NSW lets hibernating animals die to speed up Whitehaven mine, by a sad @georgefwoods at #leardblockade

Georgina Woods

Georgina Woods

Georgina is campaign co-ordinator at Lock the Gate, and has been an environmental activist for over a decade. She lives in the world’s biggest coal port in Newcastle, NSW, and has campaigned against the coal export industry and other causes of climate change locally, nationally and internationally.
Georgina Woods
- 14 mins ago
Georgina Woods
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The bitter truth and the bitter cold: chainsaw surgery for the animals of Leard State Forest

leard_winter-(2)You can be aware that something is true, without really feeling it, and only come up against your illusions, and your naivety, when your knowledge is made real, and you actually experience the terrible truth first hand. It’s a truism in #nswpol that coal mining companies can “say anything they like before approval, and do anything they like afterwards.” It’s a pattern with which coal-affected communities are familiar that conditions of mine approvals are regularly broken and changed after approval is secured. Mines get bigger, creeks get polluted, offset deadlines get forgiven and water management plans get edited. I knew already that all of this happens, but this week, I feel it like never before. At the stroke of a pen, the NSW Department of Planning and Environment has allowed Whitehaven Coal to continue their clearing in Leard State Forest over winter, when many native species, including threatened bats, mammals and reptiles, are in torpor – a kind of hibernation. I feel it now, as well as knowing it: there are no controls on the coal industry that they can’t negotiate their way out of:  a basic condition imposed on them to prevent animal cruelty has now been lifted.

On Friday last week, the Department of Planning and Environment changed a key management plan for the Maules Creek coal mine to allow clearing to occur in Leard State Forest over winter, when many native animals will be vulnerable to injury and death. Previously, the Biodiversity Management Plan prevented clearing from taking place over winter, and other nearby mines, Boggabri and Tarrawonga, have similar conditions in place. The condition was a key part of claims by Whitehaven and the Government that threatened wildlife would be able to leave Leard State Forest when clearing took place and move into their controversial offset areas.

Instead of prohibiting clearing over winter, Section 5.4 of the Biodiversity Management Plan now has a detailed procedure for finding the bats and trying to prevent them being killed or left for dead which involves using chainsaws to perform surgery on trees where hibernating bats are found. Either that, or they’ll do a literature review:

 Clearing of areas for mining will be undertaken when practicable in late summer and early autumn in order to avoid key breeding/hibernation seasons for threatened bat and bird species known to reside in the Leard State Forest. 


Whilst clearing during winter and spring months will be preferentially avoided as far as practicable, it is possible that clearing into June may be required for the first year of operation of the Project. Hence, this restriction will not apply to the construction and first year of operations. Should the first year of operational clearing be likely to take place into June, the principle objective is to identify the presence of active roost/nest sites, particularly for threatened forest owls and bats in the clearing area before June (when the species’ are likely to be breeding or hibernating) and to carefully translocate animals outside the zone of impact. Follow up actions to delay or expedite clearing of selected areas should take place based on the location and abundance of captures or roost/nest sites.

Further to the above, the procedures to mitigate impacts on bat species will include one or more of the following measures:

  • Literature review to be undertaken using references listed in Churchill (2009) and other relevant scientific publications published since … to determine known overwintering activity levels and home ranges of species previously detected on site….
  • Intensive surveys using inspection cameras and ultrasonic echolocation detectors to thoroughly inspect all hollows within suitable habitat in each clearing area, […] conducted before Juneto allow the EC to locate roost sites and commence the relocation of bats out of the impact area before onset of the cold season.
  • Retain marked habitat trees during clearing and clear only when conditions are suitable, such as over consecutive sunny days and prior to the onset of forcasted (sic) cold snaps […].
  • Where bats are found but not able to be accessed, the section of the tree should be removed using a chainsaw (or a suitable alternative low-impact method) to extract the bats. Use of a chainsaw should be undertaken by a qualified chainsaw operator.

How the Government intends to ensure that these detailed procedures are followed is anyone’s guess. My guess is that they won’t be out visiting the forest any time soon. The Federal Environment Department still hasn’t been out there to see for themselves that much of the “offset” areas claimed by Whitehaven to support the critically endangered ecological community Grassy White box Woodland is actually a completely different forest type.

And so the valiant activists of the #leardblockade are gearing up for a winter of terrible sadness and conflict. Not only is critically endangered woodland going to be cleared with the government’s blessing, it will now be done during a season that means the animals that depend on the forest don’t stand a chance. The Maules Creek Community Council has called on the new NSW Environment Minister, Rob Stokes, to intervene. He has not yet responded. There are over seventy species of hibernating reptiles and frogs, bats and small marsupials that shelter in the hollow trees and logs that are slated to be cleared. Those few that do escape the dozers will be likely be taken by predators. These include the threatened Pale-headed Snake, Little Pied bat, Corben’s Long-eared bat, Yellow-bellied Sheathtail bat, and Squirrel Glider, and the Barking Owls which begin to nest in winter: all will be subjected to displacement, injury, or death.

