This News & views is to give everyone the chance to read several
people`s views on improving our environmental understanding and management.
(1) Bood Hickson`s discussion paper.
(2) Jock Douglas`s idea of an Australian Land Management system (ALMS)
(3) Dr Bill Burrows comments
(4) Peta Seaton (NSW MP and shadow env minister) speech liberating the
environmentfortunately I had to edit some chunks of Jocks and Peta`s material to fit
on this email, but you should get the drift.
First is Bood Hickson`s discussion paper. He writes.
This discussion paper has been written to try and address concerns that I
and other members of the Southern Highlands Brigalow Belt Regional
Vegetation Management Committee (SHBB-RVMC) have about the Vegetation
Management Act and the regional consultative process currently being
It appears to me that we are 'planning to fail'. The RVMC process appears
to shift the blame from government for conflict over vegetation management,
and disguise pathetic legislation which barely begins to address the
concerns of either landholders or conservationists. This criticism is not
directed at the regional bureaucracy, who are between a rock and a hard
place trying to implement this unintelligent legislation. I am hearing
similar concerns from other RVMCs around the state and believe that if
these concerns are not addressed as a matter of urgency, that the goodwill
displayed by many of the volunteers on RVMCs will soon be exhausted.
So I will attempt to briefly outline the problems as I see them, and
suggest a possible way forward. This discussion paper will need to be
critiqued and evolved by fellow members of the SHBB-RVMC into a more
representative document for further distribution and evolution.
The problems are numerous, so I will start by trying to identify the root
causes of the problems identified by participants in the RVMC process.
. The RVMC process is pre-occupied with getting retention percentage
numbers for all Regional Ecosystems (REs) without examining or understanding
complexity and detail required to ensure that these remnants, and
broader landscape, remain ecologically functional.
. The process if continued, will only further divide the RVMCs by forcing
them to argue retention percentages without first getting some shared vision
it is that we are collectively trying to achieve.
. The process does little to promote diversity and flexibility of land
management, which many of us believe necessary to encourage bio-diversity,
particularly when we do not have anything like all the answers to sound land
. The process fails to recognise that timber is dynamic in the landscape
and moves over time.
The mapping has lots of errors and can be misleading for planning purposes.
The root causes of these and other problems comes, I believe, from the fact
that this process is driven by legislation from politicians and bureaucrats
who have not thought through its long-term implications on the ground. To
illustrate my point; by simply identifying the retention percentage without
defining its age dynamics and how it will be managed for succession, will
ensure that many of the remnants will be 'locked up' and most probably
diminish drastically in ecological value over time as a result, if
corridors, or other management regimes that encourage timber regeneration
adjacent, are not put in place.
So, I believe we need to put the retention percentages aside until later in
the process, and first build cohesion and confidence within the group by
further developing our understanding of the subject and building a shared
yet practical vision of what it is we are trying to achieve.
The development of a shared vision and the implementation of the RVMC
process would be greatly aided through the development of tools to assist
us in making these important land management decisions. These tools might
. Developing practical planning tools, so that landholders can calculate
their timber percentages, and the timber and pasture dynamics on their
(ie. depending on the age and diversity, what they can expect to have in the
how to regenerate healthy timber and pasture).
. Developing guidelines by REs for healthy timber densities, corridor widths,
between corridors, how to thin and or manage regrowth to get healthier
pasture development, etc.
. Attempt to identify all alternative management options, strategies
including their complete costs (ie. include possible carbon debts for the
broadscale use of fire or mechanical options).
Discuss the promotion of voluntary landscape plans, which might be
compulsory if significant development is proposed (ie. 10% of property or >300
hectares depending on the REs involved).
I have circulated this discussion paper to progress these ideas and would
like to hear any
comments or suggestions you may have regarding vegetation management.
Jock Douglas (former Qld Landcare chairman) has circulated his idea on an
Australian land management system
Here are some excerpts.
