Amendment Bill 2016. This implies that high-impact activities are covered by the Act, but low-impact activities are not.
What is the relationship between the set-asides in this section, and those in the Equity Code, below? There is no clarity on this.
Overall, there appears to be a disparity between the rules applied for farmers (using these codes) compared with those undertaking development (in the draft Biodiversity Conservation Bill 2016). It appears that farmers’ set-asides are lower than those required for developers providing offsets.
Under the heading, “Property Planning”, the farm planning code will enable up to a threshold percentage of category 2 mapped land on a property to be ‘redistributed’. This will encourage revegetation by enabling landholders to access clearing in exchange for targeted planting that improves biodiversity by creating or improving the condition of cores and corridors.
Revegetation is unacceptable as a substitute for the removal of mature remnant woody vegetation. The ecological values and functioning of a mature patch of woody vegetation cannot be compared with replanted vegetation, which may never reach the same values and level of functionality, and if it should, would take many years before the same values and level of functioning will be achieved. For example, it takes up to 100 years for hollows to form in trees in coastal regions, and probably many more years in drier environments in the Tablelands and Slopes of NSW. Given that a large proportion of NSW fauna are hollow-dependent and many of these are threatened species, allowing revegetation to replace cleared remnant vegetation as a set-aside will result in depletion of this valuable resource. In another example, clearing of vegetation does not simply mean clearing of the trees, which could conceivably be replaced by trees planted by revegetation. A vegetation community comprises trees, shrubs and many, many groundlayer species, as well as a range of soil biota, all existing on soil that has particular nutrient cycling processes. Such a system is impossible to be replaced with revegetation, especially if such revegetation is carried out on sites where the groundlayer and soil conditions are severely altered due to past agricultural activities.
The list of clearing not to be permitted under codes should be amended to include:
1. Vegetation that is part of a NSW State or Commonwealth (EPBC) listed Critically Endangered Ecological Community; and
2. Vegetation that is in moderate to high condition with sections that are part of a NSW State or Commonwealth (EPBC) listed Endangered Ecological Community.
There is no mention in the Code that set-asides need to be “like-for-like”. Failure to implement this requirement will mean that rarer vegetation communities will be cleared for more common communities. This is a major departure from the current Act and will have a deleterious effect on the state of biodiversity in the rural landscape.
The code states that where a set-aside requirement is met by intensive or moderate management of remnant vegetation, LLS is authorised to advise landholders about the best location for set-asides to maximise biodiversity outcomes, including by establishing or improving the condition of cores and corridors. Is this to be a legislative requirement, or can the advice of a LLS officer be ignored by the landholder wishing to clear particular areas in preference over other others? If this clause is not a legislative requirement, then there is a risk of minimising biodiversity outcomes. Also, there is a risk that an LLS officer may not have adequate training to understand where and how to maximise biodiversity outcomes, or may be swayed by arguments by the landholder, by the application of efficiency codes (see below), which are loose and very much open to interpretation.
Baseline ratios are not adequate to satisfactorily provide for the clearing of vegetation. Intensive management of a set-aside remnant allows a set-aside ratio of 1:1. If this is applied across NSW, it means that notionally half of all remnant vegetation that is not part of an EEC will be potentially lost across the rural landscape in NSW. Even if the set-asides are to be under moderate management, it still means that one third of all remnant vegetation that is not part of an EEC will be potentially lost across the rural landscape in NSW.
As part of the set-aside regime, revegetation is unacceptable as a set-aside for the removal of mature remnant woody vegetation, as explained above.
There is no indication in the codes as to how “intensive managed” and “moderately managed” are to be defined or how these classes of set-asides will be monitored by the LLS.
Treatment of EECs
EEC sites should be red-lighted, as in the previous Act. The Code specifically only refers to EECs under NSW legislation. This should be extended to CEECs and EECs under the Australian Government’s EBPC Act, as is implied in parts of the draft Biodiversity Conservation Bill 2016, although this is by no means consistent there.
