Strategic Planning, Biodiversity Conservation & Koalas
There has been some recent discussion in the community about the new NSW Government Biodiversity Legislation and particularly the concerns with the offsets scheme. The Bellingen Shire Council, like all local government bodies, has no option but to operate under these laws and seek to achieve the best outcomes for our local biodiversity and in particular the lands that are mapped as core Koala habitat. Whilst I personally will continue to ask questions, seek advice and lobby for more effective biodiversity strategies on a Regional, State and National level, the Planning staff at Council will continue to implement locally adopted strategies aimed at koala protection.
In this regard, Council is proud to already demonstrate leadership in local strategic planning to encourage biodiversity conservation. As an example the 2017 BSC Coastal Area Koala Management Strategy gave rise to the protection of over 1000ha of land as ‘core koala habitat’ and provided a template to manage the long term sustainability and recovery of koalas and their habitat in our Shire.
Good strategic planning represents a wide range of interests and is multi-faceted in terms of the strategies it employs. When consulting with affected landowners during the development of the Strategy some requested Council investigate potential financial measures that would help them decide whether to conserve and rehabilitate koala habitat on their property. Not everyone who has koala habitat will be interested in exploring this option, however, for some it may help determine whether they elect to conserve habitat or pursue other land activities such as forestry or clearing. It may even make this financially possible for some.
With this in mind, Council sought expressions of interest from property owners who were interested in having their land appraised as a potential ‘Biodiversity Stewardship Site’ under the new legislation introduced by the NSW Government. Although the legislation is new and complex, it aims to mitigate the impact of clearing in one area by ensuring the protection of habitat in another area, through a market based transaction. In this transaction, the person establishing the stewardship site receives a financial credit for foregoing any potential that other land use activities may provide.
The site of the clearing and the location of the Stewardship site need not be the same property, locality or local government area. We do not expect there to be significant levels of clearing in Bellingen Shire for new development because of the strategic planning work that we have undertaken to protect important habitat, however it is possible that developers in other local government areas may be looking for credits. If those credits are sourced in Bellingen Shire then this would potentially result in an additional layer of protection for important habitat as well as providing a source of income to the property owner to maintain and improve that habitat.
Council also supports the Great Koala Park concept which, if realised, would be one of the best ways to stop the steady decline of Koala numbers in our region.
Cr Dominic King
16 November 2018.....