Coal-fired farce: Maules creek protesters ordered to leave state forest

PROTESTERS have vowed to intensify anti-coalmining activities after authorities’ attempts to end their 530-plus day occupation of the Leard State Forest backfired.

Forestry Corporation of NSW representatives told campers yesterday morning that the forest was to be closed and they had just 12 hours to pack up and leave the site.

A significant police contingent – including a rescue squad – was positioned at the camp near Boggabri to move in should the protesters fail to comply with the 9pm deadline.

But the campers stood their ground and sought legal advice, which revealed only a small portion of the camp was actually on forestry-controlled land.

The relocation of a few tents and some other items was about all it took for the protesters to slip outside Forestry Corporation’s jurisdiction and continue their occupation.

The camp was set up in July 2012 by high-profile environmentalists Murray Drechsler and Jonathan Moylan to oppose Whitehaven Coal’s plans for Maules Creek.

Whitehaven Coal has received both state and federal government approval to construct a $767 million coalmine in the forest.

Forestry Corporation said it had decided to close both the Leard State Forest and Jack’s Creek State Forest – where protesters are also positioned – due to safety concerns.

A spokesperson said police and the NSW Rural Fire Service were concerned the large group posed a fire risk and were obstructing emergency access roads.

But Georgina Woods, from the Leard Forest Alliance, said she had no doubt the order to vacate was designed to silence dissent over the mine’s approval and imminent construction.

“It’s only going to get more intense from here,” she said. “There’s a lot at stake for Whitehaven – the future of the company is riding on this mine.

“But for us the future of Grassy Box Woodland and a lot of endangered wildlife is riding on our success.

“They’ll certainly be challenges for us to overcome as we continue our blockade and stop Whitehaven clearing this forest.”

The forest’s closure would not have impacted on the activities of Whitehaven Coal or the other mines in the area as “staff and contractors of those operators are authorised people and allowed to access restricted areas”, a Forestry Corporation spokesperson said.

Northern Inland Council for the Environment spokesman Phil Spark described yesterday’s event as an “unprecedented step” by the government.

“They have effectively handed over this important public forest ... to coalminers and now they are trying to lock the public out so that the destruction of this priceless environmental area can go on unobserved,” he said.

“With this action today, the NSW government is treating the coalmining industry like a protected species, while they provide open season for the big miners on the endangered animals of the Leard State Forest.”

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