Clearing of EECs and CEECs should only be undertaken in areas of vegetation in low condition classes. EPBC Act listed CEECs and EECs are specifically designed to enable assessment of areas of low condition class. In many NSW-listed EECS, there is no such provision. However, many NSW-listed CEECs and EECs have an EPBC Act listed community that is equivalent. The EBPC Act listed communities, therefore, provide a clearer measure of which parts of CEECs or EECs could potentially be cleared. For further information about EBPC Act listed grassy communities, refer to the following listings: http://www.environment.gov.au/biodiversity/threatened/communities/pubs/152-conservation-advice.pdf and http://www.environment.gov.au/cgi-bin/sprat/public/publicshowcommunity.pl?id=43.
In the case of clearing of low-condition class EPBC-listed CEECs, then the clearing should attract set-asides at the same rate as for non-EEC vegetation.
The term “a 50% loading is applied to the relevant set-aside ratio for EEC clearing” is difficult to interpret. If it is taken to mean that set-aside ratios for EEC sites are 2:1 for intensively managed vegetation, then that clearly is inadequate and reflects poorly on the value of EECs. Also, areas under the thresholds only apparently require the same set-aside ratios as non-EEC vegetation, which again is clearly inadequate and reflects poorly on the value of EECs. For many EECs, most of their distribution is over lands that are now primarily used for agriculture, and to potentially allow the reduction of their extent by such poor set-aside ratios does not recognise that the major threat to these CEECs and EECs has been clearing for agricultural development. Examples of agriculture as a threatening process can be seen in the following listings:
- Paragraph 8 of http://www.environment.nsw.gov.au/determinations/BoxgumWoodlandEndComListing.htm
- Paragraph 10 of http://www.environment.nsw.gov.au/determinations/tablelandssnowgumFD.htm
- Appendix D of http://www.environment.gov.au/biodiversity/threatened/communities/pubs/152-conservation-advice.pdf
The term “50% or more of the vegetation comprising the overstory, midstory or groundcover in the area proposed to be cleared are species not identified in the EEC determination as constituting the EEC” needs further explanation. Does 50% refer to a percentage of the species actually present, or the cover of the species present? For example, a site may be dominated by species of a listed community, but have additional species that are not listed in the EEC’s final determination, but would still be considered part of that EEC by relevant experts. There is no requirement that an LLS officer would need to source additional expert advice in this matter. It is clearly inadequate that an LLS officer’s opinion would be enough to assess the presence or otherwise of an EEC. The species lists in the determinations are a guide to recognition of an EEC, but are by no means definitive. This clause will need considerable refinement.
The 50% reduction of a set-aside from non-EEC vegetation if a sample of an EEC is to be used as a set-aside, is unacceptable. Firstly, this contravenes the “like-for-like” principle present in the current Act. Secondly, reducing the set-aside ratio from 1:1 for intensely managed vegetation to 2:1 does not adequately reflect the value of vegetation in EECs.
2. Management codes
In the tables, in the sections entitled “Clearing method”, in both “Clearing by notification (level 1)” and “Clearing by certification (level 2)”, an additional dot point needs to be added in each table, in the field “Clearing method”, as follows:
· “Clearing is to be undertaken by chain-sawing individual trees and removal of material so as not to destroy the midlayer and groundlayer vegetation.”
What is the justification for having two levels in this section of the code? Level 2 allows thinning to 50% of benchmark if not in an EEC. This seems to be excessive clearing, especially if no set-asides or limits to areas are required.
3. Efficiency codes
Cropping Efficiency code
This efficiency code effectively destroys paddock trees for the sake of “efficiency” which is undefined in the code. Paddock trees are a diminishing resource and are virtually irreplaceable. They provide valuable resources for fauna, particularly birds and pollinating insects, in the rural landscape as well as being part of the amenity and scenic landscape. Paddock trees could also be important for stock shelter. Trees under 80 cm DBOBH may still contain hollows valuable for smaller fauna (small gliders, smaller hollow-dependent birds, native bees), and if left will ultimately provide hollows for larger fauna species. Old trees with hollows have a limited life, so removing all younger trees will not allow replacement of that important resource. Paddock trees also provide higher levels of resources compared with trees of the same species on hills, as they have access to higher nutrient levels and moisture resulting in more nutritious foliage and richer nectar flows, which are important resources for fauna using them. Paddock tees provide valuable connectivity stepping stones, also vitally important in fragmented rural landscapes.
