Box gum fuels calls to stop dozers

CAMPAIGNERS have called on federal Environment Minister Greg Hunt to order a stop to clearing in the Leard State Forest until a full inquiry is held into Whitehaven Coal’s environmental offset strategy.

The Lock the Gate Alliance claims a new report prepared by ecologist and botanist John Hunter casts grave doubts over the veracity of the company’s plans to mitigate the impacts of the Maules Creek coalmine.

Dr Hunter, who in his 20-year career has completed reports on behalf of mining companies, governments and environmental groups, claims a forest area set aside to offset the loss of critically-endangered box gum woodland at the mine site is grossly inadequate.

He said the presence of box gum woodland on this offset land was “vastly overstated” and if the mine proceeded it could result in the permanent loss of endangered species in the area.

“It’s difficult to believe that anyone had been on the ground at that place because you couldn’t come to any other conclusion and if anyone disagrees, then let’s go for a drive,” he said.

But Whitehaven Coal, whose offset report is currently with the Department of the Environment for review, firmly maintains it has either met or exceeded all the requirements of its project’s approval. 

It says the mine will affect 2177ha of the Leard State Forest, but it has purchased 10,742ha of land covered under the Maules Creek Biodiversity Offset Strategy, representing a ratio of five-to-one.

The company also claims the disturbance of the site’s box gum woodland trees represents only 0.27 per cent of the total community remaining in NSW.

However, Lock the Gate’s national co-ordinator and Maules Creek farmer Phil Laird said the new report demonstrated the company’s claim the offsets were like-for-like was “pure fiction”.

“This is a brazen attempt to bypass federal and state legislation that are supposed to protect endangered species. It’s like replacing a tropical rainforest with a grassland. The ecosystems are very different and the species they report are very difficult.”

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