Showing posts with label biodiversity. Show all posts
Showing posts with label biodiversity. Show all posts

Tuesday, 13 June 2017

Are Berejiklian & Co attempting to pull an environmental sleight of hand on NSW communities who value their green and biodiverse landscapes?

On  23 November 2016 the NSW Biodiversity Conservation Act 2016 (repealing the Threatened Species Conservation Act 1995, the Nature Conservation Trust Act 2001 and the animal and plant provisions of the National Parks and Wildlife Act 1974) became law.

On the same day the NSW Local Land Services Amendment Act 2016 (repealing the Native Vegetation Act 2003 and amending the Local Land Services Act 2013 in relation to native vegetation land management in rural areas) also became law.

Currently the NSW Berejiklian Coalition Government has these documents on exhibition:
Regulations and other key products to support the Government's new Biodiversity Conservation Act 2016 and Local Land Services Amendment Act 2016, are on exhibition for six weeks from 10 May until 21 June.
Facts sheets and guides that provide detailed information on key topic areas are also available to assist you in making a submission.
Loud warning bells should be ringing in all ears – not least because the draft regulation document State Environmental Planning Policy (Vegetation) 2017 is nowhere to be found.
Instead there is a slick 22-page Explanation of Intended Effect booklet (highlighted in red) which is not worth the paper it is printed on at this point in time.

Why the Berejiklian Government assumes that it is best practice to place major policy change on exhibition with a crucial SEPP not yet drafted is unexplained.

Nor is there any indication as to why this as yet unformed vegetation SEPP is to be signed into government regulation in eleven weeks' time without voters having the opportunity to assess and comment on its precise provisions and wording. 

One has to suspect that the reason for such sleight of hand is that State Environmental Planning Policy (Vegetation) 2017 will contain a workaround for property developers to clear environmentally valuable native vegetation using the new permit system long before land comes before a council for consideration as the subject of a development application.

As the Explanation of Intended Effect now stands it appears that local government will have less control over clearing of native vegetation than it had in the past.
The Better Planning Network (BPN), a state-wide not for profit grassroots volunteer-based organisation, has also highlighted the following issues:

The detailed map of land classified as 'Environmentally Sensitive' is not publicly available.

- The map of Category 1 and Category 2 rural land (ie- land that can be cleared under self-assessable codes or otherwise) is not publicly available.

- The mapping of core koala habitat across NSW has not been completed (we are aware of only 5 NSW Councils that have identified core koala habitat under SEPP 44 Koala Habitat Protection.)

- The details of the Biodiversity Offsets Calculator are not publicly available.
It is impossible for the public to provide accurate feedback on the draft Regulations, Codes and SEPP without access to the above elements.  It is also irresponsible and risky for the Government to operationalise its legislation and regulations before these elements have been finalised. ​

On this basis, we urge you to contact the NSW Premier and the responsible Ministers (UptonRoberts and Blair) to ask them to: 
- ​Extend the public exhibition of all Regulations and Codes under the Biodiversity Conservation Act 2017, as well as the Vegetation SEPP, until the components listed above are made publicly available.

​- ​Ensure that operation of the Biodiversity Conservation Act 2017 does not commence until all relevant mapping, included that listed above, has been completed and reviewed for accuracy by key stakeholders.

An analysis of the draft Regulations, Codes and SEPP has been provided though the Stand Up For Nature Submission Guide. We are preparing our own draft submission which we will circulate to you as soon as possible. However, accurate comment on the full package is not possible until all of the components listed above are made publicly available.

The Environmental Defenders Office NSW (EDO) uploaded this video which walks through the documents on exhibition:

EDO 1 June 2017 seminar slides can be found here. Included in these slides is some advice on what to cover in submissions.

According to the EDO "There are some serious weaknesses" in these draft documents which are intended to become operational on 25 August 2017.

These include:

* Repeal of Native Vegetation Act and environmental standards that go with it, replaced with Codes
* Heavy reliance on flexible and indirect biodiversity offsets – weaker standards in the BAM and for biocertification
* Conservation gains aren't guaranteed in law, but dependent on funding decisions
* There is significant discretion for decision-makers
* Significant risk of policy failure

Locally one can add to this list the fact that Clarence Valley Council has stated:

A review of the draft Sensitive Biodiversity Values Land Map released by OEH reveals that it is missing areas of the Clarence Valley LGA which are known to contain habitat for threatened and critically endangered species or significant biodiversity value (for example core koala habitat identified in the Ashby-Woombah-Iluka koala plan of management, as well as significant areas of littoral rainforest and coastal wetlands).

