Taking stock of the war on our wildlife

Australia's record of protecting our plants and animals at both a national and state level is poor, with another 134 species added to the threatened list in the past seven years.

An alliance of environmental groups have dubbed it a "global embarrassment", as The Sun-Heraldreported on Sunday.

In NSW, the problems are likely to worsen, not least because of the inaptly named Biodiversity Conservation Act passed by the Berejiklian government last year.

As the Herald reported late last year, legal action by environmentalists has begun in a bid to overturn new land-clearing codes that make it easier for farmers to strip land of native vegetation.

Indeed, the new laws could hardly have been introduced in a worse manner, with regulatory maps for many areas still to be released almost six months after the legislation passed.

Landholders eager to let rip with bulldozers know any claim they deliberately cleared endangered ecosystems will tough to prove in court.

Not that there's likely to be any shortage of claims. Some 300 cases are under some sort of investigation by the Office of Environment and Heritage for possibly illegal vegetation removal.

As usual, north-west NSW is clearing hot-spot, accounting for about half the compliance cases, including properties that could fit in Sydney's CBD several times over.

"There's a shimmer to the horizon," a government staffer tells the Herald of one property stripped bare. "You can turn a full circle and not have a tree in sight."

Land-clearing approvals issued by the Local Land Services have, meanwhile, "gone through the roof", this official says. That's despite staff often having little knowledge of the vegetation about to be dozered.

Further loss of threatened eco-systems is bad enough. But communities and often farmers downstream or downwind also cop environmental hits of their own, whether from quicker water flows and stronger winds, or greater erosion and salinity.

Rising carbon emissions from the clearing also add to Australia's total. That's the case in Queensland, where the government under Annastacia Palaszczuk has pledged to curb land clearing - a promise she took to the elections that her Labor Party won last year.

Just as the incentives to destroy native vegetation are obvious and predictable, so too are the remedies to combat it if the NSW's Liberal and National Party government were serious about conservation.

Blocks with scattered tree cover can be bought for $600 per hectare, cleared to the fenceline and sold as crop land for five or more times as much.

The only costs for deforestation are the bulldozers and any fine, in the odd chance OEH takes legal action and wins.

Should the court demand remediation work - which would preclude even running stock on the land - the owner merely sells it to a family member or company.

However, attaching the order to the land - rather than the owner - would extinguish this ruse in a jiffy.

Similarly, seizure of the land or the clearly equipment would also discourage illegal behaviour.

After all, the Crime Commission has powers to seize and sell assets of drug traffickers - why not for this criminal activity that can have a permanent detriment for on our landscapes?

Biodiversity suffers from sounding like a buzzword, too often reduced to a few high-profile, cuddly marsupials, adorable as they are.

But, as eminent Harvard naturalist, EO Wilson states, biodiversity "forms a shield protecting each of the species that together compose it".

That's a shield we dismantle at our peril.

This story Taking stock of the war on our wildlife first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.