A MUNGLINUP farmer has been jailed for three months after being convicted of contempt of court in relation to a land clearing case.
Maxwell Szulc was sentenced to three months prison in the Perth Supreme Court on Monday.
The Department of Environment and Conservation (DEC) had sought the court injunction after Mr Szulc continued to clear his land after the DEC issued him with a vegetation conservation notice (VCN).
The department said Chief Justice Martin issued the injunction in October last year after the DEC demonstrated to the court that it had exhausted all reasonable avenues of engagement and regulation to stop Mr Szulc from unlawfully clearing native vegetation on his property.
The DEC said Mr Szulc had cleared a total of 345 hectares of native vegetation from the property without authority but that it was the 40ha Mr Szulc cleared after the court injunction that landed him in jail.
Mr Szulc, 62, who represented himself in court, was handcuffed and taken to prison shortly after Chief Justice Martin handed down his decision.
Close associates of Mr Szulc said the sentence should serve as a warning to other farmers in regard to the clearing of land.
Rod Rogers, formerly of Arthur River, Kulin and Esperance, had attended the court hearing and said it was wrong that Mr Szulc should have gone to prison over the clearing of 40ha of land.
"You don't just lock up a bloke for clearing a bit of land, but these are the rules you're are playing by now," Mr Rogers said.
"I thought a fine would have been applicable.
"I think it is just a disgrace and I don't blame the judge, he was going by an Act of Parliament, but the Act is wrong.
"It is turning farmers into criminals.
"The DEC brought the action and they claim you can't touch any country even though you own it."
Mr Rogers said Mr Szulc argued that he had already cleared the land in 1984 and that he was only clearing re-growth when putting in a 20-metre wide fire break he thought necessary to prevent a fire hazard after the injunction.
"The DEC claimed it was pristine bushland, but it was not original bushland," Mr Rogers said.
In a letter to Farm Weekly in June, Mr Szulc, said the DEC was out of control.
"Some of their area managers are making disastrous decisions affecting lives, public safety, the environment, native and introduced animals and birds.
The DEC lights fires in summer time, which have a habit of getting out of control, causing massive palls of smoke to the detriment of public health.
Yet the DEC has been known to refuse to allow a firebreak to be established until a court ordered it to be allowed."
In the letter Mr Szulc went on to say that having the DEC manage land clearing applications was a conflict of interest.
"In the past, senior departmental staff have been quoted as saying that there should be no more land clearing. It seems that this attitude is still current as applications by farmers are rarely granted. If an individual appeals the refusal the action is held up for unexpected lengthy periods. Private property rights mean nothing to the department."
Pastoralists and Graziers Association (PGA) private property rights policy director Milan Zaklan said under legislation farmers could re-clear land if it had been done within 10 years of the original clearing. But if they were one day over 10 years they could be prosecuted.
"The rule needs changing," Mr Zaklan said.
"The right to individuals to use their land to pursue agricultural activities when the world population is increasing and looking for food has been eroded away in legislation."
The DEC said there was a long history of significant soil management issues on Mr Szulc's property.
It said that in 1994 the Commissioner of Soil and Land Conservation placed a Soil Conservation Notice over the property to mitigate the risk of serious land degradation from water erosion.
The DEC said clearing of native vegetation was an offence unless a clearing permit had been granted under section 51C of the Environmental Protection Act 1986 or an exemption applies.
It said that anyone proposing to clear vegetation was encouraged to contact DEC's Native Vegetation Conservation Branch on 9219 8744 to discuss their plans.