The Age: Battle lines drawn on clearing code
JOHN Rischitelli's clear-felled front garden is probably not what the State Government expects will be the result of its new land-clearing regulations, but the Kinglake contractor is adamant the approach is right for his rebuilt home.
He moved quickly after the Black Saturday bushfires swept the property, knocking down about 20 mountain ash and messmate trees.
''I am going for the middle of the block, the biggest amount of clearing I can get around me,'' he said of the home he will occupy later this week. ''If I had those trees in there now, they would've been real close to the house.
''Everybody's clearing up. They want to be sure and they want to be safe and get them away from the house.''
Rules permitting property owners to clear trees up to 10 metres from their homes and four metres from fence lines were approved by Parliament last week, reviving concerns about widespread land clearing.
Mr Rischitelli said he was aware of fears for the future of the hills towns but property owners were entitled to make their own decisions.
''I can understand it, but I will say that even at the [public] meetings it's clearly 20 per cent downtowners come up to push green, green, green.
''If you really like it that green, when the fire comes, get in your car, get up here, stand in front of it and stop it. Mate, I did not see one Parks Victoria guy. No DSE [Department of Sustainability and Environment] guys,'' said Mr Rischitelli, who survived the fire by retreating to a wine cellar under his former home, which was destroyed.
Arborist Robert Knott, of Research, said the changes had the potential to devastate forested areas close to Melbourne. He said many of the affected areas contained small bush blocks that owners could clear under the new rules.
''I am absolutely sure [Premier John] Brumby can't see what people will be doing, and what they will be entitled to do,'' said Mr Knott.
''The landscape of Kinglake is changing and so is Flowerdale. You can almost write the Dandenongs off as a sightseeing vista. People are going nuts.
''The Federal Government is talking about carbon credits … trees are a big carbon bank and it would be an inestimable amount of carbon that's been released into the air.''
Mr Knott said trees protected buildings during bushfires by dissipating fire energy. It was more important to improve housing design and to minimise ground fuel.
State Environment Minister Gavin Jennings yesterday defended the new rules, saying they were carefully considered to give individuals power over their circumstances.
He said the policy struck a balance between certainty for residents and environmental values. Landowners were not obliged to remove any vegetation.
Mr Rischitelli said he would replant, but with smaller flowering gums, and also with conifers and replacement rhododendrons for those destroyed in the fire.
''Even I will admit those guys who cleared the trees from the sides of the roads went overboard,'' he said. ''I might have cleared my little bit, but how many trees do I want around me? There's heaps,'' he said, indicating a national park boundary 200 metres away.