Concerned residents can have their say until 21 June 2017 by:

Or writing to the Land Management and Biodiversity Conservation Reforms Office,
PO Box A290, Sydney South NSW 1232


At least one local government, Clarence Valley Council, has requested an extension of time to make a submission on these reforms and to date this formal request has been met with deafening silence.

Tuesday, 21 February 2017

Of the 2,145 species studied forty-seven per cent of land-based animals and over twenty-three per cent of threatened birds may have already been negatively impacted by climate change

NATURE.COM, Nature Climate Change,  Letter, abstract, 13 February 2017:

Species’ traits influenced their response to recent climate change

Although it is widely accepted that future climatic change—if unabated—is likely to have major impacts on biodiversity12, few studies have attempted to quantify the number of species whose populations have already been impacted by climate change34. Using a systematic review of published literature, we identified mammals and birds for which there is evidence that they have already been impacted by climate change. We modelled the relationships between observed responses and intrinsic (for example, body mass) and spatial traits (for example, temperature seasonality within the geographic range). Using this model, we estimated that 47% of terrestrial non-volant threatened mammals (out of 873 species) and 23.4% of threatened birds (out of 1,272 species) may have already been negatively impacted by climate change in at least part of their distribution. Our results suggest that populations of large numbers of threatened species are likely to be already affected by climate change, and that conservation managers, planners and policy makers must take this into account in efforts to safeguard the future of biodiversity.


Climate Home, 21 February 2017:

Seaweeds, invertebrates, fish and giant, ethereal kelp jungles are among a group of more than one hundred species that are being driven towards extinction by warming waters around Tasmania, an Australian senate inquiry has heard.

Neville Barrett, a research fellow at the Institute for Marine and Antarctic Studies in Hobart, where the hearing was held, told the Environment and Communications References Committee that the waters around Tasmania were a global hotspot for warming.

“I mentioned that there were 100 or more species in general of kelps and endemic fishes and things that will probably disappear over the coming century, certainly by the turn of the next century under the current bottom end of predictions of climate change,” he told Climate Home after his appearance.

“There’s a whole lot of species on the southern end of Australia that are as far south as they can currently go and some of them are already pushed to their upper thermal limit, as far as summer temperatures will go.”

Beyond Tasmania, there is no major landmass until Antarctica, meaning many species have “nowhere else to go”, said Barrett.

One such species is the giant kelp, Macrocystis pyrifera, the last stands of which Climate Home reported had been lost from Tasmania’s east coast in 2016.

Thursday, 26 January 2017

Administrative Appeals Tribunal asked to rule on Humane Society International FOI request

Humane Society International v Department of the Environment and Energy

Our client, Humane Society International (HSI), is seeking access to documents held by the Australian Department of the Environment and Energy on the adequacy of NSW’s biodiversity offsets policy for major projects ('the Policy').
HSI argues that the public has a right to know why the Australian Government believes, despite evidence to the contrary, that the NSW Policy meets national standards. On behalf of HSI, we are asking the Administrative Appeals Tribunal to find that it is in the public interest to release the documents under Freedom of Information laws. 
Biodiversity offsets have become standard practice in the approval and assessment of major developments in Australia, even though there is little evidence that offset schemes achieve their intended purpose of protecting threatened species from extinction.
Biodiversity offsets allow developers such as mining companies to buy/manage land, or pay money into a fund, to compensate for the clearing of forests and areas containing threatened plants and animals.
Community groups such as HSI are concerned that the method for calculating biodiversity offsets in NSW, contained in the NSW Policy, does not properly protect the environment – including the plants and animals on the national list of threatened species and ecological communities.
The Australian Government, which is responsible for the national list of threatened species – and has international obligations to protect and conserve biodiversity in Australia – has stated that the NSW Policy meets national standards of environmental protection. However, analysis by EDOs of Australia shows clearly that the NSW policy provides weaker environmental protection than required under national environment policies.
With the Australian Government delegating more and more development approval powers to the states and territories under its ‘one stop shop’ policy, community groups fear that there will be fewer protections for our nationally threatened species and ecological communities.
HSI is therefore seeking access to documents detailing the Australian Government’s analysis of the NSW Policy. Access to this information is vital for the public to have confidence that important environmental protections are not being eroded.