So what of the future 20 years on? Hereâ™s what it may look like:
The global future scan for 2020: -
o The IT revolution will have peaked with deflation at its economic core
delivering huge advances in goods and services. Deflation is possible and
likely because IT products, while expensive to produce are inexpensive to
o There will be more wealth but that wealth may manifest itself as quality
of goods and services rather than quality of life.
o Multi-millions of people, who have grown up with deep-seated values of
environmental care, will now be in the main-stream of societyâ™s decision
o Consumer preference and international trade will be strongly influenced
by environmental considerations;
o Environmental care, enjoyment of nature and understanding of natural
systems will be increasingly valued and sought and find expression as being
integral to quality of life;
o A new paradigm to rival IT as a change agent will be emerging: the global
o This will happen because it will be realised that the human race is at
the limits of physical growth; the natural systems of the planet are breaking
down, with some near collapse.
o This realisation will have been hastened because IT will have enabled us
to more accurately measure, map, monitor and model natural systems.
o Widespread public recognition and support for sustainable development
will have emerged, assisted by the new information flows and the intuitive
responses of people.
o The new leading economies will be those that have embraced sustainability.
o Ecological services and sustainable systems delivery will then come to
replace information services as leading economic drivers.
o Adoption of good environmental management and recognition for it will
increasingly be critical success factors for agricultural industries and
Meanwhile, in 2020 an astute Australia will have â¦
o Australia has positioned itself well and is reaping the rewards. We have
harnessed IT capability to develop natural resources knowledge, we better
understand and utilise the unique features in Australian ecology, have
developed exceptional management systems.
o The people of Australia are internationally renowned for their affinity
with their remarkable landscape and for their management of it.
o The condition of natural resources is measurably improving with natural
resource managers widely engaged in innovative management and strongly
supported in doing so.
o Australia is internationally recognised as a world leader in natural
resources management and our management systems, technologies and expertise
are extensively sought and bought.
o Many Australian food and fibre products are achieving advantage in
domestic and international market places by being recognised as clean, green
o Australians generally are proud of their recent natural resource
management record, seeing this as one of their finest achievements.
If that is to be the future in 15 to 20 year then how do we get there?
It is evident that incremental change is not enough; that bold steps along
new pathways are needed.
One of those pathways is the wide adoption of a recognised system of
management for natural resources including bio-diversity. Environmental
Management Systems provides the delivery capacity for this and against that
background an Australian Landcare Management System (ALMS) is proposed.
What happens on farms?
ALMS is based on ongoing (quarterly?) monitoring of natural resources and
bio-diversity by farmers; responding to the monitoring information in
management; forwarding monitored information to Catchment Groups;
In summary, ALMS is aimed at improved NRM with three features:
1. ALMS as a stand-alone EMS: A voluntary whole-of-farm environmental
management system, but one which is closely linked to landcare, catchment
management and NRM programs.
2. ALMS as a framework: to link other accredited EMSâ™s to landcare,
catchment management and to NRM programs.
3. ALMS for recognition: By providing a nationally recognised logo for
products sourced from farms with a certified management system linked to
catchment management. The logo association is of products that are clean and
safe and from environmentally caring farms.
The benefits from adopting an Australian Landcare Management System:
Enterprises and landscapes benefit from improved natural resource management.
Participating resource managers benefit from recognition.
Catchment management is improved through better linkages and information.
There are improved efficiency and effectiveness in NRM program delivery
This is from Dr Bill Burrows (Qld Beef Institute Tree scientist)
Hi Jock, Bood et al.
For my sins most would know I have been part of a team counting & measuring
trees & shrubs in Qld's grazed woodlands (60 M ha) for the past 37 years.
Two points raised by Bood & Jock therefore struck chords with me. First
Bood's recognition that "timber" is dynamic in the landscape & second Jock's
plea for landholders to monitor their landscape on a regular basis.
Monitoring is just not looking (which presumably those not blind
automatically do) but requires some form of time annotated permanent record
- I have always felt a set of 'fixed point' photographs repeatedly taken
over the years & imprinted with each photo date is a good start. For
research purposes we of course collect much greater detail on both live &
If I had to summarise our work I would make 2 points:
1) Over most of the State there is a strong negative relationship between
tree/srub density (basal area) and pasture production. As woody plant cover
increases the understorey vegetation composition (plant diversity) also
2) In the grazed woodland communities not being cleared there is widespread
evidence of on-going unidirectional change (sometimes slowed down by extreme
drought events) towards increasing tree cover. [Bood's "dynamic"]. For 27
Mha of grazed eucalypt woodland south of Cape York the overall potential is
for the present tree/shrub cover to, on average, approximately double within
the existing communities - assuming current management is maintained.
