Importance of Plantations Act Review
The NSW Government is currently undertaking a review of the Plantations and Reafforestation Act (P&R Act) that has been in place since 2001,
Set up supposedly “to streamline the plantation development approval processes without compromising environmental standards”, the Act has been an environmental disaster from the start.
Around the time that the Act came into force, the Federal Government introduced a scheme which allowed a 100% tax deduction for tree planting, ostensibly to store carbon to combat climate change. The lure of easy money saw an explosion of tree-planting across the country, mostly undertaken by managed investment schemes using investors’ money which, being tax deductable, means the schemes were subsidised by all tax-payers.
By growing trees for woodchip or biofuel, rather than timber, allowed the schemes to promise a rapid financial return as an added inducement to invest.
Under the Act, “regrowth” native forests, specifically forests that had grown since 1990, could be bulldozed for plantation establishment. That meant, when the Act was introduced in 2001, eleven-year-old trees could be bulldozed to plant others that would be cut down in fifteen years. However, that 1990 baseline still exists. Today 30-year-old forest can be bulldozed for plantation development.
That’s only the start of the allowable destruction. Despite the Act stating that plantations must be established on “predominantly” cleared land, any mature forest less than 1 hectare in size, along with irregular projections of adjoining forest, can also be obliterated presumably to create a neat appearance. Solitary old-growth paddock trees with hollows that take hundreds of years to develop and provide habitat for wildlife, can likewise be bulldozed if they’re in the way or dangerous. And all this destruction can occur with no requirement to check the site for threatened species.
The 2008 global financial crisis saw most investment schemes collapse, and thousands of hectares of worthless plantations were subsequently bulldozed and burned on site, or to generate electricity at local sugar mills. A sad end to a farcical chapter.
There is much to be considered by this review. Hopefully some sanity will emerge.
– John Edwards