I write with regard to the draft Biodiversity Conservation Bill.
When governments across Australia are currently providing considerable funding to the planting of trees, as part of a commitment to meeting target reductions in greenhouse gases, it seems illogical that this bill, if passed into legislation, will undoubtedly result in the removal of large areas of NSW covered by existing established vegetation.
The notion that an area of vegetation (with its associated protected animal fauna) can be destroyed if an 'offset' areas is purchased in its place has always been a dubious concept. The net result is that, where there were previously two areas of vegetation (and its associated fauna) - the proposed development area and the 'offset' - after the development there is only ONE such area. Also, the reasoning behind a 'like for like' comparison between the area to be destroyed and the 'offset' is also dubious, as all areas are unique. Under the current legislation, 'offset' areas are already often assigned based only on the broad classification of the vegetation association, with the associated fauna not being assessed by field investigation, or only the possible presence/absence of threatened species considered. Under the draft bill, offsets will not need to be 'like for like' and an offset can even be avoided by a payment instead.
I know that submissions by a number of scientific organisations and other scientists have addressed these issues in detail, and so I will direct my comments to a single species, the platypus, which I have researched for more than four decades and am passionate about its continued conservation. This is an iconic and unique Australian species, that is also of global scientific interest.
While riparian vegetation is assigned protection under the proposed bill, clearing of the surrounding vegetation can impact severely on the platypus and its riverine habitats by changing water, nutrient and sediment retention of soils, resulting in run-off from adjacent lands. This impacts adversely on the macroinvertebrate prey species in streams inhabited by the platypus, and contributes to erosion of the banks, essential for both its resting and nesting burrows.
The draft Biodiversity Conservation bill places almost all consideration on threatened species, not considering the whole ecosystem that will be affected. In NSW, around 75% of protected animal species are not currently listed as threatened. The platypus is one such species. It is also a species, whose national conservation status has recently been recommended to be changed from 'least concern' to 'near threatened', predominantly as a result of reduced local populations due to habitat damage (Woinarski, Burbidge and Harrison, 2014. The Action Plan for Australian Mammals. 2012. CSIRO Publishing).
I urge the government to review this draft bill based on the considerable input it has received from scientists, and from other stakholders.
Dr T.R. Grant
Adjunct Senior Lecturer
School of Biological, Earth and Environmental Sciences
University of New South Wales
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