SHADOW environment minister Bernie Masters is requesting the State Government reveal the scientific basis for its claim that 80 per cent of the Swan Coastal Plain Wetlands was no longer in existence.
Mr Masters disputes the 80pc figure, which he said was a basis for the Environmental Protection Authority adopting a top down approach in its Swan Coastal Plain Wetlands Policy review, also known as the 1999 draft EPP.
The still incomplete EPP review, if passed in its present draft, could have serious implications for farmers and landowners on the Swan coastal plain strip that runs from Lancelin to Margaret River and across to the Darling Scarp.
Under the EPP any land nominated as a high category wetland would result in the landowner loosing the right to farm that land without compensation. However, the land would still be on landowners' titles.
The EPP allows anybody to nominate a wetland, which if accepted by the EPA, means landowners would have to prove why their land shouldn't be classed as a wetland.
Mr Masters, a former environmental consultant, believed the Government's claim that 80 of WA wetlands were destroyed was incorrectly based on a 1966 wetlands report. Public Works drainage statistics were used in the report.
He said wetlands did not cease to exist just because they had been drained, with the majority still performing important wetland functions, such as recharging ground water and protecting native vegetation and birdlife.
"The wetlands have been modified but not destroyed," he said.
Mr Masters said this was supported by Water Authority mapping produced in the 1990s which showed that about 50pc of the plain to the north of Perth and 80pc to the south were wetlands.
He said there would be serious implications for the majority of landowners on the Swan coastal plain if the current EPP review was accepted by Government when mapping clearly indicated most wetlands still existed.
Mr Masters said the only way to ensure conservation of the wetlands was to work with landowners instead to taking a top down approach of telling farmers what to do, which in any case wouldn't work.
"There needs to be a power of veto given to the farmer to chose whether to be part of that process," he said.
"That would then provide a stepping board for farmers and Government to work co-operatively to protect the wetlands."
Those farmers who have gone out of their way to preserve or maintain native vegetation were most at risk of loosing land values if the draft EPP becomes law, as were landowners in areas of natural wetland.
Mr Masters, who recently chaired the Busselton wetlands conservation strategy committee, said the EPA's dictatorial approach could result in farmers ignoring the EPP and refusing to properly manage the environmental value of their land.
Environment Minister Judy Edwards, who had made the claim in Parliament that 80pc of wetlands had been lost, has since declined to comment, however her media spokesman said the draft EPP had still not been approved.