The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) spearheaded a campaign to end broadscale tree clearing in western NSW. The resulting legislation has proven difficult for government to administer and a nightmare for landholders wanting to clear woody weeds including species of acacia and pine.
In response, the NSW government appointed a committee to “independently” review the Invasive Native Species (INS) regulations that sit under the legislation.
The NSW government appointed a director of the WWF, Dr Denis Saunders, to head the committee.
Farmers have cried foul asking how the board member of a lobby group totally opposed to land clearing can head an independent review of the legislation.*
But it gets worst.
Dr Saunders is not only a director of WWF, he was a member of The Wentworth Group. This groups is described at the Australian Museum website as not only driving the media campaign against broadscale tree clearing in NSW, but also producing the “model for landscape conservation” that was subsequently adopted by the state government.
The Wentworth Group was funded by Robert Purves, a businessman and also President of WWF Australia, through a $1.5 million donation. The campaign was coordinated by Peter Cosier, a former senior environmental policy advisor to Senator Robert Hill.
So Denis Saunders was actively involved in the campaign which resulted in the new legislation. Furthermore he was part of the team that proposed the model for the legislation that was subsequently adopted by government. Incredibly government has now made him head of a committee to “independently” review the mess his team helped create.
So “Caesar is judging Caesar”!
Journalist Ross Coulthart detailed some of the problems with the NSW legislation and the environmental impact of native invasive scrub encroachment in the cover story for the Sunday Program of the 6th August entitled ‘The great land-clearing myth’.
* Veg Review Compromised? By Lucy Skuthorp, The Land, pg. 11, 17th August 2006.
NSW Regional Community Survival Group has issued the following media release:
Thursday, 17 August 2006
Farmers outraged over woody weed recommendations
Farmers have rejected the recommendations of a NSW Government review into the management of woody weeds, claiming a conflict of interest by the Chair of the review committee, Dr Denis Saunders, who is also a Board Member of Australia’s most powerful green group.
“How can farmers have any faith in the recommendations of the so-called Invasive Native Scrub Working Group when its Chair is on the Board of the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) of Australia, which campaigns against land clearing?” said a spokesperson for the NSW Regional Community Survival Group, Doug Menzies.
The Regional Community Survival Group is made up of farmers from western NSW who are fed up with bureaucratic, nonsensical laws that prevent farmers from controlling infestations of woody weeds that have invaded up to 20 million hectares (an area three times the size of Tasmania) of western NSW.
Woody weeds (also called invasive scrub) invade native grasslands and pastures, leaving the landscape like a desert with no natural groundcover – making the countryside prone to massive wind and water erosion.
NSW Minister for Natural Resources, Ian Macdonald, gave Dr Saunders the task of ‘refining’ the rules and regulations associated with the management of woody weeds in March 2006.
“Given the WWF has an axe to grind on land clearing issues, how can farmers have any confidence in the integrity of the review recommendations? It is painfully obvious that Dr Saunders has a massive conflict of interest on this issue and I’m surprised that such a senior scientist would place himself in such a conflicted position,” Mr Menzies said.
The Regional Community Survival Group has called upon Premier Iemma to immediately remove Dr Saunders from any further direct involvement in the process of drafting new rules for controlling the spread of infestations of woody weeds in western NSW.
Mr Menzies said that not a single farmer was a member of the Working Group – a group made up of nine bureaucrats – and this was reflected in the absurdity of some of the final recommendations.
A key recommendation of the Working Group was for farmers to leave 20 per cent of the area of their farm infested with woody weeds. This leaves one-fifth of your farm being degraded by woody weeds that smother out native grasslands and pastures. Areas infested with woody weeds also harbour feral pigs and goats.
“Farmers are more than happy to preserve areas of native bushland, but leaving 20 per cent of a farm infested with woody weeds is like a surgeon only removing 80 per cent of a tumour.”
Mr Menzies said farmers who wish to rehabilitate their land are also prevented from clearing more than 20 per cent of the area of woody weeds on their property at any one time. If a farmer wants to clear woody weeds above 20 per cent, this can only be done in 20 per cent increments and only after each increment consists of more than 75 per cent of native grasses.
“Depending on weather conditions (e.g. drought), it could take years for a grassland to consist of more than 75 per cent of native species. Hence, this provision in the regulation is a ‘handbrake’ on land rehabilitation.”
“The review also recommends that farmers leave a certain number of weeds per hectare. For example, farmers have to retain some woody weed species that have a trunk diameter (at breast height) of less than 20cm.
“For western NSW alone, there are over 70 rules on retaining woody weed species at various trunk diameters, making the physical removal of weeds by tractor and chain totally impractical.”