So far, Whitehaven haven’t done any serious clearing in Leard State Forest: they’ve been focused on constructing their rail loop, which is on farmland, not in the forest. But come June, when the animals of Leard Forest are at their most vulnerable, they will try to clear a large area of the forest for the first open-cut pits of the Maules Creek mine. You can be pretty sure that the #leardblockade will continue, and the battle to save Leard State Forest will be fought through the bitter cold, to the bitter end.


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Comments

  1. Colin Broadfoot says

    Like you George, I’m appalled by this latest bending of the rules. I emailed the Environment minister today and asked, in the light of ICAC, the flagrant abuse of the offsets process and now the altering of the biodiversity management plan to speed up the clearing of the Leard, why I should have confidence that he was actually looking after the environment. The same could be asked of the federal Environment minister. Why have environmental regulations if they are being disregarded?


  2. Tracey Walker – @thewollemipine – wrote this unanswered letter to her local member, the new NSW Environnment Minister

    Dear Mr Stokes

    As a member of your electorate I was encouraged by your promotion to Minister for the Environment. As a local I have seen you many times at school functions and other local events and I was encouraged by your low key approach. I got the feeling that you were genuine, that you listened, that you really wanted to do the right thing for the people of NSW. You seemed to me to be squeaky clean.

    Then I read today that the Departments of Planning and Environment have given Whitehaven Coal approval to clear the forest for the Maules Creek mine in winter despite the fact this was expressly forbidden in the approval for the mine. Clearing the site in winter will lead to the unnecessary deaths of thousands of native animals as they will either be hibernating or in a state of torpor. As a Christian, can you live with this? Can you look your own children in the eye and tell them honestly what you achieved at work today?

    NO! This is not good enough. This MUST NOT HAPPEN. This is a shameful and deceitful act and you have only been in the job for 5 minutes. You are the Minister FOR the Environment not Minister AGAINST the Environment. You can’t just change the rules when it suits you, behind closed doors at the behest of a mining company. In case you have forgotten we live in a democracy.

    Remember the people of NSW have spoken loudly against this Government and against miners that bulldoze their way through the democratic process. Did you hear about the Bentley Blockade this morning? Have you heard of a company called Metgasco?

    Remember that the current NSW Government is walking on very thin ice at the moment with the endless shenanigans going on at the ICAC. The political capital of this Government is ZERO. If you are to win the trust of the people who elected you, you need to be standing up for your principles not bending to the will of others.

    Remember also that your Government is conducting an audit into all mining and gas licences granted in NSW. Now while it seems to be a very secretive process at the moment, I have no doubt that the information will become public.

    So if you want to keep your squeaky clean image, reverse this decision and start talking to the people of Maules Creek not the suits at Whitehaven Coal.

    Very very angry local resident Tracy Walker

  3. Tracy Walker says

    Thinking about calling Rob Stokes and asking him why this is being allowed? His office number is 02 99993599.

  4. Tracy Walker says

    Sorry that was the electorate office. The ministerial office number is 92285253

    • margokingston says

      Still silence from Enviro Minister Stokes.

      Latest letter from constituent Tracy Walker

      Dear Minister,

      I wrote to you two weeks ago regarding the change you authorised to the Biodiversity Management Plan for the Maules Creek Mine allowing the clearing of the forest in winter despite the potential for wide spread destruction of the local wildlife. I have also rung your ministerial office.

      As a member of your electorate I was assured that I would receive a response within a fortnight. I am still waiting for that response.

      Regards

      Tracy Walker

      • margokingston says

        Today’s letter to the still silent NSW Environment Minister Rob Stokes from Tracy Walker (@thewollumipine)

        Dear Minister

        Not once have I seen you appearing in the press (apart from the day you put your hand on the bible and took your oath of office, for what it is worth) letting the people of NSW know what is going on with the big environment issues in this state.

        Will you not respond to my request (and requests from others) for information regarding the change in the management plan for the Maules Creek Mine? Why aren’t you in the media firstly explaining your decision and secondly defending it? Your lack of community engagement is shocking.

        I suggest that you rush out and buy a copy of the Women’s Weekly which has a 6 page article explaining the devastation that csg has had on the life of a farmer. The same is true of coal. I am keen to keep you up to date with information as it comes to light and I will.

        I am available anytime to take a phone, read a letter or read an email that you send me regarding the Maules Creek mine.

        Regards
        Tracy Walker


  5. approved on phony EIS to begin with!!!

  6. Tracy Walker says

    A second letter today following the SMH article where the Minister Rob Stokes has broken his silence and admitted to losing his patience with Whitehaven Coal. I would have preferred something more authoritative than “losing patience”. @thewollemipine

    Dear Minister

    You stated today that you were losing patience with Whitehaven Coal for not supplying the environment plans that are a legal requirement of the licence that was granted to the company.

