WIMMERA leaders are calling on the state government to ease the enforcement of native vegetation law.
West Wimmera Shire Council wants regulations relaxed, which chief executive David Leahy says could add close to $50,000 to the cost of a road upgrade.
Mr Leahy is hoping to speak with Roads Minister Jaala Pulford and Environment Minister Lily D'Ambrosio during the first sitting week of state parliament in June.
"We would like to have the Environmental Significance Overlay regulations looked at and see whether there is scope for us to have isolated circumstances, rather than a broad-brush approach taken to it," he said.
Environmental Significance Overlays are planning controls specifically designed to preserve an area's environmental qualities. Landowners require a permit from the Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning if they plan to remove or destroy any vegetation, including dead vegetation.
"We've been fortunate enough to get some funding through the Fixing Country Roads program to improve Ozenkadnook-Mortat road, which has some largish trees inside a couple of bends. Engineering staff have tried to reposition the centre line to try to avoid these trees as best as we can," Mr Leahy said.
"There are probably two trees that are fairly close to the shoulder and there has been a degree of community concern about the investment we've made there and the inability to move the trees.
"The cost associated with changing our plans to meet the requirements is close to $50,000, and that prevents us from doing works on other roads. Effectively the upgrade program would need to be downsized to cater for that offset cost."
Mr Leahy said the area the council wanted to upgrade also had an endangered species component built into it, to protect breeding and feeding zones for the red tail Black cockatoo.
He said ratepayers had also experienced difficulty with native vegetation rules.
One is Jonathan Dyer, a Nuffield Scholar who farms a continuous cropping operation between Lillimur and Serviceton.
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In January, the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal overturned Mr Dyer's application to remove 23 trees from his property and plant others in a vegetated area 800 metres away.
Mr Dyer said the council and the state government had both approved his plan prior to this.
"The main reason the judge gave was the lawyer and ecologist successfully argued the area 800 metres away was a different vegetation class to the vegetation I was removing, and therefore wasn't adequate - even though it was on the same block of land," he said.
"I feel like I was caught in the crossfires in some ways the regulations were changed as I was doing my application. I went to submit it to council and the new stuff was up on the website, so I think they wanted to use someone as a test case to show the rules had changed and farmers shouldn't be allowed to do that."
Mr Dyer said the decision impacted his business and, ironically, his ability to protect native vegetation.
He said he wanted to remove the trees, which were 20 to 30 metres apart, to make it safer to use his farming equipment.
"Economics and technology dictate that farmers get more and more efficient at what we do, and part of that using larger equipment to manage our land in better ways," he said.
"What a ruling like this does is it essentially says you can't adapt your farm to use modern technology to make it as efficient and environmentally friendly as you'd like it to be.
"I made this point at VCAT - time is on my side.
"This whole region around Kaniva all got opened up for farming in the same 20- or 30-year window, and so those trees are starting to die now, and they're not getting replaced.
"If I'm doing that, I'm essentially paying to do so, so it's completely short-term thinking. What about when these trees die and there's no newly planted trees?
"There is no surety for what the rules are currently. No other farmer who knows what has happened to me is going to try and do the right thing."
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