Activists from the Lock the Gate campaign, including ecologists, fear mining companies such as Whitehaven Coal will exploit the Leard State Forest and overlook local concerns about the safety of endangered flora and fauna in the area.
“In the Leard State Forest, there are 396 species of native flora and fauna: 34 are on the endangered list,” said Lock the Gate activist, Murray Dreschler. “It cannot be replaced.”
Whitehaven Coal’s Maules Creek project will cover 4500 hectares of the total 8000ha of the Leard State Forest, home to the endangered White Box woodlands.
Whitehaven Coal declined to comment, but in an ecological assessment conducted by Cumberland Ecology in 2011, “two threatened flora species” and “18 threatened fauna species” within their project boundary are acknowledged.
Environmental ecologist Phil Spark said: “The clearing of the forest is going to involve 540 hectares of a critically endangered ecological community, and that community has already been reduced to 0.1 per cent of its original extent.”
The Northern Plains region already contains the Idemitsu Kosan and Tarrawonga mines, which have seen bushland surrounding the Leard State Forest cleared.
Idemitsu Kosan attempted the rehabilitation of flora through the systematic plantation of three native species, however, the rehabilitation site failed to encourage the resettlement of displaced fauna, and did not replicate a natural and diverse environment.
Concerns over diesel pollution have also been expressed, due to the high levels of traffic caused by the mines through the bushland. Current effects of noise and light have disrupted local fauna’s natural patterns, and have also raised concerns among local property owners.
Ecologists and environmental activists both expressed their frustration with the lack of intervention and co-operation of government. “There should be a Royal Commission into it,” Mr Spark said. “The mines have been approved, and those who know that this is wrong are getting more and more angry because the government is sitting on their hands and doing nothing.”
Further mining plans by Santos for a Coal Seam Gas (CSG) mine at Narrabri also also of concern to Lock the Gate activists. Santos declined to comment on this case.
In a fact sheet released by Santos, it stated: “CSG’s environmental and carbon footprint is smaller than other extractive fuels like coal”. This has not allayed the concerns of local farmers or activists.
The results of a recent survey of 172 local farmers suggest 92pc of respondents were against the proposed plans for the Santos CSG mine. The mine would lower the water table by a predicted 20 metres and salinise the water, causing many local farmers to lose their businesses due to water contamination.
Lock the Gate activist Ursula da Silva, said: “We need people to start stepping up to the next level where they’re prepared to get arrested. It’s about taking action before it’s too late.”