Land clearing at heart of the whole matter

UNDER THE SPOTLIGHT: Illegal land clearing on a property at Croppa Creek.
UNDER THE SPOTLIGHT: Illegal land clearing on a property at Croppa Creek.

LOCAL residents are struggling to come to grips with Tuesday’s shooting murder which has highlighted the simmering tensions behind the battle over illegal land clearing in the Croppa Creek area.

The long-running dispute between Ian Robert Turnbull and the Office of Environment and Heritage was illustrated in Moree Local Court yesterday, but it’s not the first time the 79-year-old has had dealings with the law.

Ian Turnbull was charged with illegally clearing native vegetation between November 2011 and January 2012 before he pleaded guilty in the Land and Environment Court.

The prosecutor, the Director-General of the Office of Environment and Heritage, said Mr Turnbull used a bulldozer to clear 421 hectares of the property owned by his son Grant Wesley Turnbull, called Colorado, and 73 hectares of the adjacent property owned by his grandson Corey Ian Turnbull, called Strathdoon.

Grant and Corey had purchased the properties at Croppa Creek, 60km north-east of Moree, in late 2011.

The Land and Environment Court heard, after contracts were exchanged but before the sales settled, Mr Turnbull and another unnamed man felled 2708 trees on Colorado and 694 trees on Strathdoon. 

Trees were pushed over and formed into piles and set alight. The family then raked out the ash heaps, ploughed the cleared land, applied herbicides to kill any emerging vegetation and sowed commercial crops of wheat and barley.

The crops were harvested in late spring of 2012.

The process of ploughing, herbicide spraying, and sowing and harvesting of commercial crops was repeated in 2013 and 2014 and the areas are currently under crop.

A sentencing hearing has been held and Justice Terence Sheahan is reserved on the penalty.

In a separate hearing in the Land and Environment Court in June, Grant and Corey appealed against a direction by the Director-General of the Office of Environment and Heritage to carry out work to repair damage caused by the clearing of native vegetation on the two properties.

On June 25, Chief Justice Brian Preston upheld the appeal and said remedial work could be carried out on other areas of the property rather than the parts illegally cleared.

The issue has been simmering for years in the local area as the debate rages on about the clearing of vegetation.

Ecologist Phil Spark has spent many years profiling the impacts of the illegal land clearing in the local area and has spoken with residents who he claims have been threatened and intimidated by those engaged in suspected illegal activities.

“The whole region has been terribly torn apart,” he said.

“We’ve got to see some strong enforcement of the laws.”

Mr Spark said there was an increasing number of koalas in the landscape that had nowhere to go as the native vegetation was cleared.