Permits to thin forests on private land too expensive, says industry

Foresters are calling for less expensive clearing permits for farmers to thin native forests on private properties.
Foresters are calling for less expensive clearing permits for farmers to thin native forests on private properties.

The Institute of Foresters of Australia (IFA) have called for easier and less expensive red tape for landowners to thin regrowth forests on private properties in WA.

IFA spokesperson John Clarke said because of a drying climate and regrowth from past harvesting the risk of bushfires had increased.

"Especially in marri and jarrah forests," he said.

"The most important thing we say you could do is manage regrowth ecologically for the good of the forest so it needs to be thinned out to let the bigger and better trees grow."

Mr Clarke said there were two hurdles for landowners obtaining a clearing permit from the Department of Water and Environmental Regulation.

One was the cost of a clearing permit which did not guarantee a landowner would be given authorisation to thin regrowth on their property, and the other was the inability to sell low grade wood to international markets.

"Farmers want to do the right thing by their patches of native forest, but they need a clearing permit from DWER," he said.

"They do not want to clear the forest, they want to thin it so they can manage their bush sustainably.

"The hurdles farmers have to go through to get one of these permits is very difficult and expensive.

"There needs to be greater reform and a differentiation between permanent clearing as we understand it, and managing a forest for its forest values by thinning."

Mr Clarke said a permit could cost landowners up to $5,000 which included a cockatoo tree habitat survey and employing a professional to help with their management plan.

Since 2004, clearing provisions of the Environmental Protection Act 1986 (EP Act) required the clearing of native vegetation within WA to be authorised by a clearing permit.

A DWER spokesperson said forest management on private property, including commercial harvesting, silviculture thinning and associated activities, were subject to the clearing provisions under the EP Act.

"In assessing an application for a clearing permit, the chief executive officer of DWER, or their delegate, must have regard to 10 principles outlined in the EP Act," the spokesperson said.

"These principles broadly consider the environmental values of native vegetation, including biodiversity and conservation values, as well as any potential water quality and land degradation issues arising from clearing native vegetation.

"For thinning activities in the southwest, an important consideration in DWER's assessment is the potential for the clearing to impact upon habitat for threatened or priority flora and fauna species.

"Clearing permit applications, which are submitted with a comprehensive management plan outlining how these impacts will be avoided typically undergo a more efficient assessment process.

"In some cases, fauna surveys may be necessary to identify trees with hollows and other features, which provide critical fauna habitat.

"Applications may be refused where adequate information has not been provided to inform DWER's assessment, or where the clearing is deemed to present an unacceptable risk to the environment."

The spokesperson said a number of reforms were currently underway to reduce assessment time frames for clearing permit applications and on April 16, 2020, the McGowan Government also introduced the Environmental Protection Amendment Bill 2020.

"Among other things, the proposed amendments will improve and streamline the regulation of clearing activities," the spokesperson said.

This story Permits to thin forests on private land too expensive, says industry first appeared on Busselton-Dunsborough Mail.