THE Palaszczuk government has been forced to remove more than a third of its flawed trigger mapping designed to protect endangered, vulnerable and near-threatened plants.
However, the Department of Environment and Science is still to explain how it was able to was able to make the rapid, mass changes to the maps without ground truthing its own applied data.
Worse, departmental officials were unable to explain to farm group AgForce late last week how the mapping was applied during a special meeting called by Environment Minister Leeanne Enoch in an attempt to diffuse widespread landholder anger.
It is understood that during that meeting a frustrated Ms Enoch ordered her reticent staff to schedule a second meeting with AgForce to provide answers, although it is unclear when this meeting will be held.
Queensland Country Life put a series of questions to the Department of Environment on Monday asking for details on how the recent changes to the trigger maps were made. They included:
- What process was used to determine where Trigger Mapping would be removed?
- Given 35 per cent (sic) of the Trigger Mapping was removed, why was an error of this magnitude allowed to proceed?
- Were suitably qualified ecologists or botanists employed to advise on the changes to Trigger Mapping?
- Were the changes 'ground truthed' before they were processed?
- Have landholders affected by the changes been advised the Trigger Mapping have been altered?
According to the department high-risk areas are now limited to 'natural' areas, such as those mapped as remnant vegetation, regrowth vegetation, wetlands and category 'A' areas under the Vegetation Management Act 1994 (e.g. an offset area or areas subject to a restoration notice).
"Previous versions of the trigger map showed some highly modified areas as high-risk areas," the department's statement reads. "While this generally did not impose any requirements on existing land-uses in these areas, the map was updated to avoid confusion."
Perhaps more embarrassing for Minister Enoch is that obvious errors are still clearly apparent on the amended mapping accessed through the Queensland Globe.
While the nonsensical mapping of concrete and steel structures including Suncorp Stadium and the Gabba as well as bitumen airstrips and residential canal developments have been removed, other areas including coal mines and water storages remain covered in green ink.
As one landholder who contacted Queensland Country Life said: "One day our country was green, the next day it wasn't," he said. "That might have been okay, but we used to own the paddock next door and it is exactly the same country only divided by a fence. It was never touched. This mapping is just ridiculous."
According to a new fact sheet circulated by the department to landholders this week, a person may request that a high risk area be removed from the trigger map.
However, a suitably qualified person (e.g. ecologist or botanist) must undertake a flora survey.
"The flora survey is at the expense of the property holder and will determine if you need a clearing permit or not," the fact sheet reads. "If the survey shows no endangered, vulnerable or near-threatened plants were found, the Department of Environment and Science charges no fee to remove the area from the map."
What the department doesn't say is that a flora survey can cost landholders who challenge the mapping anywhere between $5000 and $25,000.
Breaches of the Nature Conservation Act 1992 can result in fines of up to $400,000.
The department says there are a number of exemptions for areas covered by a trigger map. These include existing grazing, clearing for firebreaks, controlled burns to reduce fuel loads, weed management and encroachment, and clearing for routine maintenance of infrastructure.
Boonah landholder Bruce Wagner, who initially drew attention to the major flaws in the trigger mapping, said removing more than a third of the shaded areas did not satisfy landholders.
"Where is the integrity in the system," Mr Wagner said.
"The Palaszczuk government and the department need to scrap this mapping and start again.
"There is no way people can have confidence in this process. These maps are a joke."
AgForce chief executive officer Michael Guerin said the department did not have a clue what protected plants, if any, existed within a particular protected area.
"We respect and endorse the government's objective to save the natural environment, but all these maps would have done was sacrifice an industry for no benefit," Mr Guerin said.
"It appears the only input the government wants from producers is an expensive ecologist's report on flora on their property to provide DES with accurate data that they should have had in the first place.
"If that is the case, then I think DES should reimburse producers for the reports, because they are basically doing the department's work for it at their own cost."
LNP Opposition environment spokesman David Crisafulli said the fact there were still glaring errors with the maps spoke volumes about the Palaszczuk government.
"The onus and cost will still be on landholders to prove that existing dots are not necessary, despite the fact the government was able remove large amounts of mistakenly labelled land without any ecologist or botanist reports clearing it.
"We need mapping that gets the balance right between the environment and landholders, so the community can have confidence in the system."
Landholders can obtain a flora survey trigger map for their area by CLICKING HERE.