Wagga City Council is conducting aerial mapping of rural tree corridors to help inform strategies to manage the environmental effects of land clearing.
Land clearing for agriculture in the Wagga LGA increased by 276 per cent from 17 hectares in 2015 to 64 hectares in 2018, after the NSW government relaxed its native vegetation laws in 2017.
The Department of Planning, Industry and Environment has confirmed that compliance action for unlawful clearing has been carried out in the Wagga LGA since 2017.
Rural land clearing remains a contentious issue between those who say farmers should have the right to use their own properties in the most productive way possible, and others who believe the detriment to the natural environment is too great.
The results of the aerial mapping are expected to guide part of council's Community Strategic Plan, a vision for the city over the next two decades which is due to go out for public consultation in the next two months.
Council operations director Warren Faulkner said urban areas would have more trees than ever before, but a "whole of government approach" would be needed to address the effects of rural clearing.
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"The message is that council is doing its part in terms of what it has control over," he said.
Council director of community and environment Janice Summerhayes said some endangered animals relied on rural tree corridors and that "the clearing of those habitats would be of concern".
A DPIE spokesman said the NSW government was preparing a three-year review of the 2017 land management reforms "to ensure they are achieving balanced outcomes for the environment and agriculture".
NSW Farmers Association Wagga branch chairman Alan Brown said he did not see a problem with land clearing as long as trees were being removed with permission and offset with new plantings.
There are management options available for farmers, who are guided by Local Land Services, under the new legislation that requires establishing set-aside areas of native flora.
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Mr Brown said single paddock trees were often cleared and removed because they were an impediment to cropping or modern agricultural machinery.
"In other areas we see thousands of trees being planted which is purely farmers working towards an environmental benefit," he said.
Murrumbidgee Field Naturalists president Alan Whitehead said a shift in the Riverina from grazing to cropping farms meant more single trees were being removed from paddocks.
"It has a devastating effect on wildlife. These last areas of natural bushland result in a lot of birds in particular moving to an endangered status," he said.
The 2019 NSW land clearing data is due to be released at the end of this financial year.
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