In the past couple of weeks we farmers have been invited by several rural newspapers and the VFF to shed tears over the harsh penalties meted out to Bill Bourchier Pty Ltd for its recent contravention of national environmental law by clearing 449 paddock trees in western Victoria.
Hardly a new offender; in 2002 this farm business was found guilty of illegally clearing 200 paddock trees. In that case the West Wimmera Shire and the State Government declined to prosecute. Instead the Company was forced to fence a patch of Bulokes and carry out some planting.
In 2010 the Bourchier Company submitted a planning application to the Shire to clear a further 2,200 paddock trees. In the application it was claimed that each of these trees cost the enterprise, in lost farm production, over $320 per year. When this application was being assessed, it was found that many of the trees the Company had applied to clear had already vanished!
In this instance, due to the weakness of the Victorian native vegetation regulations, local and State Governments walked away from this case, leaving only the Federal Government to prosecute. They could only act on the two (of several) species cleared over which they have jurisdiction – Buloke and Grey Box.
The result is that the penalty paid (for those two species only) will amount to about $250 per tree, while for the other species removed, no penalty. This outlay compares extremely favourably with the annual $320 it was supposedly costing to keep each tree alive in the paddock. Bill Bourchier Pty Ltd’s clearing operations have been an extremely good on-farm investment, yielding a return on investment of well over 100%.
Are you still crying?
Are native vegetation regulations too tough? Hardly.
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