Tenterfield NSW Farmers Chair Bronwyn Petrie is encouraging local farmers to get along to the Local Land Service (LLS) information session on new native vegetation legislation at the Tenterfield Golf Club on Thursday November 16.
She warned that penalties for not complying with the legislation are steep, and a massive increase on previous ones.
"They're in line with the penalties on developers replacing forests with concrete," Mrs Petrie said.
While it's imperative that landholders comply with the legislation as it currently stands, she has grave concerns about its complexity and inherent flaws which NSW Farmers will continue to lobby the state government to correct. Mrs Petrie is one of NSW Farmers representatives on the Native Vegetation Working Group.
While the legislation passed through parliament last November it was only enacted on August 25, waiting on the development of codes.
"It's now set up in a variety of farm management codes, some requiring offsets, and allowable activities for things like fencelines and infrastructure, replacing the old routine agricultural management activities (RAMAs)."
NSW Farmers has grave reservations about the accuracy of maps being used to determine regulated and unregulated land, and is opposed to any release of the maps which Mrs Petrie fears will generate a huge workload for LLS staff with property owners seeking reassessment, when instead staff should be implementing the new system.
"The maps are based on native vegetation, regrowth and riparian areas but are not yet at a level of accuracy to be released with our support. For example much of the Love Grass around Tenterfield has been mapped as regulated native vegetation as has cleared grazing land.
"It appears that if you ploughed your land you will have a good outcome. If instead you cleared and grazed it, it will be an uphill battle because cleared grazing land is being mapped regulated land.
“To compound the mapping problem, maps of alleged old growth and rainforest from 20 years ago are going to be used. These are the same maps determined by a federal government audit to be only 17 per cent accurate, and even the Carr government refused to use them on private land.
“Using these maps will only turn farmers off engaging with the new system and they will have major implications on the activities that can take place, even where lantana and rock have been mapped as rainforest.
"Farmers are quite capable of working the new system without maps.”
Mrs Petrie said NSW Farmers is still working closely with government, putting forward its concerns on what is a very complex issue. She is appalled, for instance, that proposed offsets for land clearing have been doubled since the public consultation process back in mid-2016.
NSW Farmers is also concerned about steep land restrictions, saying they will end up causing erosion.
"Groundcovers control erosion, not thickets of trees," Mrs Petrie said.
A new issue is that the win that saw 90 per cent of invasive native species being allowed to be cleared now has a requirement to retain 20 stems per hectare, leaving behind a seed source that will cost farmers in time and money. Also the Private Native Forestry (PNF) Code has been aligned with state forest land, supposedly temporarily, a concept which Mrs Petrie finds offensive.
"Ninety-five per cent of the state's farmers integrate their forest with their stock management system," she said.
“The PNF Code has to stay with native vegetation and come across to LLS."
The new system also places more restrictions on farmers as you move from west to east, with western farmers with shorter trees ironically having larger clearing distances, for example, Mrs Petrie said.
“There's a disconnect with the bureaucracy, and this is going to have a significant impact. Biodiversity is actually declining as a result of perverse environmental legislation, and the new rules have not delivered the once in a generation opportunity announced by (then) Premier Mike Baird.
"It's too complex. There's too much micromanagement.
“It is frustrating that none of our issues have been resolved since before public consultation last year and more issues have arisen with subsequent changes further eroding farmers rights. Minister for Primary Industries Niall Blair stated in parliament that the government is not an inch from farmers on this issue. Unless our concerns are adequately addressed then in my opinion it will be more like a Grand Canyon and the new system will fail.
"Farmers need to get on and farm. They are the frontline conservationists, and need fair and meaningful conditions in order to produce food and fibre off the land."
Mrs Petrie has every confidence that Northern Tablelands LLS staff are up to the challenge ahead of them.
"I'm sure they will do their utmost to help farmers navigate the new system," she said.
"It depends on what you need to do as to which part of the new system you have to deal with.
"Be aware that the new system is in place and has to be complied with, while we battle out the issues. I encourage all landholders to come along to the info session."
The information session at the Golf Club is from 9am to noon NSW time.