Urban growth plans threaten the growling grass frog

16 May 2013 — Urban growth plans released by the Victorian Government earlier this week pave the way for local extinctions of nationally threatened species unless the federal government intercedes, Victorian National Parks Association executive director Matt Ruchel has said.

Environment groups from across Melbourne’s growth areas are calling on federal environment minister Tony Burke to apply the full force of national environmental laws to ensure threatened species are protected from urban sprawl.

“This is a good deal for property developers, but not for threatened species,” said Mr Ruchel. “The plans focus too much on clearing that will leave threatened and critically endangered species and habitats open to destruction by urban development.

“The cash for clearing offset scheme does not add up for the environment.

“This is the last chance for federal environment minister Tony Burke to protect threatened species on the urban edge.”

Environment and Climate Change Minister Ryan Smith said the $1 billion Biodiversity Conservation Strategy would result in more Melburnians having a place to call their own while ensuring our threatened species also have somewhere to live.

Mr Smith said the strategy would see the money used to support the establishment of new conservation reserves and protection for native vegetation and species while unlocking billions of dollars worth of housing investment and several thousand construction jobs.

“A key focus of the strategy is the establishment of a transparent and consistent cost recovery model to help mitigate any potential impacts on native vegetation and species as Victorian’s housing needs continue to grow,” he said.

“Under the strategy, developers of land released within Melbourne’s growth corridors will contribute nearly $1 billion over 30 years to protect threatened flora and fauna.

“In addition to protecting the environment, the housing market will also benefit with forecast savings of around $500 million in costs through a more streamlined environmental approvals process.”

But Mr Ruchel said the move could set a dangerous national precedent if it allowed environmentally damaging development to proceed.

Within each of the growth areas are tracts of some of Australia’s most threatened vegetation types – grasslands, grassy woodlands and wetlands, each recognised nationally as critically endangered, he said.

Westernport Southern Brown Bandicoot Regional Recovery Group member David Nicholls said east of Cranbourne the development threatened the southern brown bandicoot with the potential of extinction from the area.

“The bandicoot needs adequate networks to move and breed, without which it will be doomed,” he said.

Nicholas Croggon from the Environment Defenders Office said his group had written to the government “outlining numerous contraventions of the legal process”.

“The State Government should not be allowed to thumb its nose at federal laws,” he said.

Regional conservation groups have also highlighted a suite of local instances where the proposal falls short.

David Redfearn of the Friends of Merri Creek said in the northern growth area, almost all of the Merri Creek Catchment will be under concrete.

“Our group has planned for Melbourne’s growth with corridors for wildlife, but that has all been ignored,” he said.

“Furthermore we are now likely to see the local extinction of one of the healthiest populations of growling grass frog purely due to bad planning.”

Colleen Miller from the Western Melbourne Catchments Network warned large areas of grasslands would be lost under the plans.

“In the west we will see large areas of good grasslands cleared because they can’t meet the impossible thresholds,” she said.

“The headwaters of Skeleton Creek are important for numerous ecological and cultural values but will be carved up because the assessment process has used a philosophy of divide and conquer, where multiple values don’t count.”

The groups are calling on Tony Burke to:

  • ensure important grassland and grassy woodland sites are protected within the urban growth areas and that networks are planned to deliver the ongoing health of these areas
  • ensure adequate protections for all threatened species including the Growling Grass Frog and Southern Brown Bandicoot, guaranteeing no local extinctions of these species
  • ensure that all areas of federally listed wetlands are adequately protected
  • ensure that all roads and major infrastructure are sited to avoid areas of high conservation value such as the Deanside Wetlands near Rockbank and the Holden Flora and Fauna reserve in Sunbury
  • ensure that proposed large grassland reserves protect the most important habitats and are delivered upfront within five years

The Victorian Government will now seek approval from the Commonwealth Government.

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