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Thursday, 25 August 2016

Northern Rivers councils reject Baird Government's new land clearing legislation

It sometimes seems that every time we turn around in the Northern Rivers there is some politician or commercial interest wanting to diminish or destroy the land we live on and our enviable way of life.

This time it is a state government that has lost sight of what really matters……….

Echo NetDaily, 17 August 2016:

Northern Rivers Regional Organisation of Councils (NOROC), the peak body for the region’s local government organisations, has made a damning appraisal of the Baird government’s proposed new biodiversity and land-clearing laws.

The body has warned in its submission to the government review of land-clearing and threatened species laws the reforms would be bad for biodiversity and sustainability, and add administrative burdens and costs for local councils.

Key concerns raised in the NOROC submission

*The proposed legislation will lead to poorer biodiversity and sustainability outcomes on the far north coast as well as adding significant complexity, administrative burdens and costs for local government.
*The reforms will ‘interfere with the legitimate strategic planning functions of councils including their ability to implement development control policies that properly reflect the desires of their local communities.’
*The new regime will ‘lead to a very uneven distribution of biodiversity loss across the landscape.’
*The proposed reforms ‘represent a significant cost shift to local government. This is acknowledged in the Independent Biodiversity Legislation Review Panel report but not in any of the legislation reform public exhibition materials.’

Nature Conservation Council CEO Kate Smolski said, ‘Nobody supports Mike Baird’s deeply flawed package – not the scientists, not the conservationists, and not NOROC, who have a clear understanding that these laws threaten soils and water supplies and wildlife in the Northern Rivers region.

She called on the Premier to ‘scrap this flawed package of laws and either fund Local Land Services to make the Native Vegetation Act works as it was intended, or go back to the drawing board and come up with another way to provide workable, strong protections for nature in NSW.’….

Tuesday, 24 May 2016

Baird Government continues to betray healthy biodiversity in rural and regional New South Wales

It would appear that there will be barely a protection left to recognised biodiverse regions in New South Wales such as the Northern Rivers once the blinkered Baird Coalition Government has its way…….

EDO NSW (Environmental Defender’s Office), 3 May 2016:

The NSW Government’s proposed biodiversity legislative and policy package removes many of NSW’s long-held environmental protections, and represents a serious backward step for environmental law and policy in New South Wales. Here are EDO NSW's top 10 concerns with the draft Biodiversity Conservation Bill 2016 and Local Land Services Amendment Bill.

1. Repeal of the Native Vegetation Act and environmental standards that go with it

The Local Land Services Amendment Bill replaces the Native Vegetation Act and its world class Environmental Outcomes Assessment Methodology (EOAM) with self-assessable Codes, exemptions and discretionary clearing. There are no clear environmental baselines, aims or targets. There is no ban on broadscale clearing, no mandatory soil, water and salinity assessment, and no ‘maintain-or-improve’ standard to ensure environmental outcomes – either at the site scale or at the landscape scale. Provisions are less stringent, less evidence-based, less accountable, and are likely to result in significant clearing increases in NSW.

2. Heavy reliance on flexible and indirect biodiversity offsets

The proposed scheme is heavily reliant on ‘offsetting’ biodiversity impacts (by managing other areas for biodiversity) rather than preventing the impacts, and adopts the standards of the problematic Major Projects Offsets Policy. The Biodiversity Assessment Methodology (BAM) is therefore significantly weakened, for example, direct ‘like-for-like’ offsetting requirements are relaxed and can be circumvented. The option to pay money in lieu of an actual offset will result in net loss of certain threatened species and communities. Offset areas and set asides may be further offset later on rather than actually protected in perpetuity.

3. Conservation gains aren’t guaranteed in law, but dependent on funding decisions

The proposed regime places almost complete reliance on political, budgetary decisions (which may be short-term) to achieve biodiversity gains, rather than on protections in the Bill to prevent continued biodiversity decline. We strongly support incentives and stewardship payments to rural landholders to conserve and protect environmental values, but funding must be supported by rules and targets that stop valuable biodiversity being cleared in both rural and urban areas.

4. Uncertainty and discretion

While great reliance is placed on a ‘single scientific method’ to inform land-clearing decisions, there is discretion as to whether a consent authority actually has to apply the results. Offset requirements may be discounted based on other subjective considerations. There is even some discretion around “red lights”, i.e., where clearing and development could cause serious and irreversible biodiversity loss. SEPPs, Regulations and variation certificates provide for unnecessary exemptions from standard pathways. This will create uncertainty and loopholes instead of clarity and consistency.

