North West habitats disappear in droves

AUTHORITIES have failed to protect threatened wildlife habitat and endangered woodland from being felled at an alarming rate, a conservationist says.

Ecological consultant Phil Spark said about 3000 hectares of native vegetation had been cleared across the North West, at a conservative estimate.

A particular area of concern was Croppa Creek, he said, where one landholder in particular, had continued to conduct significant clearing over the past year despite directions not to.

“It’s just been such a blatant abuse,” Mr Spark said.

A neighbour reported the clearing had continued in recent weeks and burns had taken place during a total fire ban.

There are about nine properties across the region where suspected illegal land clearing has occurred,  Mr Spark said.

State and federal departments have investigated, but Mr Spark believes not enough action has been taken.

The state government had failed to enforce compliance with vegetation laws, he said, and any penalties imposed were too lenient to act as a deterrent.

A stop-work order was reportedly issued to the Croppa Creek landholder in February, but was withdrawn after an unchallenged appeal.

Mr Spark said court action was now under way but it had taken too long to get to this stage.

“The average person on the street would think the environment is being protected, but it’s not; it’s not being protected at all,” Mr Spark said.

The felled vegetation includes the habitat of a state-significant koala population, which Mr Spark considers to be at least as large as that of the world’s koala capital, Gunnedah.

On the Croppa Creek property alone there are three endangered ecological communities, all of which are protected by state and federal law.

As well as koalas, Mr Spark has also encountered a number of other threatened wildlife species.

Both the NSW Office of Environment and Heritage (OEH) and federal Department of Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities confirmed investigations were under way into allegations of illegal land clearing in the area.

An OEH spokeswoman said all allegations of illegal land clearing were taken seriously.

A spokeswoman from the federal department said it was investigating whether the alleged clearing on the property at Croppa Creek was likely to have had a significant impact on important koala habitat.

But both authorities declined to provide further information, saying it would be inappropriate during active investigations.

Mr Spark said he was concerned the federal investigation was focused solely on koala habitat and did not include the endangered ecological communities.

Catchment management authorities had been pouring money into conservation in the region, he said, but vegetation and habitat continued to be lost at a faster rate than it could be regenerated.

Mr Spark said if the clearing continued as it was, the species and ecological communities affected would decline to extinction in the area. 

“We should be taking the government to court, because they’re as responsible for this illegal clearing as the guy sitting on the dozer,” he said.

WORRYING: Conservationists are concerned the government is not doing enough to stop illegal land clearing in the region, such as this on a property at Croppa Creek.

WORRYING: Conservationists are concerned the government is not doing enough to stop illegal land clearing in the region, such as this on a property at Croppa Creek.


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