Farmers are gearing up for a legal battle with the Department of Environment and Conservation over what they claim is an overzealous crackdown on land clearing based on aerial surveys of their properties.
They are outraged after a Kojonup farmer got a letter from the DEC accusing him of illegally clearing about 1ha of native vegetation after a review of aerial images taken over three years.
A similar letter was received by a farmer hundreds of kilometres from Kojonup in an indication of the scale of the DEC aerial review.
Farmers can face fines of up to $250,000 and criminal prosecution for illegal land clearing under the Environmental Protection Act.
Rural lobby group WAFarmers has advised its members not to respond to the letters and to seek legal advice if the DEC tries to pursue the matter.
WAFarmers has asked its lawyers to prepare a detailed response and wants farmers to forward copies of the letters to its head office.
"There is potential for criminal proceedings, so we are warning farmers to take the letters seriously even if they refer to mind-blowingly small pieces of land," WAFarmers president Dale Park said.
"The actions of the DEC show a lack of common sense and no regard for basic farming methods. It is a minefield for farmers when things like grazing and burning off can be classed as land clearing."
At least one farmer has been advised not to let DEC inspectors on to his property as relations between the department and farmers reach crisis point.
The DEC is already prosecuting Lake Muir farmer Peter Swift in what many rural property owners see as a test case of their right to continue using grazing land reclassified as protected wetlands under a notice in the Environmental Protection Act dating back to 2005.
The DEC would not discuss the letters or reveal how many had been sent out, but issued a statement saying it conducted annual reviews of aerial images to identify changes in vegetation. It said the potential for environmental harm and not the size of the land determined the need for investigations.
WAFarmers is campaigning for changes to land-clearing laws and the removal of criminal penalties.Environment Minister Bill Marmion told a meeting of farmers in Esperance last month that clearing laws needed improving.
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