5. Public participation is not mandatory

Decisions and instruments are not invalid even if consultation processes aren’t followed. Public consultation may be based on summary documents, and issues raised in submission may be ‘summarised’ by proponents instead of directly considered by decision-makers. The proposed public register provisions are far less detailed (for example, in terms of providing information about vegetation clearing and set asides).

6. Administration of a complex regime

The logic of repealing three and a half Acts to create one coherent Act and scheme is actually resulting in a carving up of responsibilities into the Local Land Services Act, Environmental Planning & Assessment Act, the new Biodiversity Conservation Act – and associated regulations, SEPPs and Codes. The NSW Government is departing from a key recommendation of the Independent Biodiversity legislation Review Panel – i.e., that land clearing involving a change of use should be assessed under planning laws – and is instead, handing the vast majority of clearing approvals to the Local Land Services which currently do not have the resources or expertise to carry out these functions. Furthermore, how the legislation will be applied will depend on future mapping, which is likely to be problematic and highly contested.

7. Contradictory legislation

On one hand, the Biodiversity Conservation Bill carries over provisions of our current threatened species laws (like listing threatened species and ecological communities by a scientific committee), while at the same time theLocal Land Services Bill will increase known threats to those species. The Bills fail to tackle the conflict between reducing the impact of listed key threatening processes to biodiversity, and permitting more land clearing via self-assessed Codes and discretionary development applications. For example, the Biodiversity Conservation Billlists “loss of hollow bearing trees” as a key threatening process, while at the same time, the Local Land Services Bill allows clearing of paddock trees without approval.

8. Lower environmental standards for ‘Biocertification’ at the landscape scale

The revised Biocertification scheme for large areas of land removes the requirement to ‘maintain or improve environmental outcomes’. Instead, it applies the BAM and imposes a broad discretion to impose conditions. It replaces the current positive test with a negative one - to avoid ‘serious and irreversible’ environmental outcomes as a result of biocertification. Removing the current test contradicts the Bill’s aim to conserve biodiversity and ecological integrity at regional and State scales.

9. Uncertain compliance, enforcement, monitoring and reporting

The NSW Government has been unable to estimate how much landclearing will occur under the new relaxed system – in particular, how much clearing will occur under the new self-assessable codes. The proposed legislation includes updated offences and penalties, but there is no indication who will undertake compliance and enforcement responsibilities. The Biodiversity Conservation Bill’s objects include improving and sharing knowledge (including drawing on local and Aboriginal knowledge) and the Biodiversity Panel’s report hinged on high-quality environmental data, monitoring and reporting. However, the legislation does not set clear requirements for these essential elements so it will be difficult to determine how much biodiversity is being lost under the relaxed rules.

10. Missed opportunities for key reforms

Rewriting our biodiversity laws is a once in a generation opportunity to put in place laws that will actually address the most significant threats to biodiversity. Unfortunately, the proposed legislation does not address necessary and important reforms, for example to address cumulative impacts and climate change impacts of clearing (and potential carbon gain). Instead, the Bill carries over deficiencies of current system for example: exemptions and wide discretion for projects with the biggest impacts (State Significant Development), vulnerable ecological communities are excluded from the definition of threatened species, and mining is still permitted in areas that supposedly offset previous losses and areas of outstanding biodiversity value.

Further analysis will be published on our website shortly and discussed at upcoming seminars and workshops.

The package will be on public exhibition until Tuesday 28 June 2016. During this time community members are able to make submissions. We’ll be running workshops and seminars across NSW in June and providing resources to help communities have their say. If you’re interested in making a submission and getting involved, please sign up to our weekly eBulletin.

Our resources and updates feature on our web page dedicated to the reforms.

