The annual rate of land-clearing soared 800% in the three years before the Berejiklian government downgraded environmental protections further and made it easier for clearing to occur, new data shows. A report obtained by the Guardian Australia after a lengthy freedom-of-information battle shows annual clearing increased sharply between mid-2013 and mid-2016, from 900 hectares to 7,390. “We fear these losses will be dwarfed by a new wave of deforestation that has been unleashed by the Berejiklian government’s new regime of weaker land-clearing laws,” Nature Conservation Council Campaigns Director Daisy Barham said. “The spike in clearing shown by these data occurred under the old stronger laws and before weaker environmental protections were introduced in August 2017.
“The government’s own advisors warned these new laws would accelerate deforestation and put the koala at great risk of extinction. “The Guardian reported last month that calls to the government’s illegal land-clearing hotline increased nearly 30% since the new laws came into force, so it is clear clearing is rising further. “The Environment Minister Gabrielle Upton was warned the new laws would increase clearing up to 45% a year and that 99% of identified koala habitat on private land would be unprotected from bulldozing. “The Minister knew this was going to happen, but she approved the laws anyway. “We call on the government to release up-to-date land-clearing and deforestation data so the community can assess the full impact its new laws are having on bushland and wildlife. “The people have a right to know what is happening to the forests and bushland, which are the last refuges for our koalas and other threatened species.” Meanwhile, the Nature Conservation Council is challenging the land-clearing codes in court. The Council contends Environment Minister Gabrielle Upton failed to properly consider the principles of ecologically sustainable development and the likely environmental impact of the new laws before approving them. “The government has through its actions repeatedly shown a careless disregard for nature in NSW,” Ms Barham said. “The rushed and potentially unlawful actions of the Environment Minister in approving the laws have put wildlife at risk and undermined the principles of good government in NSW.” In July 2018 the Nature Conservation Council declared that a new wave of land clearing bhad begun while the government fights to hide the truth. In July the Nature Conservation Council renewed calls for the release of up-to-date land clearing data so the public can see the extent of deforestation occurring under the Berejiklian government’s new land clearing laws. The stated that the most recent data for deforestation and land clearing released by the government was for the 2013-14 financial year, which is now at least four years old.  “Imagine if the government ran the economy on data that was four years old – we’d be in the middle of a crisis and have no idea of the scale of the problem,” said Nature Conservation Council CEO Kate Smolski. “We have sought on several occasions to obtain information about the harm being done by the agribusiness, mining and development industries across NSW, but the government throws up administrative road blocks at every turn. “The government had gone to great lengths to keep secret or obfuscate the extent of habitat destruction in NSW, presumably because it knows that when the public understands what’s going on it will demand it stops. “The people have a right to know what is happening to the forests and bushland that are the last refuges for our koalas and other threatened species, but the Berejiklian government has denied us access to that information for years.” The Guardian Australia reported that calls to the government’s illegal land-clearing hotline increased nearly 30% since last August when the new laws came into force.  “We started receiving anecdotal reports of increased clearing months before the new land-clearing codes were switched on, presumably because businesses were confident they would not be prosecuted,” Ms Smolski said. “The spike in habitat destruction that is indicated by the significant jump in reports to the land-clearing hotline is deeply troubling but hardly surprising. “Environment Minister Gabrielle Upton was warned by her department before she approved the codes that clearing would increase by up to 45% a year and 99% of identified koala habitat on private land would be exposed to bulldozing. “The Minister knew this was going to happen, but she approved the codes anyway.”  www.environment.nsw.gov.au/vegetation/reports.htm  www.theguardian.com/environment/2018/jul/10/illegal-land-clearing-in-nsw-may-be-accelerating-complaints-data-suggests?CMP=share_btn_fb