Protected Plants/Blue Dots

Protected Plants/Blue Dots

Policy Position (Endorsed February 2018)

AgForce endorses the following policy positions relating to Vegetation Management:

The Protected Plants policy document developed by the Vegetation Management Committee, inclusive of the four key principles making up the policy:
  1. AgForce believes the Department of Environment and Science (DES) must be able to provide the following, up-to-date detail to landholders wishing to manage vegetation/conduct clearing in a high-risk area (within a Blue Dot):
    a.    Name of the protected species of plant/plants and the EVNT status, associated with the Blue Dot/high risk area.
    b.    Distribution of the species.
    c.    Density of the species.
    d.    Viability of the species in situ.
    e.    Date the species was identified within the Blue Dot area.
  2. AgForce supports landholders having the ability to enter a voluntary "comprehensive stewardship arrangement" with DES.
  3. AgForce believes category X areas should be exempt from the protected plants regulation.
  4. AgForce believes land that is subject to fodder harvesting, as per the VMA Accepted Development Vegetation Clearing Codes (previously Self-Assessable Code) should be exempt from the protected plants regulations.

Issue
Given a lack of state government initiative, it's likely most landholders are unaware of the existence of the Protected Plants legislation, with its 'Blue Dot' trigger maps. AgForce has lobbied for changes to this legislation for years and have insisted the Government fulfil their responsibility to ensure there is awareness about any legislation impacting landholders. Disappointingly, they have excused themselves from blame for their inadequate communication efforts and all recent requests for them to do so have been met with the feeble response that it is a landholder's responsibility to be aware of legislation impacting them. With over 17,000 pages of state legislation impacting our primary producers, being constantly amended, this is an unrealistic expectation.

A recent AgForce vegetation survey indicated 64 per cent of landholders were unaware of the Trigger Map associated with the protected plants framework, 81pc had not requested or seen these maps, and a further 73pc were unaware of the compliance requirements to manage these areas under the Nature Conservation Act 1992 (NCA).

Worryingly, despite lengthy and ongoing lobbying efforts by AgForce, DES have not appropriately communicated the details of the NCA to the agricultural sector and appear unconcerned with the lack of awareness and education of landholders.

Background
The Queensland Protected Plants Framework is administered by DES and is based on the presumption that all native plants in Queensland are protected under the NCA. Originally conceived to stop the illegal harvesting of plants from the wild, its creep in scope since commencement has major implications for vegetation clearing of any kind.

The Blue Dot indicates that an Endangered, Vulnerable or Near Threatened (EVNT) plant has been recorded on your property, or part of your property is within a two-kilometre buffer zone of a nearby protected plant recording.

It is important to note this is an entirely separate piece of legislation to the Vegetation Management Act 1999 (VMA) and even if you have a registered PMAV over your property with locked in Category X areas, the Protected Plants legislation still applies. DES refused to exempt Category X areas from the Protected Plants legislation due to the large amount of land this would potentially affect.

What the industry needs
It is AgForce's belief that the government is currently falling short of achieving the Object of the NCA and would, at a minimum, make steps towards this by agreeing to the following:

  1. Provide the following, up-to-date detail to landholders wishing to manage vegetation/conduct clearing in a high-risk area (within a Blue Dot):
    a.    Name of the protected species of plant/plants and the EVNT status, associated with the Blue Dot/high risk area.
    b.    Distribution of the species.
    c.    Density of the species.
    d.    Viability of the species in situ.
    e.    Date the species was identified within the Blue Dot area.
The density, distribution and viability of a species is directly related to its surrounding environment. By providing a landholder with this information it is an opportunity to raise awareness and education of the plant species.

This process would also compel government to undertake appropriate ground truthing of the species they are wanting to protect and conserve. The Blue Dot maps are records of EVNT plants, however some of these records are decades old and have had no further ground-truthing, following the initial recording of the species. Government are relying on these records to map and categorise EVNT species, yet, events may have occurred that mean these plants no longer exist or have changed classification. DES need to consider how genuine they are in their actions to achieve the Object of the NCA, the conservation of nature. Relying on information that may not be accurate to determine the classification and therefore the management requirements of EVNT plant species is highly inefficient.

2.    AgForce supports landholders having the ability to enter a voluntary "comprehensive stewardship arrangement" with DES.

Conserving and protecting protected plants is a public good on private property. Landholders are acutely aware of their responsibilities to care for the land and to ensure the health of their environment. By making provisions in the NCA for a voluntary Comprehensive Stewardship Arrangement, the government is recognising the expense and impost on landholders to maintain and manage protected plants.

3.    AgForce believes category X areas should be exempt from the protected plants regulation.

Category X Landscapes have changed significantly enough to no longer meet the criteria for all vegetation categories other than category X under the VMA. The Protected Plants Operation Policy outlines that the VMA provides guidance on remnant ecosystems, and where this definition is not met a protected plant is unlikely to be considered in the wild (pertinent to the NCA Protected Plants definition).

4.    AgForce believes land that is subject to fodder harvesting, as per the VMA Accepted Development Vegetation Clearing Codes (previously Self-Assessable Code) should be exempt from the protected plants regulations.

While the current Nature Conservation (Wildlife Management) Regulation 2006 appears to deal with fodder harvesting, the way in which it does so is unworkable and confusing. AgForce believes the current exemption, s261ZE – taking a protected plant under a self-assessable vegetation clearing code must be expanded to include fodder harvesting.

As they stand, the protected plants regulations within the NCA are dysfunctional and counterproductive to the Objects of the Act. Furthermore, the risk of non-compliance based on cost of compliance alone is extremely high. Again, a first step in assisting landholders to make appropriate business and financial decisions directly related to vegetation management within the Blue Dots and possibly involving EVNT species is to provide detailed information. An informed landholder, taking an active role in managing a protected plant or plants assists the government in achieving the Object of the NCA.  Additionally, conserving and protecting protected plants is a public good undertaken on private property and therefore the government should be appropriately supporting landholders financially as well as administratively to manage these plants, as it's in the public interest to do so.

Other relevant information
Further information on AgForce's vegetation policy can be seen below by signing into the Members Only section at the top right of the screen.

Protected Plants/Blue Dots

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