Environment Department making 'urgent inquiries' into clearing of Cape York land

Environment Department making 'urgent inquiries' into clearing of Cape York land

Environment Department making 'urgent inquiries' into clearing of Cape York land

Updated 25 July 2017, 8:05 AEST

The Federal Environment Department and Minister Josh Frydenberg are making "urgent enquiries" into the clearing of more than 100 hectares of bushland on Cape York Peninsula.

The Federal Environment Department is making "urgent inquires" into the clearing of more than 100 hectares of bushland on Cape York Peninsula.

The area on Olive Vale station is a known habitat of several endangered and rare species and is in the Great Barrier Reef catchment.

The Australian Conservation Foundation (ACF) said the landholder should have referred to the Federal Environment Department for assessment before any clearing took place.

ACF chief executive officer Kelly O'Shanassy wrote a letter to Federal Environmental Minister Josh Frydenberg last month, saying the "current situation is deeply concerning, unacceptable and sets the worst possible precedent".

Olive Vale landholder Paul Ryan confirmed to 7.30 he had cleared "a little bit more than 100 hectares" last year as part of his trial cropping activities for sorghum, sunflower, chickpeas and rice.

But he denied doing anything wrong.

"A lot of it was just clearing up the edges of areas that we've already cleared," he said.

"We're just trying to grow crops — we've done nothing illegal.

"It was just individual trees — we haven't pulled a chain with a bulldozer since 2015.

"Everything we've done has been in line with our development approval."

'No referral needed'

Olive Vale was granted a permit to clear nearly 32,000 hectares of bushland in the dying days of the Queensland Liberal National Party government in January 2015.

The landholder cleared nearly 2,000 hectares before agreeing to halt operations in June of that year.

Although the Federal Environment Department found the tree clearing had no impact of national environmental significance, it said any further clearing would need to be referred for assessment under the Environmental Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act.

"No further works are planned on the property unless and until all approvals are granted," the department said in a statement on November 4, 2015.

Nevertheless, Mr Ryan said he was not legally bound to make such a referral.

"We discussed it, but there was no formal documentation stating that a referral was required," he said.

Queensland Environment Minister Steven Miles is seeking advice from his department to see if there were any breaches of state law.

"If tree clearing is continuing on Olive Vale despite Federal Government assurances, then that would be worrying," he said.

ACF Northern Australia campaigner Andrew Picone said the Federal Environment Minister should have been proactive.

"Frydenberg's so-called big win on avoiding an in-danger listing for the Great Barrier Reef is farcical, given he has not done his job on calling in what is the single largest development proposal in a reef catchment," he said.

The ACF estimates a total of 130 hectares has been cleared on Olive Vale since 2015.