Queensland landholders are afraid that new government mapping could lock up their land and force them to stop farming and grazing. The protected plants flora survey trigger map identifies “high-risk” areas where endangered, vulnerable or near-threatened plant species are present or likely to be present.
The map displays such areas with a blue dot.
Rural lobby group AgForce said these locations were classified as protected and therefore no farming or grazing could take place.
Source: ABC Rural
Flora trigger map prompts backlash from farmers who fear it will lock up their land
Chief executive Michael Guerin said some producers had suddenly found that more than 90 per cent of their land was covered with the blue dots.
‘Impossible to farm’
“If the Government has suspicion that there might be a valuable plant or something that’s important ecologically on your property, they can, without proving … put a blue dot on your map … which does not allow you to carry on farming that land the way you have been up until now,” Mr Guerin said.
“Farming is about planning over a number of years to manage the landscape, thinking about the ecology, the biodiversity, thinking about productive use of land.
“But now, every so often, these maps are updated, and what you were doing yesterday, you might not be able to do tomorrow — so it makes it almost impossible to farm.”
AgForce boss Michael Guerin says the process to have the map changed is unacceptable.
Mr Guerin said a trigger map overrode a Property Map of Assessable Vegetation (PMAV); a document landholders used to assess the type of land they had and what they could and could not do on it.
“PMAVs are set between a landholder and the Government, and they describe the landscape, the areas that need to be protected for different things, and other areas like Category X, where you can go about farming in the normal way and those have been in place for a number of years,” he said.
“But what we are now finding, and this has been growing the last couple of years, a different part of government, the Department of Environment and Science (PMAVs are overseen by the Department of Natural Resources) can put what they describe as a blue dot on your land which overrides the PMAV.”
Landholder has to prove plant does not exist
The Minister for Environment and Science, Leanne Enoch, has not commented on the updated trigger map.
Her department, however, provided a statement that said a landholder could apply to have the map changed.
“A person may request a high-risk area is removed from the trigger map, and there is no fee payable to the department for submitting that request,” it said.
“However, a suitably qualified person (for example, an ecologist or botanist) must have undertaken a flora survey and certified that they have found no endangered, vulnerable or near-threatened plants in the area, or within 100 metres of the area, using the flora survey guideline.”
In order to do this, the landholder must employ and pay for the qualified person to conduct the survey — something AgForce said was unacceptable.
“So a landholder has to spend a lot of money … thousands and thousands of dollars, bringing in professional services to prove something is not there,” Mr Guerin said.
Until that process was complete, AgForce claimed, landholders could not carry on grazing, farming or working on vegetation within 100 metres of the blue-dot area.
But the department’s statement said “this mapping typically doesn’t affect existing farming operations”.
“However, should the trigger map newly identify an area that may have a threatened plant species and a landholder wishes to clear this land, they would need to have the area assessed,” it said.
“While the department does not provide an assessor, the framework allows for experts with a wide range of skills and expertise to undertake the assessment of threatened species, such as field experience, botany and ecology.
“The cost will vary depending on the area to be surveyed and its location.”
Entire property under one blue dot
Central Queensland landholder Colin Dunne said his family had been blindsided by the changes, that saw more than 90 per cent of one of their Duaringa properties listed as protected by the new map.
“I was just going about my normal day-to-day stuff and then someone says: ‘Have you looked at these trigger maps?’
“All of a sudden we’re in a nightmare.
“Our family has been in this Duaringa district for generations and generations, since the late 1800s, and I was fortunate enough [to buy] a block north of Dingo which was very well improved and very well looked after to set my daughter up.
“We haven’t even been there for 12 months, and all of a sudden this whole place has gone from being one of the best improved places in the area — beautiful grass cover and good carrying capacity with the ability to earn a lot of money and employ people — and all of a sudden, one day you wake up and there’s colour all over it and you can’t do anything about it, it’s completely locked up.
“Of the 11,000 acres, I’d say there would be 10,800 acres that need to be locked up.
“Admittedly, we can do something, but there’s a process and we don’t know how long it’s going to take to fix, we don’t know how much it’s going to cost, we don’t know where we can go.”