Vegetation management that ignores the fact that the grazed woodland
communities of to-day differ greatly in structure & composition from the
past & that if management is "frozen" that the communities of the future
will differ just as much again from those of to-day, is at best naive &
uninformed & at worst constrains our capacity to be pro-active & actually
"manage" rather than simply "regulate". To end on a positive note that new
great tool of regulation - the satellite image - may in time be the
landscape monitoring tool that teaches the bureaucracy that what has been
saved has greatly changed since it was 'saved'. But I wouldn't hold my
breath waiting for such an admission.
This is the rest of News & views - it did not send without splitting it up -
The following comments are from Peta Seaton NSW MP and shadow minister for
the environment - parts of a speech he made in 2000
Despite universal acknowledgment that robust biodiversity is essential to our
continued wellbeing, we have been less successful in retaining habitat which
underpins all biodiversity.
We have never had an integrated approach to making planning and resource use
decisions, and certainly not one based on a bio-regional approach which
assesses the needs and vulnerabilities of a large region, and tailors
planning and land use choices to ensure the sustainability of that region.
The Council on the Cost of Government (COCOG) â˜Service Efforts and
Accomplishment Report 1998 on Environmentâ™ gives some clues to the shambles
that is our environmental planning system;
4 main agencies, 17 departments, and 42 pieces of legislation and 170-odd
local government areas - and the Land and Environment Court trying to umpire
Our planning process is past its use by date.
Ironically, the prestige and affection our national parks enjoy has deflected
rigorous public scrutiny of their performance in delivering conservation
Until now, the Government has assumed near monopoly control through the
national parks and reserves system, which covers around 7% of our State and
under-represents many NSW habitat types .
If Australian Museum Director Mike Archer is right, the job of our national
parks cannot be sustained with the level of conserved areas currently in the
system. Many have intensive human landuse up to their boundaries, and while
they played an important role in halting post war industrial impacts on our
wildlife, they are not sufficiently large or buffered to be sustained.
Simply put they are â˜china cabinetsâ™, cherished but fragile and vulnerable
to single events such as disease, fire, and long term degradation through
Archer argues for 300,000 ha reservation for each habitat type, the CSIRO and
other ecologists argue that 20-30% of original vegetation should be conserved
on farms, and the World Commission on the Environment and Developmentâ™s wants
10% land protection worldwide.
So, much as we love that 7%, no Environment Minister should rely on parks to
do the whole job or be optimistic that any State Treasurer would quadruple
the parks budget and its territory unconditionally.
Sydneyâ™s enviable 60 inches of rainfall a year goes out to sea as stormwater
while Sydneyâ™s drinking supply is taken from a catchment with half Sydneyâ™s
rainfall levels, and an agricultural sector to support.
Governments have tended to see the private sector as the enemy, not an asset
in environmental management, and our outdated regulatory and compliance
framework is standing in the way of harnessing non-government goodwill and
The private sector approaches its relations with government with trepidation,
an expectation that the goal posts will move and theyâ™ll have to factor in
Land and Environment Court or other costs.
State Government has not always fulfilled the public trust it claims as a
custodian, owning 6 out of ten of the worst polluters in the National
Pollutant Inventory, and suffering criticism in coronial enquiries such as
We have been very reluctant to impose an appropriate set of performance
indicators on the public assets of national parks, as we do with for example,
our rail system.
Even COCOG agrees, saying in 1998 â˜less attention has been paid to developing
indicators of government efforts and accomplishments relating to the
environmentâ™. The State of the Environment Report compiled by the EPA is a
good measure of many changes in our environment - but these measurements are
not linked back to performance indicators.
Threatened Species Recovery Programs are worthy objectives, but of the 707
recovery plans needed only 71 had been drafted by 1998 . Half our parks and
reserves still have no Plan of Management.
This is not a criticism of National Parks staff, but an acknowledgment that
the job is bigger than the resources. At the same time there are also people
wanting to share the burden and responsibility, and see value in those
successes. There is no shortage of work to be done.
Michael Sutherland, a Peak Hill farmer and conservationist who entered into
one of the earliest voluntary conservation agreements (or VCAâ™s) told a
seminar recently about the frustrations he faced in securing endangered
breeding stock to fulfil his VCA obligations.
Despite great local enthusiasm from parks staff, a solid track record in
successfully breeding bettongs and bridle nail tailed wallabies , it took
three years to negotiate with the NPWS senior beauracracy to get the brush
tailed bettongs they needed for the next breeding program stage.
