Hanging on … koalas are at risk. Photo: Jeff de Pasquale
A STATE and federal investigation is under way into suspected illegal land clearing around Moree in NSW, where more than 1000 hectares of koala-inhabited bushland has been bulldozed.
Several property owners around Croppa Creek have apparently ignored warnings to stop cutting down trees on their land without permits, including in some woodland areas which have big numbers of koalas.
The NSW Office of Environment said it intended to make a decision on what to do ”before Christmas” but the land clearing should be stopped immediately, according to people who have watched the trees being pared back.
”It’s quite horrific – for those that know the area, you look out across what was once grazing country and it’s now just bare ground,” said Phil Spark, a farmer and ecological consultant who has been documenting the land clearing.
”I was up there on August 28 and I walked through the woodland, then I was back last week and the same area had been flattened.”
Mr Spark said he had repeatedly passed on records and photos to the federal and state environment departments but the land clearing has continued for months.
”We want some serious environmental protection that the public can have confidence in,” he said.
The NSW Office of Environment and Heritage said a land clearing incident from the start of this year was ”close to being finalised” and ”we expect to make a decision regarding the appropriate regulatory and/or remedial response before Christmas.”
State-wide, five successful prosecutions for illegal land clearing had taken place this year, the agency said.
”OEH takes allegations of illegal clearing of native vegetation seriously, and uses a range of tools, including aerial surveillance, to determine whether clearing has been undertaken lawfully,” a spokeswoman said.
The office is co-operating with the Department of Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities, which will visit the clearing sites again shortly.
The office’s director-general has the power to issue a ”stop work” order if land clearing is about to take place, but has not exercised that in this instance.
The Total Environment Centre said the land clearing around Moree was blatant.
”It’s time to take alleged breaches seriously and to strengthen the Native Vegetation Act so that it’s not difficult for environmental protection regulators to take action,” said the centre’s director, Jeff Angel.
Story By Ben Cubby - Environment Editor, October 12, 2012