NSW biodiversity reforms 2016: issue 3 – Private land conservation and funding

The NSW Government’s 2016 biodiversity legislative and policy reform package comes with welcome environmental funding through a new Biodiversity Conservation Fund. But will this funding promote enough private land conservation to make up for the reforms’ more relaxed clearing rules, expanded offsets scheme and failure to implement the principles of ecologically sustainable development? We expect not.

This is the third of six key issues we’ve identified in the reform package. View all six issues here.

Private land conservation: the funding incentive
A key element of 2016 reform package is a funding commitment for $240 million over 5 years to support private land conservation, with $70 million each subsequent year dependent on performance reviews. Conservation funding will come from a Biodiversity Conservation Fund allocated by a new Biodiversity Conservation Trust, whose funding decisions will be guided by a proposed Biodiversity Conservation Investment Strategy. 

EDO NSW strongly supports funding incentives for environmental stewardship and payments for landholders to manage land for conservation. We work with many landholders who are fantastic stewards of the native vegetation and biodiversity on their properties. In this context we welcome the proposed investment.

The propsed system will, however, reduce the range of conservation agreement options available to landholders. Currently there are a variety incentive schemes available to NSW landholders for private land conservation – including biobank sites, voluntary conservation agreements, Aboriginal management agreements, and wildlife refuge funding, to name a few.

The reform package reduces this variety to just 3 types of agreement:

  • Biodiversity Stewardship Agreements – these will enable payments to landholders for sites that will be able to generate offset credits (similar to existing biobank sites)
  • Biodiversity Conservation Agreements – with smaller stewardship payments for the management of high conservation value land (like current VCAs)
  • Wildlife refuges – with more flexible grants for landholders to set aside land for conservation, and may be converted to higher agreements later.

These agreements may flourish in some areas and struggle in others. Who will get what funding will depend on the Biodiversity Conservation Investment Strategy, which is yet to be developed. 

Our biggest concern is, however, that under the new system, conservation isn’t guaranteed in law, but is instead dependent on funding decisions. 

The risks of a system reliant on funding
The proposed regime places almost complete reliance on political, budgetary decisions to achieve biodiversity gains, rather than on protections enshrined in law to prevent continued biodiversity decline. 

We’ve seen this happen before in environmental policy. The introduction of the current Native Vegetation Act was accompanied by a $430 million funding commitment for four years, including $120 million for property vegetation plans (PVPs). Funding for farmers and on-ground works catapulted from $18 million in 2002/03 to $118 million in 2004/05 and not surprisingly, private land conservation activity grew in line with the funding.

But what happened when the funding stopped after four years? There were no longer resources for farm visits. The wait time for PVPs extended into months. It was a resourcing and implementation failure. But at least the protections in the Act remained to prevent inappropriate clearing.

If, as has happened in the past, the bucket of money for private land conservation runs out under these new reforms, we will be left with a system that allows increased clearing at a site scale, with little or no incentive funding for farmers and private landholders to protect the biodiversity value of their properties.

Even worse, as we have shown in our first blog, and as will be seen in our next blog, we won’t have important protections as currently set out in law to stop broadscale land clearing.

Next in this series: Saving our species


About the reforms

The NSW Government has released a draft law and policy package that represents a serious retrograde step for biodiversity, as it involves removing many of NSW’s long-held environmental protections.

Public submissions on the reforms close on Tuesday 28 June 2016. Find out how to get involved via the links below.

Links

 


Support our work

If you would like to help us to continue helping the community to protect the environment through law, you can donate online, become a friend of the EDO, check out our current appeal, or read more about how you can support our work.