The codes do not allow for any offsetting, but only require basic set-aside ratios. Offsetting at high ratios (say 1:5 or 1:10) would ensure that paddock trees are retained, but this code provides no such measure, and therefore could result in widespread indiscriminate loss of half the paddock trees on any farm. This is even more concerning if the like-for-like rule is not retained.
Grazing Efficiency code
The above statements apply for this code.
System Efficiency code
This code enables clearing of vegetation to enable “more efficiency in farm management”. How is “more efficiency in farm management” to be assessed and defined? This and the other codes appear to be arbitrary and open to abuse.
4. Equity code
The equity code enables undue clearing of vegetation because, if a larger proportion of vegetation remains on a property, then greater amounts can be cleared because the set-asides for such instances are smaller. This also means that high quality vegetation can be cleared on farms that are newly purchased. A farm that has been looked after by previous owners, either because the previous owners valued the native vegetation as part of a sustainable grazing enterprise or because of its conservation value, may be cleared by the new owner. It effectively rewards new owners for destroying high quality vegetation on newly purchased farms.
This is particularly so if a site has a conservation agreement (CA) applied by the previous owner. The proposed Biodiversity Conservation Bill 2016 states that “A conservation agreement has effect in perpetuity unless it is terminated by consent of all the owners of the land at the time of the termination or in any such other manner or in such circumstances as may be set out in the agreement.” That clause effectively makes the conservation agreement valueless as it is only in force as long as the current owners agree to keep it in force. It means that should a site with a CA be sold, then the new owners may terminate the agreement immediately. This is in contrast to the CAs of the previous Act, in which the CA could only be terminated by the Minister.
The table outlining equity Code set-aside ratios does not provide units in the first column. It is assumed that the units are percent (%).
5. Farm Plan code
This code will allow clearing of vegetation with a set-aside at the ratio of 1:1 with the set-aside being revegetation. This is totally unacceptable and provides people with the ability to ignore other codes and use this less restrictive code in preference. Furthermore, as pointed out above, revegetation is an unacceptable offset for clearing.
Attachment D: Native Vegetation Regulatory Map – Map Method Statement
2.5 Key steps and sources of information
Map examples in Figure 2 imply that only woody vegetation will be picked up in the method. The paddock in the bottom right of the series of images is highly likely to be woodland with a native grassy groundlayer. In the final output of the map, the “NV Map”, it is only the woodland trees that have been picked up as category 2, while the inter-tree spaces are mapped category 1. This woody/non-woody dichotomy is of concern in such a case, because it would ignore the long-term future of the woodland. Without the support of all components of a functioning ecosystem, which includes the groundlayer, the woodland will not be able to be sustained. FOG appreciates that this is just an example, but presenting it like this may give a misleading impression of the way the mapping process works.
5.3.3 The seasonal cover disturbance image
Development of the seasonal cover disturbance image
This section implies that all native pastures act in a similar way. The assumptions in this section hold for C4-dominated pastures, but C3-dominated pastures demonstrate similar dynamics to exotic pastures in wet years, as they will show a peak of greenness in wet years.
The groundlayer under woodland trees is in most situations now largely dominated by C3 grasses.
Conversely, a number of exotic-plant-based pastures dominated by C4 grasses such as African Lovegrass will function like native pastures. These weed-dominated pastures will not be picked up by this method.
A number of EECs are considered to be so, regardless of whether the land has been cleared of trees or not. For example, the nationally-listed as critically endangered woodland community commonly referred to as Box-Gum Woodland (also listed as endangered under NSW legislation) may include areas of native grassland with high conservation value. If these areas appear as wooded in early maps used by of the mapping process, are cleared of trees later and are still dominated by a native groundlayer (which is likely to be dominated by C3 grasses – see above), then such cases may be wrongly mapped to category 1.
