Booderee National Park

Threat to Wildlife May Halt South Coast Project

Originally in the Sydney Morning Herald of 25 Feb 09 I am so encouraged by the news that the federal Environment Minister, Peter Garrett, has made a preliminary decision to reject a proposed 1200 lot estate at Jervis Bay, on the South Coast of NSW on the grounds of a certain damaging effect on wildlife that is vulnerable in the Booderee National Park. The bushland estate was found to be home to four threatened species, including the eastern bristlebird, and five migratory bird species. It comes at a perfect time just as the public comment period ends in a mere 5 days for the disastrous Kings Forest proposal for 4,500 houses on prime koala territory (see my blog titled 'Development Project Threatens Second Largest Koala Colony in Tweed Shire) and 22 endangered species of fauna, 6 species of flora and 3 ecological communities. Like the Jervis Bay proposal, the Kings Forest/Cobaki Lakes (which has the same developer, same general location, same problems with endangered species at threat etc) proposal has been contested by environmentalists for years. In fact the developer of Kings Forest/Cobaki Lakes who purchased this six years ago did so knowing that they had problems. Reading the Koala Plan of Management was so surreal for me. Unless you had a basic knowledge of koalas (which I barely have) you might be led to think that indeed everything was kosher. Removing koala trees? No worries, we will just put the koalas over in another location, as if they were mute chess pieces. Never mind the fact that koalas are extremely territorial and immediately try to come back to their old haunts even if it kills them (and it often does especially when you have not just roads but four lane boulevards in their euphemistically called 'wildlife corridors). Never mind the fact that darting and tranquillising koalas to relocate them can be fatal. Worried about road kills? No problem - they will set speed limits (50-60KPH) and erect signs and trust in driver compliance. The possibility of overpasses/underpasses and koala-proof fences is 'too difficult' or 'difficult to deploy' (not to mention horrifically expensive...). Dogs an issue with koalas? Simple. The residents will keep their dogs inside at night or tethered. Cats on site are not even mentioned - as if cats don't kill wildlife, let alone endangered wildlife! The problem with so many of these development proposals is that they probably 'look good' on paper but the fact is whenever you put human habitation on former wildlife habitat, and start chopping down trees and moving earth, wildlife are the losers. We simply cannot afford to take any more risks and threatened/vulnerable/endangered native animals must be protected AT ALL COSTS. High density housing would be a better solution (sustainably built with rainwater tanks, composting toilets, solar panels and so on) for our population problem. Otherwise if we lose biodiversity we will soon see that we cannot survive in our own anthropocentric bubble. Mr Garrett said yesterday "As the Environment Minister, my role now is to closely examine the potential impacts of this rezoning application on those listed and threatened species that exist on the site including the endangered eastern bristlebird and the vulnerable leafless tongue-orchid and the importance of the site as habitat corridor to the Booderee National Park." Garrett said he would not pre-empt his final decision, due March 9. If he rules against the rezoning to a housing estate on environmental grounds it will be a rare case where a local development was stopped due to the Environmental Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 whereby development would result in "significant impacts" on native animals and birds that use the national park and these impacts could not be effectively offset elsewhere. Kings Forest is hemmed in from three directions, surrounded by the ocean on one side and major highways on the other two sides leaving very little possibility of linkage to other colonies or half-way decent wildlife corridors. As with many councils, housing developments have been championed by certain pro-development councillors and that is true in Shoalhaven and Tweed. In spite of the fact that several hundred landowners will suffer economically if the rezoning doesn't go ahead in Jervis Bay, nevertheless it's time that we start to plan a future which includes our native animals. As in the song of Joni Mitchell: “They took all the trees, And put them in a tree museum Then they charged all the people A dollar and a half just to see them. They paved paradise, and put up a parking lot…” Let's hope that the Environment Minister stays on track from now on and enforces the EPBC Act on all sites where endangered species exist and that the Jervis Bay development proposal will serve as an important precedent for all developments in future.