Yakka Munga is in the Shire of Derby/West Kimberley and is currently leased by Zenith Australia Investment Holding Pty Ltd (Zenith) for pastoral purposes.
DWER immediately investigated the matter and determined that approximately 120 hectares of native vegetation had been cleared, in contravention of Section 51C of the Environmental Protection Act 1986 (EP Act).
The investigation determined that the clearing was unauthorised and in June 2019 gave Zenith a Vegetation Conservation Notice (VCN CPS 8557/1) that required Zenith to ensure that no further unlawful clearing takes place. This action was taken to prevent any further clearing or excavation impacting on remnant vegetation within and next to the footprint of works.
Zenith appealed the requirements of VCN CPS 8557/1 to the Office of the Appeals Convenor. A determination on the appeal was made by the Minister for the Environment on 26 August 2019. The Minister allowed the appeal in part and requested an amendment to VCN CPS 8557/1. The Appeals Convenor Report and the Minister's Appeal Determination can be found at the Office of the Appeals Convenor website.
VCN CPS 8557/1 was subsequently amended as instructed by the Minister to VCN CPS 8557/2.
On 16 August 2019, Zenith was issued with an informal direction by the Deputy Commissioner of Soil and Land Conservation to take remedial action and earthworks to mitigate the risk of soil erosion.
On 12 September 2019, the Pastoral Lands Board issued a Default Notice formally also requiring remediation of the site to be completed by 30 November 2019. The Notice was prepared having regard to information from the investigations and studies carried out by DWER and the Office of Commissioner of Soil and Land Conservation.
The Pastoral Lands Board also required Zenith to submit a development plan for the future management of Yakka Munga Station, to be considered by the Board.
The Deputy Commissioner of Soil and Land Conservation has confirmed works to mitigate the risk of soil erosion and encourage the regeneration of native vegetation have been completed.
These works included backfilling of soil into excavated areas, spreading cleared vegetation over bare soil areas, removing livestock and erecting fences to prevent further access, and constructing 38 whoa-boys (water diversion banks). The germination of grasses and shrubs in the rehabilitation area has been completed.
An inspection conducted in August 2020 identified that the area subject to clearing was revegetating, had been fenced off and de-stocked as required by the Default Notice.
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Further inspections of the cleared area occurred in May and October 2021. Zenith has complied with all remedial requests made by the Commissioner of Soil and Land Conservation who will be monitoring recovery of the area over the next three years to ensure Zenith continue to comply with their requirements.
The investigation into the clearing has now been finalised. After careful consideration of the circumstances in this instance, and in accordance with DWER’s Compliance and Enforcement Policy, DWER elected to deal with the alleged breach of the EP Act by way of a letter of warning that will be held on Departmental records for future reference.
Consideration was given to Zenith’s compliance with the Vegetation Conservation Notice given by DWER (VCN CPS 8557/1) and the Default Notice given by the Pastoral Lands Board. Zenith maintained that it had unintentionally acted unlawfully due to its own advice and its interpretation of advice provided within DWER publications concerning pastoral leases.
The Department has provided Zenith with further direction on the requirements of the EP Act clearing provisions and specifically, how this legislation applies to pastoral leases. DWER publications have also been amended to better clarify these requirements.
Zenith has provided an assurance that it intends to fully comply with the EP Act, however any further unauthorised clearing within the property may result in higher enforcement options to ensure compliance with the EP Act.