Attachment E: Draft Biodiversity Assessment Method
There are sections of the Biodiversity Assessment Method (BAM) which are poorly written and difficult to interpret. These should be amended and then the document put out for another round of consultation.
2.2.3 Use of certified more appropriate local data
The base data specified in the Biodiversity Assessment Method is not at the standard needed to assess vegetation communities adequately. In particular, the base datasets do not deal well with grasslands and grassy woodlands, and other areas containing sparse trees. However, local governments are unlikely to hold better data on these plant communities nor, in most cases, do they have the expertise to assess these communities. It is essential that good quality data be obtained before any assessment of quality of these ecosystems is done.
3.6 Assessment of biodiversity values
The Consultation note for public exhibition indicates that the condition threshold “…may require setting a different condition threshold (from 17) for non-woody vegetation such as grasslands and freshwater wetlands”. In FOG’s view a different threshold is essential, since the measures proposed rely in part on the presence of trees. FOG notes that “The final threshold will be defined in the final BAM following further field trials of the BAM and feedback from the community”; FOG asks that it be consulted in relation to thresholds for grasslands and grassy woodlands.
5.3.2 Determining the PCT group and the threat status class of the PCT or ecological community
Section 184.108.40.206 only makes reference to NSW-listed EECs and CEECs on the draft BC Bill. It should be extended to include CEECs and EECs on the EPBC Act. This clause is not consistent with other sections of the Biodiversity Assessment Method (BAM), where EPBC-listed CEECs and EECs are included.
These inconsistencies are also evident in the draft LLS Codes of Practice.
Under the current Act, officers have generally applied its provisions to entities listed under the EPBC Act. The above statement needs to be clarified because, in the case of certain EPBC-listed CEECs and EECs that exist in the rural landscape, no state-equivalent CEEC or EEC exists, and the risk will be that such communities will fall through the cracks. It is highly unlikely that LLS staff will recommend to landholders to obtain approval from the Australian Government, nor is it likely that the Australian Government that administers the EPBC Act will have the staff or resources to assess each clearing application across the NSW rural landscape. There is a great risk that NSW landholders will not apply to the Australian Government for approval to clear. This is simply adding another level of red-tape.
5.4.2 Assessing vegetation integrity (site condition)
Section 220.127.116.11 states that “For vegetation formations that are heathlands, grasslands, alpine complex, arid shrubland and freshwater wetlands the assessor must survey each vegetation zone identified on the map to obtain a quantitative measure for each zone of the composition and structure attributes listed in Table 4. Function attributes do not apply to these vegetation formations.” Table 4 includes structural and functional elements that are only appropriate for woody vegetation. Therefore, assessment of grasslands (natural and derived), heathlands and wetlands will still be failed using the new BAM.
5.4.3 Plot and transect surveys
Assessment of structure (Section) 18.104.22.168 along transects has been shown to under-sample forbs in grasslands, therefore is unsuitable as part of an assessment procedure for grasslands. Forbs are amongst the most important elements in defining the quality of grassland sites.
The consultation note under the Function section states “Whilst the BAM assesses ‘large trees’, it will not require specific identification of (hollow bearing trees) HBTs. Large trees can be cleared at a development site without the explicit requirement for them to be present at a biodiversity stewardship site.”
It then asks “Do you agree that ‘number of large trees’ is an appropriate surrogate for HBTs? Should there be a specific offset requirement for large trees to be present on a biodiversity stewardship site when they are impacted through development or clearing activities?”
While large trees are likely to be a surrogate for hollow-bearing trees, there should clearly be a requirement that large trees that are cleared be offset by large trees at a suitable like-for-like offset ratio. If this were not to happen, the risk is that clearing could remove all old trees in the landscape only to be offset by vegetation of poorer quality. For example, large trees in productive parts of the landscape could be cleared and only be offset by vegetation of the same Plant Community Type (PCT) but in less productive upslope areas, or worse, be offset by trees from a different PCT.
