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Native Vegetation: Recent Developments

Native Vegetation: Recent Developments

Advice on legislation or legal policy issues contained in this paper is provided for use in parliamentary debate and for related parliamentary purposes. This paper is not professional legal opinion.
Briefing Paper No. 01/2003 by Stewart Smith
The clearing of native vegetation is one of the nation's most important, yet controversial, environmental issues. After many decades of governments uncritically promoting land clearing, the ecological ramifications of these actions are now understood. Dryland salinity, soil erosion, soil structural decline and loss of species are all problems that have occurred due to the clearance of native vegetation.

A variety of national programs and policies deal with or have ramifications for native vegetation management. These have generally been brought together through the National Framework for the Management and Monitoring of Australia's Native Vegetation, released in December 2001. However, national goals of reversing the decline in the quality and extent of Australia's native vegetation have not been reached.

What constitutes a landholder duty of care in relation to native vegetation is problematic and yet to be resolved by the community. The issue of duty of care and landholder property rights is discussed.

The vegetation of New South Wales includes major examples of a broad range of plant communities. Eastern areas of the State are dominated by eucalypt open forests, and towards the western area landscapes are dominated by acacia shrublands and chenopod and samphire shrublands. Eucalypt woodlands occur throughout the State, whilst grasslands are widespread throughout central and eastern New South Wales. The main causes of decline and change to native vegetation since European settlement have been: clearing for cropping and grazing by stock; grazing by feral animals; logging; weed invasion; mining; soil degradation through compaction; salinisation and acidification; and pollution. The least disturbed ecosystems in the State are on the eastern escarpment and on the poorer soils on the coast. Most of the vegetation west of the escarpment has been subject to intensive grazing by stock, feral animals and elevated numbers of macropods for over 100 years. This has altered the structure and biomass of the vegetation, with significant changes to the understorey and little regeneration of palatable species.

The following key programs aim to promote native vegetation conservation in NSW: monitoring and controlling land clearing through the Native Vegetation Conservation Act 1997; implementing bioregional conservation assessment and planning as the basis for biodiversity management; establishing a comprehensive, adequate and representative forest reserve system; and providing opportunities and incentives for the community to conserve biodiversity. The Native Vegetation Conservation Act 1997 is described in detail, followed by a report on land clearing by the NSW Auditor-General.

Native vegetation management in Queensland, Victoria, South Australia and Western Australia is discussed. It is apparent that the native vegetation regulatory environment is undergoing a period of rapid change.