Through the thick of it: navigating vegetation clearing laws

07 April 2017 Topics: Planning and environment, Property and planning law

Vegetation clearing laws are complex and failure to comply with them can be costly.

Fines can be significant. For example, under the Commonwealth Environmental Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999, clearing of plant or vegetation that is likely to have a significant impact on a matter of national environmental significance without first obtaining approval from the Environment Minister could cost a company up to $6,095,000 per offence.

At a state level, the fines can be equally costly. This was demonstrated in March 2017, when one Queensland landowner was fined almost $1,000,000 (including legal costs to the State) under 46 separate offences for unlawfully clearing 350 hectares of native vegetation at his rural property.

In another recent matter, Brisbane City Council commenced action against an earthmoving company for failing to obtain a tree clearing permit under the Natural Assets Local Law 2003, even though tree clearing was ‘category X’ and therefore permissible at a state level under the Vegetation Management Act 1999. If successful, the penalty could be up to $103,615 per offence.

Unless you have a thorough understanding of the many legislative triggers and mapping overlays that identify the process for the lawful clearing of plant and vegetation, it can be very difficult to determine whether your proposed clearing will be lawful. This is often compounded where multiple approvals are required under separate laws for the same proposed clearing.

While most people are aware of the vegetation clearing obligations under the Vegetation Management Act 1999 (Qld) and the Sustainable Planning Act 2009 (Qld), the additional tree clearing approvals that may be required at the federal, state and local level are often overlooked.

For example, you need to obtain a permit to clear or an exempt clearance certificate under the Nature Conservation Act 1992 (Qld) where a proposed clearing of native vegetation is within a high risk area under the flora survey trigger map, even where you have complied with the Vegetation Management Act 1999. Relevantly, a significant portion of south east Queensland is classified as a high risk area.

If you are unsure whether you can lawfully clear, you should contact your local, state or federal agency and also seek expert advice. If you would like to discuss your past or future tree clearing operations, please contact Leanne O’Neill on 3231 2571.

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This publication is for information only and is not legal advice. You should obtain advice that is specific to your circumstances and not rely on this publication as legal advice. If there are any issues you would like us to advise you on arising from this publication, please let us know.