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23 October 2019

MEDIA RELEASE: Opportunity to strengthen Tree Protection Act

The Conservation Council ACT Region has welcomed the review of the Tree Protection Act, but warned against lowering the criteria for protecting the Territory’s trees in a bid to make the legislation more “flexible”.

“The review into the Tree Protection Act must not be an excuse to lower tree protection criteria in the ACT as we seek to build our urban forest,” said Helen Oakey, Executive Director.

“The suggestion to establish an offset scheme as a way to ensure that the thousands of trees removed on leased land are replaced, or that developers contribute to a fund for tree planting, could be a viable way to help finance the development of our urban forest.

“Our urban trees are increasingly important in the face of climate change impacts, and as part of its recently-released Climate Change Strategy, the ACT Government has set a canopy target of 30% by 2045 to help reduce urban heat.

“However, Canberra’s estimated current urban tree cover is only 21%, and given the longer hotter summers that we are already experiencing, it’s too early to be removing large trees or lowering the criteria for their protection.

“It’s important that large established trees are not removed with the promise that one or more smaller trees will replace it, as this won’t necessarily deliver the same habitat or canopy cover benefits.

“The Discussion Paper hints that the criteria to remove trees are too restrictive, yet in 2018-19, nearly 70% of all applications made under the Tree Protection Act to remove, prune or lop protected trees were approved.

“The example outlined in the Discussion Paper highlights that under the current law someone would be prevented from removing a tree that is causing a trip hazard on a driveway.  Yet if the criteria is changed so that people are allowed to remove trees which are causing minor damage to the built environment, then we will go backwards on our tree canopy target before we go forwards!

“The Conservation Council supports improved processes to increase transparency and timeliness of decisions for the public and developers. Part of an integrated approvals processes for decisions about trees should include consideration of a tree’s heritage values and whether their removal constitutes a key threatening process under the Nature Conservation Act.

“Any review of the Tree Protection Act must ensure the protection of mature and non-mature native trees across the urban landscape, and recognise the value of all trees and the role they play in supporting biodiversity and building our urban forest,” said Ms Oakey.

Media contact:

Helen Oakey, Executive Director, Conservation Council ACT Region 0402 052 777