5.5 Determining the vegetation integrity score
Equation 10 shows an equation to derive vegetation integrity scores for non-treed systems. This is supplied here without any worked examples, which makes it difficult to assess its worth as a method for assessment. However, if the structure elements of Table 4 are used, then there is a clear lack of variables that can be applied to grasslands. Moreover, high quality grasslands may be dominated by few species, and have a variety of forbs present but in low density. Such grasslands will be very poorly sampled by transects as discussed above, because forbs, especially those that indicate quality, will be under-sampled.
An alternative method (Floristic Value Scoring) has been developed and tested for a number of NSW regions (South Eastern Highlands, Monaro, Brigalow Belt South, Riverina) and accepted for use by the Australian Government under the CEEC listing for Natural Temperate Grassland of the South Eastern Highlands (NTG–SHE) – see http://www.environment.gov.au/biodiversity/threatened/communities/pubs/152-conservation-advice.pdf. This method, which uses indicator species, should be adopted for grassland (natural and derived) across NSW. Reference for this method is Rehwinkel (2014) Assessing grassland site condition using the Floristic Value Scoring method. In ‘Grass half full or grass half empty? Valuing native grassy landscapes’ Friends of Grasslands’ forum 30 October – 1 November 2014 Friends of Grasslands Inc. (www.fog.org.au) at: http://www.fog.org.au/Articles/2014%20forum/Field%20sites%20-%20Jerrabomberra%20ACT%20+%20updated%20Floristic%20Scoring%20paper,%20FOG%20forum,%20hi%20res.pdf. The advantage of using this method is that it is relatively simple and considers the major factors relating to presence of species within a grassland – relative rarity of plant species and their susceptibility to disturbance. The method is quantitative and undertaken in a 20 m x 20 m plot, applying consistent ratings that can be compared with those from other sites. The EPBC Act listing (above) provides further details on the assessment of condition and application of criteria to determine the conservation value of a site.
10 Determining the offset requirement
The note for consultation states that the offset multiplier for an entity or a habitat component of an entity is set out in the Threatened Species Profile Database (TSDB). Access to the TSDB requires login, therefore is not easy to access. For those that do have login access, it is not clear in which field the offset multiplier is displayed. There is no field in the TSDB with this title.
10.2.1 Ecosystem credits and species credits
This section states that “The offset rules set out in the regulations will prescribe how an offset requirement can be met”. However, we could not ascertain what these offset rules might be or if they will differ from those in OEH principles for the use of biodiversity offsets in NSW. In particular, it is essential that offset requirements be met within the same IBRA, are like-for-like, and supplementary to existing commitments.
10.3.2 Calculate the future vegetation integrity score for a development site or biodiversity certification proposal
Section 10.3.2.2 states that for PCT groups in treeless heathlands, shrublands, grasslands and wetlands formations, the future vegetation integrity for a zone is calculated as the geometric mean of composition and structure scores using Equation 12. As discussed above, the values that are plugged into the equation for grassland condition are not adequate. An alternative grassland assessment method is discussed above.
10.5.4 Variation to the like-for-like offset rules for ecosystem credits
The note for consultation seeks input re varying the like-for-like rule. There should be no variation of the current like-for-like rule, because the risks are that very rare samples of CEECs or EECs will be entirely lost without adequate offsetting if no offset sites of equivalent PCTs can be found. The like-for-like rule should only be applied to offset sites of equivalent PCTs and not those of equivalent threat status, and only for those that are available in the same IBRA region. There is a risk of regional extinction of the CEEC or EEC if the like-for-like rule is relaxed for offsetting within the region.
There must be a red-light provision applied for CEEC sites in general, and for high quality EEC sites. In the case of EEC sites of lower quality, then no offsetting should be allowed into other community types or into equivalent EEC sites in other regions.
The same applies for offsetting for threatened fauna or flora species.
If offset cannot be found for CEECs and EECs, then that should act as a red-light to prevent further clearing of those entities.
10.5.7 Variation to the like-for-like rules for species credits
The same applies for offsetting for threatened fauna or flora species.