Mr Dunne said he hoped the Government would realise the new map’s implications and make changes.
“I think it will have been an accident. I don’t think anyone in government would do what they have done,” he said.
“If it did stick, it would devastate the industry and I don’t think anyone would mean to do that … so I reckon they will fix it.”
Map affects property sales
Meanwhile, rural real estate agent Malcolm Topp said the updated trigger map had also spooked the property market.
Mr Topp said he had lost sales on blocks around Bundaberg because they were under a blue dot.
“[These blue dots have made one property] virtually un-saleable. The unimproved council value of this block is about $180,000, it’s currently on the market for $150,000, and still un-saleable,” he said.
“If the maps don’t change, there will only be one impact — devaluation.
“If you can’t develop a property, who’s going to buy it?”
Mr Topp said he had looked into what the map meant on one property he was trying to sell.
“I was told quite simply [by the department] that you could not do a thing on that property until it had been cleared by an environmental scientist walking the property at an estimated cost of $1,000 a day,” he said.
“You couldn’t put a fire break in, couldn’t clear a house site, you could do absolutely nothing until that property was cleared by an environmental scientist.”
And it was not just rural land that was affected by the maps, he said.
“I’ve been given a 1,000-square-metre block in the middle of Mount Perry to sell, there’s a number of house blocks there that have been developed some years ago.
“It’s across the road from the showgrounds, just up the road from the school, and when I ran the trigger map on it, it comes up in the middle of a blue dot — purely a domestic house block and the showgrounds and the school are in the same circle.”
‘Map accuracy has improved’
The department said trigger maps were not new.
“The extent of high-risk areas has remained at less than 4 per cent of Queensland since being introduced by the Newman government in 2014,” a statement said.
“Queensland has 225 endangered, 484 vulnerable and 235 near-threatened plant species. The protected plants clearing framework under the Nature Conservation Act 1992 is the main way to ensure they are protected and conserved for current and future generations.
“The trigger map is reviewed and, if necessary, amended at least once every 12 months to ensure the map reflects the most up-to-date and accurate data available.
“Since 2014 the accuracy of the maps has improved markedly.
“A scheduled update to the map is due to be released shortly — Lang Park, the Gabba and the [Brisbane] Convention Centre will be removed from the map in this update.
“The next update is expected to reduce the area covered by the trigger map by approximately 35 per cent.”
Sam Doust from Granular Solutions, a company that helps farmers use herbicide to manage vegetation, said he did not know what to tell producers about what the newest trigger map would mean.
“There’s a lot of opinions out there and we are in the process of getting our own independent legal advice so we can try to find clear-cut answers and give some advice to our customers, because at the moment we can’t do that.”
He said he was telling customers to hold off clearing until the situation became clearer.
“At the moment, I think the best thing to do is to hold fire,” he said.
“Given there is a considerable penalty at play, anything up to $400,000 is what I have been told, I think it’s a huge risk [to clear] … because there is such little advice being given by the Government and respective parties.”
Shadow environment minister David Crisafulli said the latest mapping was “offensive” and that the public had lost confidence in the supporting science.
“We can all laugh at the fact that something like Lang Park is included, but it’s no laughing matter if you are a farmer that has to prove that something that is equally absurd on your property does not exist,” he said.
“That is the great irony — the department can stand up and say, ‘we have removed [Lang Park], that’s clearly an anomaly’, but it undermines confidence in the entire system.”
Mr Crisafulli called on the Government to clarify what implications the blue dots had and address farmers’ concerns.
“Everybody is in the dark [about the impacts of the trigger map] because this has been a process based not on science but on politics,” he said.
“No-one will walk away from the need to do the right thing by the environment, no-one will walk away from the need to protect things that need protecting, but when it is done on shabby science and it is a reverse onus of proof, you start questioning whether this is an exercise in environmental stewardship or an exercise in Green harvesting of preferences in the city.
“If it is the latter, that is a really sad day.”
Landholders should call 135veg (135 834) for more information or visit the trigger map website.