Campaign updates Winter 2023


For all, too long ago the prospect of significantly reforming our nature laws and expanding the NSW Protected Area Network seemed like a pipe dream.  Yet now, with international consensus around the crisis affected natural landscapes and biodiversity, and a growing national commitment to urgent action to protect nature, there is at least the glimpse of a path towards ensuring that our natural ecosystems flourish for future generations.  

Members who follow marine protected area issues would be delighted that the NSW Government has transferred responsibility for marine estate legislation from the Minister for Agriculture to the Minister for Environment.  We take this as a sign that the years of erosion of our marine sanctuaries is over, and the opportunity is there to reverse the lost protections.   

More broadly, the finely tuned balance of power in the Legislative Council means that there is a genuine prospect of progressive nature law reforms being passed through parliament.  

Nature law reform  

One of NSW’s most significant nature laws was up for statuary review last month, the Biodiversity Conservation Act (BC Act).  NPA NSW’s submission highlighted one of the major problems with this Act, which operates in concert with the Local Land Services Act— that the two pieces of legislation were expressly designed to allow for the mass clearance of native vegetation and urban development.  This led to an astonishing tripling of annual rates of land clearing and habitat loss in NSW, species decline, extinction, and a reduction in ecosystem resilience.  The question is, can legislation designed to reduce environmental values to ‘red tape’ be redeemed into an effective tool to protect nature?  

The review of these two Acts, along with the ongoing Commonwealth review of the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act, have given impetus to a wide ranging review of the nature reform process by conservation organisations.   

NPA’s vision for reform includes moving marine threatened species and ecological communities away from the Fisheries Management Act across to a revised Biodiversity Conservation Act.  For far too long marine species and habitat protection has been seen as a subset of fisheries management, rather than as a conservation objective of similar importance to its terrestrial equivalents.   

A further stage of reform might be to replace the various Acts that protect areas of conservation significance with a single Act.  This would involve consolidation of relevant elements from the National Parks and Wildlife Act, Crown Lands Act, Local Land Services Act (eg travelling stock routes) and Forestry Act (Flora Reserves), with Marine Protected Areas in the Marine Estate Management Act and Fisheries Management Act and even potentially the private lands subject to conservation agreements under the BC Act. A key object of such an Act would be the expansion of protected areas in accordance with 30by30.   

The Great Koala National Park 

We must also ensure we protect areas for their outstanding values and threatened species. The NSW government has committed to $80 million for the establishment of a Great Koala National Park (GKNP), Australia’s first national park designed around the protection of a specific mammal species.  The GKNP would protect 20% of NSW’s koala habitat with the goal of preventing the extinction of the koalas.  While the overarching goal began with Koalas, the 315 thousand hectare proposal will help secure the future of many species and ecological communities that depend on intact forests and clean waters, from Greater Gliders to Platypus and ancient Gondwanan rainforests.   

NPA, in collaboration with other conservation groups and individuals are busily compiling our supporting data and analysis in anticipation of intense negotiations with government, forestry, community and other stakeholders about the future of GKNP.  

Defining plantations and the future of native forests 

Alarmingly, the NSW Forestry Corporation is currently clear-felling critical koala habitat that should be included in the GKNP, including in Orara East, Ellis and Pine Creek State Forests. Pine Creek State Forest is a part of the ‘land bridge’ proposal, which would connect key corridor habitat between Bongil Bongil and Bindarri National Park. 

A moratorium on logging in the GKNP has never been more important.  It makes absolutely no sense for the NSW Government to have announced its commitment to establishing the GKNP while allowing its fully publicly-owned logging enterprise, Forestry Corporation, to decimate the forests that are scheduled for protection.   

Forestry Corporation claims that logging is restricted to formal plantations.  NPA does not accept their classification of plantations, with many areas planned for clearfelling functionally indistinguishable from native forest.   

Forestry Corporation has also allegedly caused serious damage to environmentally sensitive private property adjacent to Conglomerate State Forest.  It bulldozed important native vegetation, including riparian vegetation along Sherwood Creek.  These works were conducted without legal authority, inflicting damage to an area that was supposed to be protected in perpetuity under a formal conservation covenant under the Biodiversity Conservation Trust.  

Converting native forests to plantations has been underway for the decades.  Clear criteria to identify and distinguish between a ‘genuine’ plantation and a native forest are urgently required to ensure that areas functioning as natural ecosystems in structural and floristic terms are not clear-felled.  The Plantations and Reafforestation Act offers little clarity on the issue.  The consequence of this imprecise definition is that NSW Forestry Corporation can change the classification of Public Native Forest into Hardwood Plantation to remove limitations on logging. These reclassifications are subject to little if any independent regulatory oversight. 

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