Posts Tagged ‘koala habitat’

Koala Habitat threatened by Whitehaven Coal

Saturday, October 12th, 2013
Ecological consultant David Paul with a koala found in the Leard State Forest 
[Source:  Photo by Tania Marshall, Front Line Action on Coal,
^http://frontlineaction.wordpress.com/]

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Environmentalists are urging the New South Wales and Australian governments to save the Leard State Forest.  They are concerned about the catastrophic impact of major mining expansion on an isolated and vulnerable koala colony in its natural habitat within the Leard State Forest.

The Leard State Forest is situated near Maules Creek within the Namoi River catchment about 10km north-east of the township of Boggabri on the North West Slopes of New South Wales, about 500km  nor’-nor’-west of Sydney.

Maules Creek location mapMaules Creek Mine location map
[Source:  Google Maps]

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The nearby town of Boggabri lies on the Namoi River, a major perennial river and floodplain within the Murray-Darling Basin.  The landscape is naturally subjected to infrequent seasonal rains and widespread flooding.

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Maules Creek.

The native vegetation has been naturally dominated by Box-Gum Woodland ecological communities featuring the endemic species of White Box, Pilliga Box and Bimble Box.  These provide vital habitat for numerous woodland bird and microbat species and a small community of Koalas.

Leard State ForestThe Leard State Forest
An isolated remnant box woodland

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The region was originally the Aboriginal land of the Kamilaroi people and their ‘place of many creeks‘.   However, two hundred and twenty five years of colonial pastoral settlement and associated widespread deforestation has seen the region denuded of most native vegetation historically for sheep and wheat; and more recently for irrigated cropping, particularly water thirsty cotton.

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Narrabri CottonBox Woodland decimated for industrial scale cotton
The farming model is entirely artificially dependent river-diverted irrigation for export produce.
[Source:  Promotional tourism advertisement by the NSW Government,
^http://www.visitnsw.com/destinations/country-nsw/moree-and-narrabri-area/gallery]

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Native habitat has been sadly reduced to a few isolated islands of land set aside as ‘State Forests’.   These include the Pilliga Forest, the largest remnant temperate forest in Eastern Australia, as well as Jacks Creek, Plagyan, Rusden and Leard State Forests, as well as the rugged Mount Kaputar National Park.

Leard State Forest includes the most extensive and intact stands of the nationally listed and critically endangered Box-Gum Woodland remaining on the Australian continent and is home to nearly 400 native species of plants and animals, and includes habitat for 34 threatened species and several endangered ecological communities.

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Leard State Forest location mapLeard State Forest location map
[Source:  Google Maps]

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It’s believed as few as 20 koalas are left in the Leard State Forest, which is considered its primary habitat.  The primary food source for the koalas is thought to be the Pilliga Box, Red Gums and Yellow Boxes.  This Koala population is very fragile and could be significantly impacted on by the future mining plans.

Ecological consultant David Paul:

“If they are part of the same population as the Pilliga koala, then Leard is a very important area for allowing the dispersal of these animals in an east west direction. Leard Forest is a stepping stone between habitat in the Pilliga and to the east and south. While there are not many koalas there it’s a very important area to allow the dispersal of koalas in the region.”

Koala HabitatKoala in Leard State Forest

[Source:  Photo by Tania Marshall, Front Line Action on Coal,
^http://frontlineaction.wordpress.com/]

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Whitehaven Coal mining expansion into the Leard State Forest

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<< Approval has been given for one of the biggest open-cut coal mines in the world in the state’s north-east.  Whitehaven’s Maules Creek Project, near the Leard State Forest, will extract 12 million tonnes of raw coal a year.

If given the final go ahead from the Federal Government, Whitehaven expects production to start mid-2013, with operations predicted to last around 30 years.

Managing director Tony Haggarty:

“The mine will be good for the region economically and good for the state.  It’s one of the best coal developments in the world.  It’s a large reserve, it’s very good quality. It’s the sort of coal that is in demand in the market place, and because the reserve is large and because it has a long life, there will be a significant area of land involved.”