Tuesday, 5 January 2016

Stocktake of waterbirds in eastern Australia has shown the lowest breeding level on record

ABC News 27 December 2015:

A stocktake of waterbirds in eastern Australia has shown the lowest breeding level on record.
The annual aerial survey, conducted by the Centre for Ecosystem Science at the University of NSW, confirmed a dramatic long-term decline in the number of waterbirds.
Director Richard Kingsford said that over 33 years of counting, average numbers had fallen more than 60 per cent.
The trend continued in 2015 with a further drop compared to the previous three-to-five-year period.
"This is the second lowest number of waterbirds we've seen in that 33-year period and it's symptomatic of the real impacts of this drought that's occurring across the eastern half of the continent," Professor Kingsford said.
The survey covered all the major rivers, lakes and wetlands from Queensland down through New South Wales, Victoria and South Australia, including the Murray-Darling Basin and the Riverina.
The team found the Macquarie Marshes and Lowbidgee wetlands were only partially filled, most rivers in the Murray-Darling Basin were also relatively dry, with little wetland habitat on their floodplains, and all the large lakes in the Menindee system were dry.
The Lake Eyre and Cooper Creek wetlands were mostly dry except for a small area to their east, while important wetlands in the Lake Eyre Basin including Lakes Galilee, Yamma Yamma, Torquinnie and Mumbleberry were dry.
Waterbirds were concentrated in relatively few important sites, with only four wetland systems holding more than 5,000 birds: Lake Killapaninna, Lake Allallina, Paroo overflow Lakes and Coolmunda Dam.
Most alarmingly, the total breeding index of all 50 species combined was the lowest on record and well below the long-term average……
Professor Kingsford said climate change also needed to be taken into account.
"For these wetlands, they rely on that water staying around so animals and plants can go through their life cycles, but if you've got less of the water actually coming in at the top end and when it gets to the wetland there's a high evaporation rate then it's really challenging in the long term as well," he said.
"So a whole series of targets have been set and the big challenge is: did we get enough water for the environment over the next 15 to 20 years?"
He warned that if the regulators did not find the right balance, the wider community would pay a hefty price.
"We know in the millennium drought, for example, when there wasn't enough water for the Lower Lakes and the Coorong, governments had to put their hands in their pockets to spend $2 billion to actually rescue that system," Professor Kingsford said.
"We currently have a dredge parked in the mouth of the River Murray which is trying to keep it open — a service that the environment used to do for nothing, and that's costing taxpayers up to $100,000 a week."
He said the birds were a barometer, indicating declining health of the whole ecosystem.

Blogging the 2015 Aerial Survey.

Click on the survey route to read a blog post or the arrow button on the top lefthand side to access the list of blogs.

Tuesday, 5 May 2015

Abbott Government's mindless obeisance to foreign-owned multinational commercial fishing corporations has had the inevitable result

The 100% Dutch-owned subsidiary of Parlevliet & Van der Plas Beheer B.V. the Australian registered Seafish Tasmania and its super trawler hired from the parent company, the now rebranded Geelong Star, have been found to have committed the inevitable environmental crime associated with large factory ships – killing prohibited species as part of their by-catch.

The Abbott Government would have been well aware that classifying commercial fishing trawlers on length of vessel and not freezer storage capacity would lead to adverse environmental impacts but, in its mindless rejection of any measure put in place by the former federal Labor government, Tony Abbott & Co have shown that far-right ideology is more important that preserving sustainable food resources and biodiversity of marine life for the benefit of present and future Australian citizens.

The Guardian, 3 May 2015:

The Australian environment minister, Greg Hunt, has condemned as “unacceptable and outrageous” the killing of a dozen dolphins and seals by a factory fishing trawler.
The Geelong Star, a ship that environmental groups and some MPs wanted banned from fishing Australian waters, voluntarily returned to its home port after catching four dolphins and two seals on its second local outing.
The Australian Fisheries Management Authority (AFMA) had previously said the ship would face stricter controls after it also caught and killed four dolphins and two seals in its nets on its first trip.
Hunt released a statement on Sunday saying he was “absolutely appalled” by the news, ABC reported.
Hunt said he would write to the AFMA and to Tasmanian senator Richard Colbeck, the parliamentary secretary for fisheries and a strong defender of the trawler’s methods.
The Geelong Star has factory freezer capabilities but escapes a permanent ban on so-called super trawlers because at 95 metres it is under the 130-metre size limit.
Greens senator Peter Whish-Wilson said the government should cancel the trawler’s fishing licence and management plan immediately.
“They’ve failed twice. The regulator has failed in its job to protect dolphins and seals and who knows whatever other marine life and the boat needs to go home,” he told ABC.
Colbeck released his own statement saying the further deaths of marine mammals was “very bad news and is not welcomed by anyone”.
He said the decision of operators Seafish Tasmania to “voluntarily return to port is appreciated”….