2000 conservation volunteers sign up to investigate land clearing

Eric Barker, November 22, 2023

CONCERNS have been raised about the approach of the Australian Conservation Foundation after a letter was sent to a New South Wales producer enquiring about some “potentially illegal” land clearing.

As first reported in The Australian, ACF volunteers detected the clearing on a satellite and sent a letter to the producers asking if had a permit for it. The farmer said it was part of a vegetation plan to control native invasive species.

The letter was part of new program the ACF undertaking with 2000 volunteers signing up to scan through satellite images looking for significant changes in vegetation cover and checking for permits.

“If we identify potentially illegal clearing, we do not turn a blind eye to it,” ACF national nature campaigner Jess Abrahams said.

“We gather as much information as we can to understand the issue, including by reaching out to landowners, who can in some cases allay our concerns. This is something ACF has done for a long time.”

Mr Abrahams said the volunteers have scanned more than 3.3m hectares of “at-risk native habitat.”

“Where we identify land clearing, our team undertakes a rigorous analysis of threatened species records, satellite imagery, vegetation mapping and we consult the register of EPBC approvals, before contacting the landholder,” he said.

“In June, we found 250 hectares of Regent Honeyeater habitat outside Armidale in NSW had been bulldozed and a further 30 hectares of woodland had been prepared for clearing.”

ACF not aiming for enforcement power

The idea of third party enforcement of environmental laws was put to the Federal Government last month by the Queensland Conservation Council, who said community groups were on the ground more than government agencies.

It prompted lobby-group Property Rights Australia to warn of a potential “green militia” on landowners. PRA posted The Australian’s article on Facebook, labelling it vigilantism.

“This type of third-party enforcement should be illegal,” it said.

The ACF says it is not trying to head down the path of third-party enforcement, it was more about frustration with a lack of enforcement from governments.

“The Federal Government has failed to stop the destruction of threatened species habitat by the agricultural industry. If we want our kids and grandkids to be able to see koalas, pink cockatoos and bilbies, we have to stop knocking down their homes,” Mr Abrahams said.

“Most farmers want to do the right thing and most can see the value of hosting native species habitat on their land.

“But many landowners we contact are completely unaware of their responsibilities under the national environment law, demonstrating the need for much greater awareness raising by the government.”

Call for a review of ACF charitable status

Nationals Leader David Littleproud has also objected to the letter saying it was “intimidatory” and has called for a review of its charitable status.

“A registered charity must always act in responsible manner with care and diligence in all its activities,” Mr Littleproud said.

“I believe the ACF’s conduct now needs to be reviewed, to ensure it is meeting its behavioural responsibilities as a charity. The interference of the ACF should not be tolerated by ordinary Australians.”

Mr Littleproud said vegetation management laws and their enforcement was already strict.

“Australia already has some of the world’s strictest native vegetation protection laws, set through state governments, that had been internationally recognised and credited for meeting our Kyoto commitment.

“The states already impose strict vegetation regulative frameworks on farmers through punitive vegetation protection laws. Farmers are in fact among the most nurturing people of all when it comes to the environment. ACF’s bullying is an overreach and must be stopped.”



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