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But Federal Environment Minister Tony Burke says the project will now face Commonwealth scrutiny.  It will examine the mine’s potential impacts on the nearby critically endangered white box woodland.

An Environment Department spokeswoman says once the assessment is complete, it will go before Mr Burke who will consider the advice of the department, the Independent Expert Scientific Committee on possible water impacts, and any public comments.

Environmentalist Phil Spark:

“The planning commission’s approval is a blow to the endangered trees and animals that live in the forest.  My biggest concern is that the environment has been totally undervalued.  You just can’t destroy a forest and think it’s going to be compensated. It’s an endangered ecological community and it just can’t be replaced.”

The Maules Creek Project is about 18 kilometres north of Boggabri in the Gunnedah Basin. >>

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[Source:  ‘Go ahead for one of world’s largest coal mines’, 20121025, ^http://www.radioaustralia.net.au/international/2012-10-25/go-ahead-for-one-of-worlds-largest-coal-mines/1035960]

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Boggabri Coal MineNearby Boggabri Open Cut Coal Mine, owned by Whitehaven Coal
Saw thousands of hectares of native Box Woodland bulldozed in 2006.

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Environmentalists are up in arms over a proposal to mine two thousand hectares of state forest, among it, this remnant koala habitat.

The Maules Creek Mine adjoining the Leard State Forest has received NSW government approval to expand into the forest, which will see most of the forest and its flora and fauna all but completed bulldozed into history.

Whitehaven Coal wants a new open-cut coalmine that will extract up to 13 million tonnes of coal a year to earn it $767 million.  It also wants a second nearby Idemitsu Boggabri open cut mine to extract 7 million tonnes a year.

Greens Senate Candidate Cate Faehrmann:

“These approvals will literally change the face of the township of Gloucester as well as the small community of Maules Creek near Narrabri in the state’s north-west. The Maules Creek and Boggabri proposals were referred to the Federal environment minister Tony Burke because they are going to wipe out critically endangered forest which is home to many threatened species. How can any Environment Minister in their right mind approve this? 

The Maules Creek coal mine alone will emit the same amount of carbon emissions each year as New Zealand during its proposed 30 year life span. This is disgraceful and it’s why communities everywhere are starting to call on the government to transition away from coal and towards a secure renewable energy future.

I have visited the site of the proposed Maules Creek coal mine recently to see the forest firsthand and saw a koala up close in the forest. Tony Burke has just approved a coal mine which will wipe out a small and vulnerable koala population

“The farmers who have been fighting coal mine proposals in Leard State Forest for years will continue to fight for the protection of their forest.”

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Up until recently, Whitehaven Coal has been owned by multimillionnaire Nathan Tinkler.  Its chief executive is Paul Flynn and one of its directors is former National Party leader Mark Vaile.  In June 2013, after securing his Maule’s Creek Mine expansion approval, Tinkler sold off most of his shareholdings in Whitehaven Coal to an American profiteering investment capital firm, Farallon Funds.

Whitehaven Coal has been challenged in the courts against its proposal to mine the Leard State Forest by the Northern Inland Council for the Environment.  This community based not-for-profit group has said the Federal government was wrong to approve the project.  They are challenging the approval process of both the Maules Creek and nearby Idemitsu Boggabri coalmines “because of the dodgy process by which they were approved and the devastating impacts they will have”.

Whitehaven Coal chief executive Paul Flynn has insisted the court challenge to the approval of the Maules Creek mine in NSW will not stop the project and is merely a “frustrating niggle“.

Last financial year Whitehaven made a loss of $82 million.

