“Despite the massive ecological damage of the 2019-20 fires and the clear imperative to protect what is left, the Berejiklian government is allowing ongoing deforestation and habitat destruction at record levels,” Mr Field said.
He pointed to the huge share of “unexplained” clearing in the figures, saying some farmers were “gaming the system” and using loopholes.
A Cabinet-in-confidence report in July 2019 by the Natural Resources Commission stated that “unexplained” clearing was one of its “risk triggers” for a formal review of the new Biodiversity and Conservation Act 2016 that replaced native vegetation and threatened species laws. The “re-reform” annual average of such clearing was 6350, or about one-eighth of the current rate.
Penny Sharpe, Labor’s environment spokeswoman said her party’s land-clearing laws had kept clearing for agricultural purposes to an average of 7500 hectares a year in 2009-11, its last three years in government.
“[W]hen the destruction of the 2019 bushfires and the drought is included, the landscapes across NSW are taking a battering that is a disaster for our animals, plants, soils and water,” Ms Sharpe said.
Chris Gambian, head of the NSW Nature Conservation Council, said the weak land-clearing controls undermined other efforts to support wildlife, including koalas.
A spokeswoman for NSW Farmers said land clearing was not increasing and was done in partnership with Local Land Services to ensure there were active efforts to increase biodiversity and build ecosystems.
“The figures released today include the responsible thinning of vegetation, that saved the koalas on private land in the recent bushfires, unlike on unmanaged public land where they died in their thousands,” the spokeswoman said.
“The lock-it-up-and-leave-it approach is discredited, and those that push the protection of all vegetation do not understand that landscapes have always been and will always need to be managed for environmental benefits.”
The Morning Edition newsletter is our guide to the day’s most important and interesting stories, analysis and insights. Sign up here.