It was no coincidence the Blaxland home of Carolyn and Colin Sanders was chosen for a media conference last Thursday to announce the start of new laws giving homeowners more power to remove trees and vegetation that could be a bushfire hazard.
NSW Emergency Services Minister Stuart Ayres and NSW Rural Fire Service (RFS) Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons announced that residential property owners in high bushfire risk zones can now remove trees within 10 metres of their home and vegetation within 50 metres without council approval.
Carolyn Sanders welcomed the measures and told the Gazette her family of four was already preparing to clear some vegetation on their Ross Crescent property.
“Living here we love the trees but some might be a [fire] danger, so we’ll assess which trees they may be,” Mrs Sanders said.
“Of course, it’s an expensive thing to do so it won’t happen in one go but it’s nice to know that we now have some control to be able to do something — it’s quite empowering.
“Hazard reduction [on private property] had been a very complex process so we hadn’t done much.”
Mr Ayres said following last year’s devastating bushfires the government “listened to the community and it has put in place a very commonsense and practical approach to reducing risk”.
“The first thing we are encouraging people to do is to make contact with the RFS, particularly via the portal [on its website], so they can understand whether they are in the high risk zone,” he said.
“There is a code of practice to govern what takes place and where people think that code is being breached they can contact the RFS and the Environmental Protection Agency .
“I don’t think you are going to see a raft of people out hacking down trees.”
Mr Ayres also said fines for many bushfire-related offences will double, including for throwing lit cigarettes out of cars during total fire bans — up from $660 to $1320.
Commissioner Fitzsimmons said feedback from landholders showed a clear desire for increased flexibility to clear vegetation close to homes, “which the new 10/50 rules certainly provide”.
But he stressed the importance of looking closely at the code of practice, “which has some very specific and intentional clauses”.
“We don’t want to start seeing good intentions of managing fuel result in compromising the integrity of the landscape and seeing slippage or degradation of the backyard.
“This is also about making sure that people are doing things safely and effectively.
“Dealing with trees, dropping trees, is high risk and can be dangerous and you need to seek professional assistance and guidance.
“This is not about giving access to individuals to start going onto their neighbour’s properties or other land, it’s actually about taking care and responsibility in your home.”
Member for Blue Mountains Roza Sage said “I’ve been approached by many people about the issue and the overwhelming sentiment was that residents needed these extra powers.”
To find out if your residential property is within a designated high fire danger area and to view the legislation’s code of conduct, go to www.rfs.nsw.gov.au.
The laws came into effect on August 1.