This experience is at odds with the supporting actions set out in the NSW
Biodiversity Strategy which says NPWS should include ex-situ conservation
options in recovery plans for threatened species, and improve coordination
between agencies involved in ex-situ conservation and species
To date, only 6,000 hectares are under conservation in 72 VCAs, but with more
rigorous development of performance indicators for national parks, VCAâ™s
have the potential to help us reach that hypothetical 30%.
National Parks and Wildlife Service is a regulator, a license giver, a
competitor with licensees, and its own compliance auditor. We have separated
those functions in most government agencies - why not in NPWS?
The report of the Steering Committee to the Minister for the Environment on
â˜Visions of the New Millennium 1998â™ does not provide a lot of hope. It
stays focused on process, rather than outcomes.
It offers a â˜passiveâ™ vision which settles for managing what we have left,
with little encouragement to set bold and visionary targets.
Itâ™s time we embraced a new approach and had the confidence to look beyond
the comfort zone
I donâ™t know and am certainly not in any position to determine whether the
10%, 20% or 30% conservation level is the right target - and those famously
extensive resources of Opposition do not enable me to select a figure - but I
think the case is clear that we need to conserve at least more than we have
now, and we have to think outside the current square and do it quickly.
I spent a year talking with stakeholders, including neighbourhood wildlife
groups, factory managers, worm breeders, and farmers. Iâ™ve inspected more
effluent than youâ™ll ever want to see!
And the result is my Liberal Party Conservation Discussion Paper entitled
â˜Liberating the Environmentâ™.
You might then ask who we are liberating it from, and why.
I believe if we are to reach that 2010 vision, we need to liberate the
relationship between government and solutions, capture environmental goodwill
and imperatives, and share the burdens. Above all we need to challenge the
notion that Government knows best.
If I ever had that responsibility, I would want to achieve for NSW a
dramatically increased rate of habitat and diversity retention, dramatically
improved conservation and species recovery outcomes, a restoration of trust
in the government as an environmental custodian and regulator, and the
embracing of accountable and measurable private sector participation in these
I would want to find more and innovative ways to live and work within our
natural environment, reduce the artificial separations which are ultimately
unsustainable, and enable value in our environment which will stimulate
quality and sustainable economic outcomes to complement and achieve a higher
rate of conservation than we currently dream to be possible.
In some ways the â˜liberationâ™ has begun and the State Government sidelined.
The recent Australian Conservation Foundation and Southcorp agreement shows
that stakeholders are setting their own ambitious goals outside governmentâ™s
imagination and simply getting on with it. These agreements mix altruism
with profits and predict that people will prefer to buy products which are
priced well and produced responsibly.
It is frustrating to see that there is immense energy and creativity and
knowledge in the private sector, the agricultural community, the volunteer
and conservation movement which is being sidelined and underutilised, which
could all be harnessed to help us reach that hypothetical 30%.
I would argue that this diversity in supply of conservation models and
outcomes is also healthy for the public sector. For example, the very
welcome entry of private sanctuaries and VCAs into the recovery breeding and
eco-tourism niche has thrown the spotlight back onto national parks and
generated constructive questions about the role of national parks. Should
they remain china cabinets, what is an acceptable level of recreational use,
does â˜one size fit allâ™, should we regard them primarily as landscapes, or
do we expect them to mirror pre-European environments?
I believe it is time to find ways to reintegrate nature and the community in
ways that ensure sustainable economic and job producing activity, whilst
conferring a greater value of some natural features which will ensure their
And we must also reform the regulatory and compliance framework so the
legitimate and sincerely held custodial concerns of conservation advocates
are recognised, and propositions and results tested.
If tough tests are to be applied to new conservation practitioners, so must
those tests be applied to the existing public custodianship model.
My approach includes some proposed reforms in some key structural and policy
Bio-regional planning is a fundamental platform
The challenge is to find innovative, affordable, commercial and sustainable
ways to conserve that hypothetical 30% of NSW, again depending on the expert
estimate you chose. This means working with farmers, business, volunteers,
conservation groups, the science and technology sector, planners, and
government. It means government letting go of some of the functions it has
kept to itself, or at least trusting others in the community to play a role
But with a bio-regional approach we could establish agreed objectives based
on quality data, and then realistically expect to meet sustainability and
You could probably divide NSW into less than ten bio-regions - the Sydney
Basin, for example would be one, with all local government and other planning
decisions being tested against that broader canvass. Some bio-regions cross
state boundaries, obliging us to work better with neighbouring states. The
closest bio-regional models we have are the Murray Darling Basin, and the
Sydney Catchment Authority, but their uniqueness in a State context creates
other unresolved issues.
