Loss of more critically endangered woodland communities in the Hunter

Almost all of the bush in the lowlands of the Hunter Valley is one of four Nationally Critically Endangered woodland communities. They are critically endangered because so much of the original extent has been cleared already and so little of what remains is threatened by further clearing by coal mines.

Warkworth Sands Woodland and The Central Hunter Valley Eucalypt Forest are two of the critically endangered areas occurring in our region.

The advice prepared by the scientific community that led to the critically endangered listing warned that these woodland communities would be extinct if we don’t stop clearing them.

The Warkworth Sands Woodland (WSW) is about 15kms south east of Singleton near Bulga. This is a national ecological treasure.

Warkworth Sands Woodland

Warkworth Sands Woodland

This woodland is important not only as a drought refuge for migratory bird species but also provides an important bush corridor for wildlife. The flora and fauna found specifically in WSW are at risk of local extinction and may vanish from the Hunter altogether.

For many years Singleton Council was strongly opposed to the Mt Thorley Warkworth mine extension project that would see the closure of the historic Wallaby Scrub Road and the certain destruction of Warkworth Sands Woodland. For years Council unanimously rejected the sale and destruction of this road due to the road’s utilitarian and historic importance, nearby Aboriginal Heritage sites and the WSW habitat that was understood to be protected by a State Government Ministerial Guarantee.

But over the past 12 months Singleton Council has reversed its original stance, contrary to strong community objections and concern about the mine extension’s impacts on biodiversity, air quality, visual amenity and impacts along Wallaby Scrub Rd, which is to be consumed by the Warkworth open cut pit.

Wallaby Scrub Rd and WSW presented a choice for our Singleton Council elected leaders: protect this heritage road and by doing so protect this important critically endangered ecosystem….or sell out and be responsible for its destruction and extinction. Council has disgracefully chosen the latter and in their own way they’ve offset WSW and created a new park in Singleton.

LIKE FOR LIKE?

Offsetting is how coal mines get permission to clear all this unique bushland. With this slight of hand they go to the government promising to compensate for clearing bush in one place by not clearing it somewhere else. We end up with half as much bush as we started with and a piece of paper with a promise on it from a mining company.

Artist image of Riverside Park

Artist image of Riverside Park

Offsetting converts precious endangered wildlife and bushland into numbers. If the sum of the biodiversity in destroying one place is equal to the sum you won’t destroy somewhere else, you get the stamp of approval.

But the coal companies sometimes run into trouble because you’ve got to have some standards and the rules say that if the forest community you’re clearing is critically endangered or nationally endangered, like Warkworth Sands Woodland, you’ve got to compensate for the clearing with offsets that are of the same kind of bush. To obtain the Warkworth extension Coal & Allied proposed to set up a WSW replacement biodiversity conservation area 90kms away on the Goulburn River near Merriwa. The success of this conservation area, according to scientific experts, is doomed to fail. It’s about as useful as sending an ambulance to a funeral. It will never compensate for the destruction of the specific Endangered Ecological Community at Warkworth and the threatened species they support such as the critically endangered Regent Honeyeater and endangered Swift Parrot.

In the case of The Central Hunter Valley Eucalypt Forest which only grows on the lowlands of the Hunter on the permian soil that overlie coal deposits, there really aren’t any areas for the coal companies to promise not to clear. Again, the advice prepared by the scientific community that led to this forest being listed as critically endangered warned that it would be extinct in 40 to 60 years if we don’t stop clearing it.

Coal mine companies convince the government to loosen the rules. They’re being allowed to clear critically endangered forests now and getting the government’s approval to use the mine pit, as an offset by promising that when they’re done mining coal they’ll put the topsoil back and replace the forest.

So in 10 years time when the Central Hunter Valley Eucalypt Forest and WSW are extinct, the coal companies say they’ll plant a lot of seedlings on site and the birds, bats and lizards can just hang out in Singleton and wait for a few more decades for the seedlings to hopefully grow into a  mature forest.

The latest coal mining proposal is for two Superpits called United Wambo that will join almost 25kms of continuous open cut pits and clear nearly 200 football fields of critically endangered forest in the process.

They’re promising to write down on a piece of paper that they’ll grow some back and that they’ll find some other critically endangered forest to not push over after the government gives them the stamp of approval. Do you believe them?

AnneMaree McLaughlin

Bulga

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