Mapping analysis of the NSW Government’s plan to allow rural landholders to clear 25 metre fire breaks around properties threatens 6,692 hectares of bushland in the Shoalhaven according to analysis undertaken by WWF and the office of Independent NSW MLC Justin Field.
The NSW Government announced the plan on 7 October despite it not being part of the 76 recommendations of the NSW Bushfire Inquiry and to date have refused to publish the ‘expert operational advice’ on which it was based.
The analysis, conducted in four local Government areas across the state including the Shoalhaven, Wollondilly, Port Stephens and Clarence, showed more than 44,000 hectares were at risk, including almost 12,000 hectares of known Koala habitat. This analysis implies that hundreds of thousands of hectares of bushland will be at risk across the state as a result of this policy.
See maps showing areas that will be significantly impacted by this rule in the Shoalhaven.
The Government has indicated it will bring legislation to Parliament in November to implement the changes.
Independent NSW MLC Justin Field said: “This policy could be a disaster for the Shoalhaven. We risk seeing large scale clearing and the fragmenting of thousands of hectares of bushland, some of which is the last remaining unburnt habitat in the region and critical refuges for animals recovering from last season’s bushfires.
“Areas west of Camberwarra, around Falls Creek, Tomerong and Wandandian and West of Lake Tabourie will be particularly impacted by this policy.
“The public should be alarmed that the Government is refusing to publish any advice that shows this policy is needed to reduce bushfire risk. Clearing these boundaries was not a recommendation of the NSW Bushfire Inquiry. This will divert resources away from the implementation of the 76 critical recommendations, potentially putting lives and homes at risk as the South Coast heads into another fire season.
“It looks to me that this is just the latest in an anti-science ideological response from some in the Government who are taking advantage of the bushfire crisis to push their agenda to clear more land.
“The Government has to explain why this boundary clearing rule has been prioritised above the 76 recommendations from the NSW Bushfire Inquiry?
Under the current land management rules landholders are allowed to clear narrower areas for fence lines but this will allow as much as 50m of land to be cleared (25m each side of a boundary) around boundaries whether or not there is a fence with unknown environmental protections.
“I’m particularly concerned about coastal rural land held by developers who are hoping for future rezoning. This policy would potentially allow them to degrade the environmental values of their land under the guise of bushfire protection, in order to remove habitat that they would be required to protect or offset as part of future development,” Mr Field said.
“This is the wrong policy to address bushfire risk. If the Government insists on pursuing it they need to ensure any boundary clearing that is allowed has a demonstrable fire protection benefit and ensure protections are in place for Koalas and other threatened species habitat, riparian zones and rainforest. This cannot be allowed to give landholders a blanket exemption from existing protections.