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[Sources:  ‘Whitehaven carries on with project despite legal challenge’, 20130720, by Michael Hobbs and AAP, ^http://www.afr.com/p/national/whitehaven_carries_on_with_project_z0EwnCKbgJE1Xnrp3wJVoO;  ‘Whitehaven Coal falls to $82m loss’, 20130827, by Greg Roberts, Sydney Morning Herald, ^http://news.smh.com.au/breaking-news-business/whitehaven-coal-falls-to-82m-loss-20130827-2sndo.html;  ‘Tinkler sells out of Whitehaven’, 20130619, by Glenda Kwek, Sydney Morning Herald, ^http://www.smh.com.au/business/mining-and-resources/tinkler-sells-out-of-whitehaven-20130619-2ohnj.html;  ‘Mining proposal puts koala habitat under threat’, 20121109, by Liv Casben, ABC media, ^http://www.abc.net.au/news/2012-11-09/mining-proposal-puts-koala-habitat-under-threat/4363234;  ‘Concern for Koala’s in the Leard State Forest’, 20121112, by Kelly Fuller, ABC media, ^http://www.abc.net.au/local/audio/2012/11/12/3630754.htm;  ‘Labor turns back on NSW environment’, 20130211, by Cate Faerhmann, ^http://catefaehrmann.org/tag/mining/]

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Listen to ABC Radio interview with Ecologist David Paul in 2012:

play_audio(Click icon and play audio on the ABC Radio website, turn up volume to listen) 
[Source:  ‘Concern for Koala’s in the Leard State Forest’,  20121112, radio interview by Kelly Fuller, Morning Show, ABC Radio New England NSW,
^http://www.abc.net.au/local/audio/2012/11/12/3630754.htm]

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Further Reading:

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[1]    Front Line Action on Coal, (a community-based environmental activist group), ^http://frontlineaction.wordpress.com/

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[2]    ‘Koala habitats in danger as bushland areas are bulldozed‘, 20121011, Sydney Morning Herald, ^http://www.smh.com.au/environment/animals/koala-habitats-in-danger-as-bushland-areas-are-bulldozed-20121011-27fjw.html

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[3]    ‘Mining proposal puts koala habitat under threat‘, 20121109, ABC News, ^http://www.abc.net.au/news/2012-11-09/mining-proposal-puts-koala-habitat-under-threat/4363234

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[4]    ‘Burke approves huge gas and coal plans‘,  20130212, by Ben Cubby, Paddy Manning, Sydney Morning Herald, ^http://www.smh.com.au/federal-politics/political-news/burke-approves-huge-gas-and-coal-plans-20130211-2e8vh.html
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<< A clutch of big coal and coal seam gas projects, including the controversial Whitehaven mine near Narrabri in NSW, have been approved by the federal Environment Minister, Tony Burke.   He signed conditional approvals for Whitehaven’s Maules Creek mine, planned for the Leard State Forest, Idemitsu’s neighbouring Boggabri coalmine expansion, and a coal seam gas development planned by AGL for Gloucester in NSW.

Together, the three resources projects would have a huge carbon footprint of 47 million tonnes of greenhouse gases a year – about 8 per cent of Australia’s total emissions – according to environmental impact assessments.   Whitehaven, part-owned by embattled coal baron Nathan Tinkler, was subject to a damaging hoax when anti-coal campaigner Jonathan Moylan issued a fake press release claiming ANZ had stopped funding the project, causing a temporary drop in the miner’s share price. His protest is being investigated by the Australian Securities and Investments Commission.

The mining projects had all been approved at state level. Mr Burke’s signature was seen as the final obstacle to development.

”Of all the decisions I have ever made, this is the one where I have the least idea of whether the projects are going to go ahead,” he said. ”For all three projects there are substantial issues.”

Some of the hurdles yet to be overcome are the preservation of a ”biodiversity corridor” in the Leard Forest to allow koalas and other vulnerable animals to survive, high quality offsets to partially compensate for sections of the forest which would be cut down, and a hydrogeological survey around Gloucester.

Mr Burke compared Monday’s decision to the approval granted by former environment minister Malcolm Turnbull to the proposed Gunns pulp mill in Tasmania. That process involved a series of separate ”modules” that stretched the approvals process out for years, before the project was finally canned.

Asked if his coal and coal seam gas decisions then amounted to ”Clayton’s approvals”, Mr Burke said: ”It’s a completely fair criticism. I would have much preferred to do things in the usual way, and give clear approvals or rejections. Unfortunately the NSW government chose to leak commercial information, and caused this process.”

