5 June 2015 is World Environment Day, but you wouldn't know it in Australia as State and Federal Governments pave the way for inappropriate and highly environmentally damaging land-clearing. This week media reports have detailed the Federal Government's approval for significant clearing of Critically Endangered woodlands in the Hunter Valley and lack of oversight on potentially illegal broad-scale clearing in Cape York, permitted by the former Queensland Government in direct contravention of national environment law.
The Federal Environment Department has just given mining company Coal and Allied the green light to clear 535 hectares of White Box-Yellow Box-Blakely's Red Gum Grassy Woodland and Derived Native Grassland, a Critically Endangered ecological community listed under the Commonwealth Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (EPBC Act). The community has been recognised as Critically Endangered since 2006, primarily due to a decline in geographic distribution, and since that time numerous developments have chipped away at what remains. Permitting a further 535 vital hectares to be cleared for a single project indicates the Government is loath to use its habitat protection powers effectively.
"This is a unique and incredibly important ecosystem that has been absolutely smashed by development. More than 93% of the woodlands have been cleared since European settlement, yet the Commonwealth has justified the destruction of a further 535 hectares by requiring a biodiversity offset management plan and vegetation clearance protocols - simply inappropriate measures for Critically Endangered habitats,” said Humane Society International (HSI) Senior Program Manager Evan Quartermain. "This decision goes directly against the Threatened Species Scientific Committee's conservation advice as well as the Recovery Plan prepared for the ecological community by the Department itself, both of which recognise that with around 5% of the woodland left, protecting what remains is the only chance of survival,” stated Mr Quartermain.
Similarly bad news has surfaced in Cape York, where clearing of 33,000 hectares of habitat for the buff-breasted button-quail (the only known Australian bird to have never been photographed in the wild) and at least 17 other threatened species listed under the EPBC Act was permitted in the dying days of the former Queensland Government. Any action that may significantly impact on an EPBC Act listed species requires Commonwealth referral, yet neither the Newman Government nor the pastoral company that owns the land in question did so.
"This is a private business being allowed to destroy core habitat for a range of legislatively protected Matters of National Environmental Significance for their own personal gain. That such major clearing was not referred to the Federal Government is a blatant disregard of procedure and works must be immediately halted and swift investigation and action undertaken. What is the point of legislation if the powers at be don't have the teeth or intent to enforce it? It's a mockery and embarrassment,” Mr Quartermain concluded.
Humane Society International, 5th June 2015