OPINION: Adjunct Professor David Goldney of CSU fears the effects of changes to native vegetation legislation

The NSW Government will shortly be voting on major changes to the Native Vegetation Act to enable significantly more land clearing in agricultural landscapes to occur than is possible under the present legislation. Here, Adjunct Professor David Goldney of Charles Sturt University has his say.

CHANGING LANDSCAPE: Changes to native vegetation legislation are expected to go through the NSW Parliament soon.

CHANGING LANDSCAPE: Changes to native vegetation legislation are expected to go through the NSW Parliament soon.

The Central West of NSW, Wiradyuri Country, occupies approximately a quarter of the land area of NSW. It is also home to Australia’s oldest inland European agricultural lands.

This was a cultural landscape created and maintained by Wiradyuri for 22,000 years. That is no longer the case.

The Central West was once dominated by vast areas of park-like eucalypt woodlands as well as a range of other vegetation communities. On private land, it is now a region dominated by terminal native tree landscapes, more often than not incapable of self-regeneration under current land management practices, or patches of sub-optimal, disconnected, poorly managed, crowded regrowth woodland patches.

The proposed changes to the Native Vegetation Act will likely adversely affect the 25 million paddock trees that are scattered across most of the Central West that have an irreplaceable ecological role in the existing over-cleared landscape. 

More disturbing still, there are up to 600,000,000 trees at risk within degraded remnant patches of woodland in the Central West. The situation now is likely to be much worse than when these estimates were determined over 20 years ago by CSU scientists.

To facilitate further native vegetation clearing in a landscape already self-clearing through poor stewardship is completely unacceptable.

Land degradation in all its forms is often associated with over-clearing of native vegetation, not to mention the losses in stock production from chilling wind and cold snaps that trees help to ameliorate. 

A better than average wet year such as we are experiencing tends to hide the results of past follies. 

Of great concern too are the significant losses of soil organisms and the highest rate of regional extinction of native vertebrates in Australia.

As one of Australia’s leading biologists once exclaimed, “our land is crying”. The evidence points to a landscape where symptoms of desertification are pronounced.

I inwardly weep at the havoc we Europeans have caused to natural systems. But I am also full of optimism in this age of restoration where so many farmers and graziers are leading the way in creating cultural landscapes that work well to conserve and increase biodiversity that underwrites their land’s productivity.

No farmer that I know welcomes the changes to the Native Vegetation Act. This farming cohort embraces tree planting and the conservation and restoration of remnant native vegetation.

Where the proposed changes to the vegetation act will impact the greatest is likely to be in the wheat belt in the marginal lands of the semi-arid zone where farmers with large landholdings gamble each year that their 500 to 2000ha crops will pay off handsomely or that the resale value of their properties will increase dramatically once it has been cleared for cropping. 

What the NSW Government is proposing is not based on the best science nor is it in the interest of the long-term stewardship and sustainability of our agricultural lands. 

I implore the Government to rethink what it is planning to do.