Mr Burke was referring to a confidential letter from him to the NSW government, obtained by Fairfax Media, flagging his intention to approve the Whitehaven mine late last year. He said NSW would be excluded from the further approvals process because the letter was leaked.

Also on Monday, the NSW government granted conditional approval for an expansion of BHP Billiton’s Dendrobium coalmine south-west of Sydney. Five longwall coal panels will be dug beneath Sydney’s drinking water catchment, with some surface damage expected to eight ”upland swamps” – rare ecosystems that support a variety of plants, birds and amphibians.

The managing director of Whitehaven, Tony Haggarty, welcomed the approval and said: ”Notwithstanding the stringent environmental conditions which have been placed on the project and the difficult coal market at present, this is an excellent project and Whitehaven will be seeking to bring it into production as soon as possible.”

An AGL spokeswoman also welcomed the approval and said it would work on satisfying the 36 conditions on matters of national environmental significance and protection of groundwater.

”Conservationists are furious about Minister Burke’s decision,” said the chief executive of the Nature Conservation Council of NSW, Pepe Clarke.   ”Leard Forest is a rich natural habitat, teeming with life, and this decision marks the death knell of this extraordinary area.”   The NSW Greens said the series of approvals made for ”a very black day for the environment in NSW”.  >>

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[5]   ‘Whitehaven Coal gets Maules Creek green light‘,  20130926, The Australian Newspaper, ^http://www.theaustralian.com.au/business/mining-energy/whitehaven-coal-gets-maules-creek-green-light/story-e6frg9df-1226727476581]

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[6]   ‘Leighton to build Maules Creek rail loop‘,  20131010, Sydney Morning Herald, ^http://news.smh.com.au/breaking-news-business/leighton-to-build-maules-creek-rail-loop-20131010-2v9ic.html,

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<< Whitehaven Coal has contracted Leighton Holdings to build a rail loop for its $766 million Maules Creek project in NSW.   The rail loop is a key part of the coal mine’s infrastructure and an important milestone in its construction, Whitehaven said.

The mine, in the Gunnedah basin in the state’s north, is slated to begin production in the first quarter of calendar 2015, providing 10.5 million tonnes of saleable thermal and coking coal.
Environmentalists are fighting the federal government’s approval of the mine in the Federal Court, with a decision expected in November.  >>

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[7]   Maules Creek Community Council, ^http://maulescreek.org/

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Maules Creek Community at Tamworth public meeting 20130225Community protest meeting against local coal mining
[Source:  ‘Sea of hands support gasfield free region at Tamworth public meeting’, 20130226,
^http://maulescreek.org/news/page/3/]

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[8]      Whitehaven Coal –  the dirty face of the Coal Industry

Whitehaven Coal
Whitehaven Jobs:  <<  With a workforce which will surpass 1000 people in the next five years, we are the place for opportunity. We are independent, we have a high quality portfolio of producing mines and we are developing three of Australia’s most significant new coal projects.

We want smart, committed, motivated people who value a dynamic culture and quick decision making.  We want people who value being part of a community and achieving goals. At Whitehaven people can make a difference, and do make a difference.   Our operations are currently underpinned by our Narrabri underground longwall operation and our three existing open cut mines – all situated in NSW’s Gunnedah Basin.

Our Maules Creek Project, also in the Gunnedah Basin, was fully approved in July 2013 and will provide significant and exciting career opportunities across a wide range of mining-related professions.   Maules Creek is one of the last major undeveloped and significant multi-seam coal deposits in New South Wales and is expected to sustain a potential project life in excess of 30 years. It is approved to extract up to 13 Mt of coal per annum and rail 12.4 Mt of product from the site in any calendar year.>>

[Source:  <<http://www.whitehavencoal.com.au/careers.cfm]

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[8]    ‘Icons under threat‘, Nature Conservation Council of New South Wales, 2012, report, ^http://nccnsw.org.au/content/icons-under-threat

>Download Report (13 pages, 650kb, PDF)

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