We desperately need to improve our data base of biological and geological
information, make those research models compatible, plug the data gaps and
force jealous departments to share data.
At the moment we have hard working volunteer committees around the state
trying to develop native vegetation, catchment and rivercare plans using old
and incompatible data sets, and trying to satisfy the dozen or so agencies
who also sit on those committees.
New regulatory, compliance and incentive frameworks are essential
Without the leanest most outcome focussed public sector, R&D will be stifled,
and new investment in new economy environmental technologies slow and
Good compliance regimes require government to embrace sound objectives and to
abandon process for its own sake.
I recently toured Lend Leaseâ™s excellent Homebush Bay development where many
breakthroughs were made except perhaps the opportunity to build an
independent stand alone effluent treatment system. Despite the facility of
adjacent wetlands, and available engineered wetland technology, there was no
economic incentive for Lend Lease to build this feature as any resident would
have to pay for Sydney Waterâ™s sewerage infrastructure whether they used it
Compliance reform should also include some re-assessment of risk management
by agencies such as the EPA. Designers of tried and tested overseas
technologies still encounter an approach from the EPA that says â˜weâ™ve never
seen this before, you build and complete one, then weâ™ll tell you if we like
Future new economy opportunities include waste to energy, renewable energy,
development of bush food and pharmaceutical products, waste management and
The cure for AIDS could well be hiding in a native plant, but without a state
approval and regulatory system that even puts the prospect of exercising that
opportunity on the agenda, it is hard to see the private sector committing
necessary research funds to look for it.
Despite some good examples of productivity success with on-farm conservation,
there is a long way to go and we must also look at models such as stewardship
payments to landowners to compensate them for the obligations we place on
them to conserve on the communityâ™s behalf.
Private land trusts could also harness willingness of private landowners to
either gift, or protect, their private and heritage holdings for the common
good. This will involve tax incentives at Federal level, but the prospect of
reaching the hypothetical 30% conservation mark is vastly enhanced if we can
emulate the more than 1100 private trusts such as the Nature Conservancy
managing more than one million acres at private cost in the United States.
That means that the United States has twice the land area in private trusts
than we in NSW have in national parks.
The Australian Bush Heritage Fund is a good start, but potential is enormous
if the incentives are offered.
Private landowners have found themselves in costly and divisive battles with
councils and environment agencies when they try to legitimately exercise
their right to develop previously undeveloped private land which has grown to
be regarded by local people as perpetual open space, or essential habitat for
native animals who have colonised it.
I propose the creation of a â˜Bush Land Bankâ™, in which a register of surplus
state government land (for example, unused railway land or surplus public
sector depots) can be offered to private landowners in such situations to
swap. The private landowner can take over and develop a piece of taxpayer
owned land of comparable undeveloped value as the land in dispute. The
disputed land becomes either national park or reserve, or even on-sold by the
government with caveats appropriate to the particular conservation objective.
In this way the community pays for the environmental outcome it demands, and
there is at least one option for private landowners to explore rather than a
full on L&E Court battle which is the usual outcome.
Funding options for the Land Bank, and stewardship payment models, could
include a diversion of a proportion of revenue from asset sales.
Every urban area has itâ™s own examples of remnant native bushland, and we are
perhaps the last generation who has any capacity to save it and create
meaningful habitat corridors in the Sydney Basin.
We must improve our measurements of success and accountability in the public
and private sectors.
Most government agencies have performance targets such as return on assets,
passenger numbers, kilometres of roads built per dollar, these sorts of
In contrast our parks system is virtually left to â˜do its bestâ™ with pitiful
funding levels and obscure targets. No wonder staff morale in the system is
So what are appropriate performance indicators for a national park? Visitor
numbers? Parking revenues? If we truly expect our parks and reserves to
play a conservation outcome, surely we must include performance indicators
like â˜results of successful captive breedingâ™, or â˜increases in wild
populations of bilbysâ™ or â˜reductions in feral pig numbersâ™.