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August 2014

The recent tragic events near Moree, NSW have brought the focus of the public eye on the problem of native vegetation clearing in NSW. The tensions between farmers and environmental authorities have been running high for a long time, and there were initiatives aimed at relaxing those tensions announced not that long ago (see this blog’s entry from June, 2013). It had to come to a shocking eruption of violence for the NSW government to commit to seriously consider the issue. Their first step was the establishment of a Biodiversity legislation review.

The terms of reference and the composition of the review panel promise that an in-depth analysis and understanding of the problem will emerge out of the review, together with recommendations for regulatory and policy changes. Perhaps more fundamentally, the review should be looking at clarifying several key questions. For instance, what are the forces at play that drive society’s demand for native vegetation conservation; and conversely, what are the forces that determine landowners’ attitudes towards clearing native vegetation? Looking into these questions is likely to identify possibilities to reconcile the demand for conservation with the objectives of those who can supply it, the landholders. This will also help pinpointing possible regulatory and policy levers that could change behaviour of the affected parties in ways that are more sophisticated than what is the case under current regulation.

The review should also look at the question of just compensation of landholders for providing conservation of native vegetation. As discussed previously on this blog, and throughout economics and legal literature on regulatory takings, the problem is largely dependent on the ability to determine under what set of circumstances is compensation justified, and what should be the type and magnitude of compensation.

At any rate, establishing the review is a good, if belated initiative. Let’s hope that it will be able to produce its findings quickly, so that we can move on with regulatory reform and avoid further tragic consequences for communities and for the environment!