    Tell me this, if the company has not provided the required submissions why is it allowed to start knocking down the forest. As the Minister for the Environment I would expect you to use your powers to immediately suspend any work at this site until the submissions have been made and have been reviewed by your department.

    It seems that the the rule of law in this state is fit for some but doesn’t apply to others. Your inaction on this matter is very telling.

    Regards
    Tracy Walker

    PS still waiting on response from you regarding my first email.

  7. Lynda Staker says

    The day we see a Minister of the Environment actually working FOR the environment, is the day I will find a FRACTION of respect for the governments of the twenty first century.
    Not since Bob Hawke has a government official had the guts to fight for the environment and the native animals that exist in that environment.


  8. Is there any research on the effectiveness of “carefully translocat(ing)” bats – or other forest species? My understanding is that many animals are very territorial. If that is indeed the case they are not going to welcome intruders into their patch but will fight to the death to defend it.
    It’s tragic, heartbreakingly tragic and my anger at the ignorance – willful or otherwise- of those who permit this is bottomless.

  9. Tracy Walker says

    Letter to Minister for the Environment and Assistant Minister for Planning Rob Stokes in response to his letter to Tracy Walker received on the 10 June 2014 (posted below).

    Dear Minister for the Environment and Assistant Minister for Planning

    Thank you for finally responding to my first email.

    I find the response rather perplexing and very light on substance. I also find it outrageous that you are happy to wash your hands of all responsibility for this issue by referring my concerns to the Department of Planning and the Environment.

    I find it perplexing because I can’t figure out how you can properly represent both the Office for the Environment and the Department of Planning and Environment. The inherent conflict of interest in the minds of many is insurmountable and must therefore make it impossible for you to do your job as the Minister for the Environment effectively. I am really interested to know how you manage that conflict and uphold the environmental laws of this state.

    You state that the DPE is the consent authority in relation to these mining proposals. Well as the Assistant Minister for Planning you as well as Minister Goward are accountable for the decisions that are made by the DPE and must therefore respond to my concerns. I am really interested to know what role you played specifically in the decision to amend the Biodiversity Management Plan for the Maules Creek Mine.

    You say that the OEH has a role in providing advice to the DPE to ensure that the environmental impacts of mining activities are minimised.

    Can you please specify exactly what advice you have provided to the DPE with respect to the Maules Creek Mine?

    Did the OEH advise the DPE against the amendment allowing Whitehaven Coal to clear the Forest in winter? If so, why did the DPE not heed that advice? 
    Has the OEH provided the DPE with advice on the offsets that Whitehaven Coal have used to gain the licence? Are you aware that the forest used as an offset is not ecologically equivalent to the Leard State Forest and should therefore not be used as an offset?

    You state that “the OEH has been working closely with DPE to implement the conditions of the approvals which help to mitigate environmental impacts.” 

    Can you please specify exactly what the OEH and the DPE have been doing in this regard? From what I understand there have been no visits to the Leard State Forest from either the OEH or the DPE since the amended Biodiversity Management Plan was signed on 13 May 2014 to allow clearing of the forest in winter. How is it possible to check that the conditions have been met if there isn’t anyone on the ground? Protestors at the site have seen many felled trees that had been marked for conservation as they provided habitat for hibernating and other fauna. What is your response to this allegation?

    Finally I would like to know why Whitehaven Coal has been allowed to continue clearing the Forest while the Land and Environment Court is considering an urgent injunction to stop clearing while the legality of the amended Biodiversity Management Plan is being tested in court? 

    As a constituent I look forward to a prompt response.
    Regards
    Tracy Walker

  10. Tracy Walker says

    Letter received from Rob Stokes by Tracy Walker in response to email sent in mid May. While it was a personalised letter received through the post, the text seems to have become the standard response Rob Stokes’ office is sending to other emails enquiries.

    Thank you for your email regarding coal mining in Leard State Forest. The Minister appreciates you bringing your concerns to his attention.

    The Leard State Forest has been the focus of three recent coal mining approvals and the Department of Planning and Environment (DPE) is the consent authority in relation to these mining proposals.

    The Office of Environment and Heritage (OEH), does however, have a role in providing advice to DPE to ensure that the environmental impacts of mining activities are minimised.

    OEH has been working closely with DPE to implement the conditions of the approvals which help to mitigate environmental impacts. These measures are aimed at protecting the region’s conservation values and include offsets for areas where land clearing occurs.

    As the planning approvals for this matter fall within the portfolio responsibilities of the Minister for Planning, the Hon Pru Goward MP, your email has been referred to Minister Goward for her consideration.

    Yours sincerely

    Office of Rob Stokes MP
    Minister for the Environment
    Minister for Heritage
    Minister for the Central Coast
    Assistant Minister for Planning