The clearing of land and native vegetation in Australia remains a controversial topic. In recent years clearing has vastly increased in states such as Queensland, despite its contributions to global warming and land degradation.
In Western Australia credit must be given to the State Government for its recent, albeit overdue, decision to stop the destruction of native forests in the South-West of the State from 2023. However, there are a number of examples in our state of excessive clearing that are causing concern in the community and call for some restraint.
The Wheatbelt community lives with the consequences of having the most cleared land in Australia. As a result of salinity, for example, plant species are lost, which in turn affects mammals, birds, and other creatures that depend on the bush for food and shelter. Farms and roadside verges contain small amounts of native vegetation that serve as a sanctuary for native wildlife.
Over a decade ago, the Main Roads Department in conjunction with the Roadside Conservation Committee, published a brochure rightly proclaiming the importance of preserving this roadside area as a wildflower reserve (see below).
No such brochure exists today, but in various glossy reports by the present Main Roads Western Australia (MRWA), “preserving the natural environment” is listed as one of their top priorities.
In Toodyay we are lucky to have more remnant vegetation than many Wheatbelt shires with 40% vegetation which no doubt has contributed to Toodyay being awarded its Wildflower Friendly Town status in 2021.
However, there are still plenty of threats to existing native vegetation including extraction industries and development of infrastructure such as Toodyay Road. As SASTR continues to examine the plans to improve Toodyay Road it becomes increasingly clear that the engineering solutions developed by MRWA pay little heed to the principles espoused in that decade old brochure which highlighted the importance of roadside vegetation.
SASTR has identified numerous areas where improvements could have been achieved without extensive clearing, for example, taking the road through already cleared paddocks adjacent to the existing road. Instead, MRWA has chosen to bulldoze hectares of old-growth trees and rich vegetation, including priority plants. Later this year SASTR will be highlighting these destructive changes to the public through an exhibition in Toodyay and via the SASTR website.
The Department of Water and Environmental regulation (DWER) is charged with protecting native vegetation in WA through a system of permits. Anyone wanting to clear vegetation, unless it is an exempted activity, such as fire breaks, building envelopes, fence lines etc. is required to seek permission. Unfortunately, the evidence shows that clearing permits are almost always granted no matter whether justified or not and this is particularly the case when the applicant states that it is for fire protection or for road safety.
Thus, to implement the improvements to Toodyay Road MRWA applied to clear 57 ha which included the following key flora and fauna:
- 21 native vegetation communities,
- 9 eucalyptus,
- 8 wetlands (1.573ha of wetland vegetation and 1.9 ha of riparian vegetation is to be removed),
- 1 heath
Five of these communities have priority flora (Hibbertia montana, Grevillea candolleana, Boronia scabra, to name a few). A total of 33 ha of Black-Cockatoo foraging habitat and 1306 potential breeding trees with 94 hollows are slated for destruction. In addition, 32.5 ha is potential habitat for the Western Quoll (Chuditch). Carnaby’s Black-Cockatoo and Chuditch are classified as endangered and near-threatened, respectively.
Along Toodyay Road we will lose:
Source: Main Roads Western Australia
hectares of native vegetation
potential breeding trees for black cockatoos with 94 hollows
hectares of foraging habitat for black cockatoos
hectares of suitable habitat for chuditch
Although, as previously noted, SASTR believes MRWA has numerous opportunities to avoid clearing much of the land, the MRWA response is that such options are not feasible due to landowner and stakeholder issues, or budgetary constraints.
On the latter issue there is absolutely no accounting by MRWA on the environmental cost. Including the dollar value of the impact on vegetation and fauna should be common practice.
When DWER reviewed the MRWA application it said it was in contravention of 5 of the 10 clearing principles and possibly 2 others. These details can be seen in the addendum below this article. But despite these contraventions, clearing was still approved.
DWER stated that the project will likely spread weeds and dieback into adjacent native vegetation. In addition, it was determined that the project would not have an adverse environmental impact if a 175 ha site in Clackline was purchased and managed by DBCA as an environmental offset (not even in the Toodyay shire!).
This type of purchase requested by DWER when it grants a permit is a so-called environmental offset that must be put in place to compensate for the loss of vegetation. SASTR will be discussing offsets in more detail in the future but for now, we will state the widely held belief that revegetation offsets are mostly poorly done, site preparation is generally poor, the species diversity is low and follow up care and management are often non-existent.
Another condition of the permit was the deployment of nesting boxes for Carnaby’s Black-Cockatoos to replace natural hollows. All of the above seems to cast doubt on the role, or indeed the point of DWER. Is approval granted to MRWA only because the cited reason is road safety and that trumps all environmental concerns, even though the claims made by MRWA about Toodyay Road being so unsafe are somewhat flawed given they are based on old road casualty statistics?
As the guardian of our precious environment, DWER’s unsatisfactory review processes and approvals need to be scrutinised thoroughly and protested where necessary. In the case of Toodyay Road, SASTR will continue doing that to the best of its ability.
- Wide Roadside Flora Drives Brochure
- Department of Water and Environmental Regulation
- DWER response to MRWA clearing application
- Clearing Permits
- Remnant Bushland (Wheatbelt Natural Resource Management)
- Land clearing in Australia: How does your state (or territory) compare?
- Warnings famous wildflowers could disappear from Wheatbelt verges from over clearing
- Farmer fined $30,000 for illegal clearing
- Waleed Aly’s land clearing statement fact-checked
Addendum: Assessment of MRWA Toodyay rd Project against clearing principles
- Native vegetation should not be cleared if it contains a high degree of biological diversity. Proposed clearing is at variance to this principle
- Native vegetation should not be cleared if it comprises the whole or part of , or if it is necessary for the maintenance of a significant habitat for fauna indigenous to Western Australia. Proposed clearing is at variance to this principle
- Native vegetation should not be cleared if it includes or is necessary for the continuation of rare flora. Proposed clearing is not at variance to this principle. ( This is because flora is identified as priority flora not drf )
- Native vegetation should not be cleared if it comprises the whole or part of or is necessary for the maintenance of a threatened ecological community . Proposed clearing may be at variance to this principle
- Native vegetation should not be cleared if it is significant as remnant of native vegetation in an area that has been extensively cleared. Proposed clearing is at variance to this principle.
- Native vegetation should not be cleared if it is growing in or in association with an environment associated with a watercourse or wetland. Proposed clearing is at variance to this principle.
- Native vegetation should not be cleared if the clearing of the vegetation is likely to cause appreciable land degradation. Proposed clearing is at variance to this principle.
- Native vegetation should not be cleared if the clearing of the vegetation is likely to have an impact on the environmental values of any adjacent or nearby conservation area. Proposed clearing may be at variance to this principle.
- Native vegetation should not be cleared if the clearing of the vegetation is likely to cause deterioration to the quality or surface and underground water. Proposed clearing is not likely to be at variance to this principle.
- Native vegetation should not be cleared if the clearing of the vegetation is likely to cause or exacerbate the incidence and intensity of flooding. Proposed clearing is not likely to be at variance to this principle.