A highly critical report on the clearing of hundreds of square metres of critically endangered littoral rainforest in the Tweed has been referred to the Federal Environment Minister for his urgent intervention. The clearing was carried out under controversial NSW 10/50 laws, and the report finds it has had a significant adverse impact on the one of the Tweed’s last pockets of critically endangered rainforest.
Despite the report’s clear findings of significant damage to this critically endangered rainforest the Coalition’s Federal Environment Minister is still refusing to take any action.
The clearing occurred on 11 August 2014, less than 2 weeks from the commencement of the controversial 10/50 code and only days after the council had refused a DA on the site because of its impact on the critically endangered Littoral Rainforest and Coastal Vine Thicket.
An independent ecological report into the clearing has identified it as likely having a significant impact on an ecological community at serious risk of extinction. The NSW Environmental Defenders Office has referred the matter to the Federal Environment Minister requesting he make urgent remediation orders.
The 10/50 laws have seen at least one other property owner at Fingal Head seek approval from the Federal Minister to clear rainforest trees on their land. That application remains pending.
The Sun Herald reported the story as follows:
“A critically endangered rainforest on NSW’s north coast is in danger of being “decimated piece by piece” after the Federal Environment Minister Greg Hunt refused to investigate complaints it is being cleared without approval under the controversial new 10/50 bushfire regulations.
The Fingal Head littoral rainforest is one of the last pockets of rainforest in the Tweed and the Environmental Defenders Office (EDO) principal solicitor Susan Higginson wrote to the minister asking for urgent remediation orders after an independent ecological report identified the clearing of the area as likely having a significant impact putting it at serious risk of extinction. Ms Higginson argued it should be protected under the Environment Protection Biodiversity Conservation Act.
But a spokeswoman for the minister said the latest information had not changed the Department’s view that the clearing was not likely to have a significant impact on matters of national environmental significance.
The federal government’s position has outraged locals and Greens MP David Shoebridge, who have been battling to raise awareness of how the controversial bushfire laws are affecting the environment across the state. Another application to clear rainforest from the same strip at Fingal Head is before the minister for a decision.
“The rainforest will suffer the death of a thousands cuts,” Mr Shoebridge said. “It is effectively a death warrant. This fractured habitat is being decimated in a piecemeal way. It is allowed to be destroyed piece by piece.”
A littoral rainforest is a community of plants and animals that occurs close to the sea and is dominated by rainforest plants. The Tweed has 37km of coastline, from Fingal Head in the north to Wooyung in the south and the large continuous tracts of littoral rainforest that once graced the coastline have been reduced to small isolated pockets.
Kay Bolton, president of Fingal Inc, who is fighting to save the forest, said: “The Tweed has one of the richest and most diverse environments in Australia, which makes it such a precious place to live, but unless we act to protect that environment we will lose it.”
The 10/50 bushfire laws which came into effect in August led to the stripping of hundreds of trees across Sydney and the rest of the state for harbour views and development rather than reducing the risk of fire in bush-fire prone areas.
After a widespread public outcry, the Rural Fire Service agreed to review the laws and also to reduce the distance around homes that trees and shrubs can be cleared without approvals.
It did not go far enough, according to some councils and residents who have called for a moratorium on the bushfire clearing until the issues like clearing protected areas can be resolved.”
Greens MP, David Shoebridge said:
“The NSW Government has so badly bungled these laws that the only remaining protection is the Federal Minister, who must now intervene to ensure that no more critically endangered vegetation is lost.
“Because the land owner thought they had carte blanche to clear the land under the 10/50 laws, there was no application made and no one checking to ensure this critically endangered rainforest was protected.
“Council’s attempt to protect this rainforest was undone by the State Government’s botched laws which have put the landowner at risk of significant costs and penalties under the Commonwealth EPBC Act.
“It’s not just this one site that is impacted by the 10/50 laws. This appalling law is opening thousands of sites across the state to damaging clearing without any formal oversight.
“The loss of critically endangered littoral rainforest on this single site alone is reason enough to halt the operation of the code across NSW,” Mr Shoebridge said.
Kay Bolton, President of Fingal Coastcare Inc who commissioned the report said:
“The Tweed has one of the richest and most diverse environments in Australia which makes it such a precious place to live, but unless we act to protect that environment we will lose it.
“This is one of the last remaining pockets of littoral rainforest in the Tweed, and the report makes it clear that this is a unique ecological community that must be preserved.
“The state government pushed these 10/50 laws through parliament without thinking what impact they will have across the rest of the state, and the impact has been devastating.
“There was never any bushfire risk on this property and this clearing shows just how open to abuse the 10/50 laws are,” Ms Bolton said.
The report found:
- The vegetation cleared was critically endangered Littoral Rainforest and Coastal Vine Thicket
- Clearing had a significant impact on this unique pocket of Tweed littoral rainforest
- The cumulative impact of allowing such clearing would have a significant impact on littoral rainforest across the country