If offset cannot be found for threatened species, then that should act as a red-light to prevent further clearing of those entities or their habitat.
10.5.8 Use of biodiversity conservation measures
The use of biodiversity conservation measures as a substitute for offsetting into like-for-like sites in the same IBRA region is not an acceptable way to offset loss of sites containing EECs or threatened species.
If offsetting is used for conservation measures, rather than for within-region and like-for-like offset, then there is a risk that regional populations of threatened species and rare samples of EECs will become extinct within regions. FOG is also yet to be convinced that there are proven biodiversity conservation actions that would meet this criterion in relation to grassy ecosystems and dependent species. Substituting money for on-ground conservation, as this section implies, does not, in FOG’s view, constitute an acceptable offset.
If suitable offsets cannot be found, then the development should be red-lighted and not proceed as proposed.
12.3 Management actions that improve biodiversity values
Table 16 (Management actions required for improving vegetation integrity and threatened species habitat at a biodiversity stewardship site) includes the field “Restore/rehabilitate native vegetation”. It is unacceptable to use restored or rehabilitated vegetation as an offset for the loss of cleared vegetation. The functioning of a mature patch of woody vegetation cannot be compared with re-planted vegetation, which may never reach the same level of functionality, and if it should, would take many years before the same level of functioning will be achieved. For example, it takes up to 100 years for hollows to form in trees in coastal regions, and probably many more years in drier environments in the Tablelands and Slopes of NSW. Given that a large proportion of NSW fauna are hollow-dependent, and many of these are threatened species, allowing revegetation to replace cleared remnant vegetation as a set-aside will result in depletion of this valuable resource. In another example, clearing of vegetation does not simply mean clearing of the trees, which could conceivably be replaced by trees planted by revegetation. A vegetation community comprises trees, shrubs and many, many groundlayer species, as well as a range of soil biota, all existing on soil that has particular nutrient cycling processes. Such a system is impossible to be replaced with revegetation, especially if such revegetation is carried out on sites where the groundlayer and soil conditions are severely altered due to past agricultural activities.
12.14 Assessing the ecological rehabilitation of previously mined land
The BAM appears to imply that credits can go towards rehabilitation of mined land. This is unacceptable, for the following reasons:
1. It should be the responsibility of the mining company to restore land that has been destroyed; and
2. As stated above, as the biodiversity values on rehabilitated land will take too long to reach a condition and functioning where it could be compared to natural vegetation.
The definition of grasslands is too narrow in that it states grasslands occur on flat topography. This needs to be widened to include hilly terrain. Grasslands in the South Eastern Highlands occur on such terrain and are not restricted to flat terrain. Further information on where natural grasslands occur within the South Eastern Highlands has been well documented and researched (Armstrong et al., 2013). The definition as stated is inaccurate, poorly researched and will inevitably lead to the loss of natural grassland that does not occur on flat topography.
Appendix 1: Streamlined assessment module – clearing paddock trees not covered by the self-assessable code
Table 20 sets out the number of ecosystem credits required per paddock tree. This is difficult to interpret, but one interpretation could be that this does not take account of the likely value of the remaining vegetation of the property. It allows clearing of paddock trees with no credits generated if there is >70% of native vegetation remaining on the property, and then scales the credits according to the DBHOB of the trees to be cleared and the amount of vegetation remaining. This does not allow adequate accounting of the particular values of the trees to be cleared. For example, the situation may be that there is a very large tree with hollows that are important for hollow-dependent fauna, and growing on fertile soil, which means that its foliage is nutrient-rich and nectar flows are abundant. If the remaining vegetation of the property is between 30% and 70% but that remaining vegetation is on poor, skeletal soil which does not support hollow-bearing trees, the paddock tree will only generate 4 credits. The remaining vegetation may not be suitable as an offset as there will be no like-for-like vegetation on the property. That offsetting ability will be harder for properties with smaller proportions of native vegetation remaining.
This section is very unclear and needs work to clarify it. Is there meant to be a like-for-like requirement in this section?