WHITEHAVEN Coal has come under fire from environment groups following revelations it could carry out extensive tree clearing activities during winter when threatened animals are at their most vulnerable.
The company has successfully lobbied the NSW Department of Planning and Environment to approve amendments to its biodiversity management plan to allow clearing of the Leard State Forest into June.
Outraged environmentalists argue that many of the forest’s animals, such as species of bats and owls, hibernate during the winter months and will not be able to escape when the bulldozers move in.
Georgina Woods from the Lock the Gate Alliance said it was simply unacceptable that a key condition of the controversial $767 million coal- mine’s approval could so easily be overturned.
“The change that has been made is going to lead to the deaths and injury of many species of wildlife and it’s been done by the stroke of a pen by a bureaucrat in Sydney with no consideration for the quite devastating impact that it’s going to have,” she said.
“The reason (for the amendment) is that Whitehaven has been delayed by ongoing protests against the mine and its impact on the environment and they have not yet done the major clearing they want to do.
“We think its perfectly reasonable that they should wait until September because it’s standard conditions for mines in the region to not undertake this kind of clearing in winter because of the massacre it creates.”
But Whitehaven Coal maintained the amendment is “nothing out of the ordinary” and that the biodiversity management plan, initially approved in May last year, is a “dynamic document which provides scope for staged modifications”.
It also strongly denied the claim that construction of the mine, which is due to produce its first saleable coal in March next year, was behind schedule.
“The (plan) is publicly available on the Whitehaven website and sets out a number of protection measures that must be observed during all clearing activities,” a spokesman told The Leader.
“Whitehaven will observe these measures which are part of a well-established framework, administered by the government, with the express aim to reduce any impact on local wildlife, regardless of the season.”
A spokesman for the Department of Planning and Environment said even Whitehaven Coal’s revised plan still indicated its distinct preference to clear vegetation in late spring and early autumn.
“As such, the revised BMP includes a range of additional measures to minimise any impacts on fauna within the forest during the winter months,” the spokesperson said.
“These measures include intensive surveys, capture and release protocols and, in some instances, delaying the clearing of important habitat trees.”