New Vegetation Management Laws

On 3 May 2018, the Queensland government delivered on one of its major election promises by passing the Vegetation Management and Other legislation Amendment Act 2018 (Qld) (“the Amendment Act”).

The Amendment Act restricts the rights of farmers to clear vegetation from their properties. The Amendment Act does this by re-classifying vegetation categories, extending protected areas, imposing stricter fines, and requiring new development applications to be made. 

SUMMARY OF KEY CHANGES AND WHAT IT MEANS FOR YOU

Re-classification of vegetation categories

  • New Category C (high value regrowth vegetation) will now also apply to freehold, leasehold and indigenous land that has not been cleared for at least 15 years (from May 2003). Previously, it was only applicable to leasehold land that had not been cleared since 1989.
  • New Category R (regrowth watercourse and drainage feature area) will now also apply to vegetation within 50 metres of a watercourse in all Great Barrier Reef catchments, namely Burnett-Mary, Eastern Cape York, Fitzroy, in addition to the previously protected areas of Burdekin, Mackay-Whitsunday and the Wet Tropics catchments.
  • As a result of the above changes, some areas that were previously Category X on regulated vegetation maps will be changed to regulated areas Category C and Category R. In doing so, it restricts farmers from clearing areas on the farms which they would have been able to do previously without notifying Department of Natural Resources, Mines and Energy (“DNRME”).

Clearing permits and Development Applications

  • Previous applications for clearing made under Categories C and R are no longer valid. In addition, landholders can no longer clear (or apply for) high value agriculture clearing or irrigated high value agriculture clearing.

Despite the above restrictions, landholders can still conduct necessary clearing. This may include clearing for property infrastructure, controlling weeds, preparing for or recovering from natural disasters or managing encroachments.

  • Fodder harvesting notifications made under the clearing codes are no longer valid unless it is during drought periods for feeding hungry livestock. Landholders need to make new applications.

Protected wildlife

  • The Amendment Act now provides protection for essential habitat for near-threatened Previously, this applied only to protected wildlife. Areas that have such wildlife will be published on the DNRME website: https://www.ehp.qld.gov.au/maps-imagery-data/online/

Landholders may be required, at their own cost, to restore these areas if they have been cleared, without approval, since March 8 2018. 

Managing thickened vegetation

The Amendment Act allows landholders to apply for vegetation clearing for managing thickened vegetation in Categories C and R.

The application must specify the location, extent and method of clearing. It must have evidence that clearing will comply with restrictions stated above and clearly demonstrate that the vegetation has thickened in comparison to the same regional ecosystem in the region. 

Riverine Protection Permits under the Water Act 2000

Landholders are once again required to obtain permits for clearing vegetation in a watercourse, lake or spring under the Water Act 2000.

Permits were required for destruction of vegetation in the 1990s but removed in 2013. 

Monitoring and Compliance

Under the Amendment Act, officers of the department can gain entry by giving a written notice of 24 hours if they have reasonable grounds to believe that vegetation clearing offence is happening or has happened. Consents or warrants are no longer required. The officers may also issue a stop work notice.

The penalty for offences has also increased substantially.  For instance, fines for ‘failing to stop work or restore’ has increased from approximately $210,000 to approximately $568,000.

The State is still required to prove that the land holder is guilty.

Going forward

  • It is essential that landholders get a vegetation report for their properties as soon as possible to see what has changed to their respective properties.
  • If any clearing or development applications had been previously approved, landholders should contact DNRME again to check the status of those approvals.
  • It is highly recommended that in light of the stricter monitoring and larger fines, landholders keep a good record of all the clearing work on the land.

Should you need further clarification on the changes, please call Emanate Legal on (07) 4727 0100.


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