A 'loophole' allowed land clearing near the home of the endangered wallaby, say conservationists

A ‘loophole’ allowed land clearing near the home of the endangered wallaby, say conservationists

A ‘loophole’ allowing a mining company to clear land bordering a reserve protecting an endangered native wallaby has been condemned by conservationists.

Mining company Magnetic South cleared 218 hectares of land at Dingo in central Queensland, 130 kilometers west of Rockhampton, between April and September.

The land borders a reserve set aside by local landowners to form a corridor between Walton State Forest and Taunton National Park, which protects the only significant population of bridled nail-tailed wallaby in Australia.

Queensland land clearing laws are regulated by the Department of Resources and a spokesperson said the area was designated scrub, or Category X, and allowed to be cleared without a permit.

Magnetic South managing director James Xu confirmed the clearing and said it was for agricultural purposes.

The bridled nail-tailed wallaby was thought to be extinct until it was rediscovered in 1975.(Provided: Government of Queensland)

“The firebreak and clearing is for our cattle farm on these properties and not within the national park boundary at all,” Xu said.

But ecologist Alexander Dudley, who was recently hired by landowner Trevor Naughton to carry out wildlife studies, said he was concerned about the glade’s potential impacts, given its proximity to wallaby habitat. .

Trevor Naughton and Alexander Dudley stand in front of a national park sign and stare seriously at the camera.
Trevor Naughton hired Alexander Dudley to conduct wildlife surveys of the reserve and his property.(ABC Capricorn: Inga Stünzner)

“Taunton is hugely important in terms of species numbers,” he said.

Mr Dudley said the fact the company was able to clear the land without a permit was “difficult to conceive”.

“This [the wallaby] is a species that is threatened by cats and foxes over large areas and also because of habitat destruction,” Dudley said.

“This is another example of habitat fragmentation and loss of biodiversity.”

Alexander Dudley stands next to the Taunton National Park sign
Alexander Dudley says clearing can make it difficult for animals to avoid predators in their habitats.(ABC Capricorn: Inga Stünzner)

The bridled nail-tailed wallaby once ranged in scrubland from the Murray River in Victoria to Charters Towers in northern Queensland. It was thought to be extinct in the 1930s, until it was rediscovered in 1975.

Four years later, the Queensland government created the 11,626-hectare Taunton National Park to protect the marsupial and its numbers have tripled in three years to 1,270 in 2020, according to a CSIRO wildlife journal published this year .

No assessment at the federal level

Two wallabies in the dry grasslands
Bridled nail-tailed wallabies were once the most common wallabies in eastern Australia.(Provided: Alexandra Ross, UNSW)

The cleared land is part of one of nine bovine properties purchased by Magnetic South and part of its lease for its Gemini project – an open pit coal mine, rail loop and rail network.

When completed, the Magnetic South rail network will be within a few miles of Taunton National Park.

Threatened species are regulated under the federal Environmental Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act (EPBC), but it is the responsibility of the landowner to refer the matter for assessment.

Magnetic South has not referred Project Gemini to the federal government for assessment under the EPBC Act.

A spokesman for the Department of Climate Change, Energy, Environment and Water said Magnetic South had been briefed on its obligations.

But a spokesperson for Magnetic South said it considered all environmental values ​​in the design, development and operation phases of its mining project.

Paul Stephenson smiles at the camera from a lookout point at the Blackdown Tablelands National Park
Paul Stephenson met with landowners and traditional owners in mining-affected areas in central Queensland.(ABC Capricorn: Inga Stünzner)

Paul Stephenson, a longtime local and community advocate, said the location of the proposed mine was a problem and more should be done to protect the wallaby and other vulnerable species in the area.

“There are huge gaps in our federal and state government legislation with respect to new coal mines,” Stephenson said.

Proposals evaluated according to a “rigorous process”

A map of the Gemini coal mine showing its proximity to national parks
Magnetic South says the Gemini project is unlikely to impact vulnerable species in the area.(Provided: Department of Environment and Science)

Project Gemini also narrowly avoided completing a environmental impact statement (EIS) for the state government.

Environmental Defenders Office director attorney Andrew Kwan said that at the state level, mines were not required to conduct more rigorous impact assessments if they fell below a threshold. 2 million tons per year.

The Gemini project plans to dig 1.9 million tons of metallurgical and pulverized coal injection coal each year, which can be used as thermal or steelmaking coal.

It is one of two mines in central Queensland that have not been required to provide an EIS – the second is Vulcan South, near Moranbah.

Three people with their backs to the camera look at the flat below the Blackdown Tablelands National Park.
The proposed Gemini project is planned on the plains at the foot of the Blackdown Tablelands National Park.(ABC Capricorn: Inga Stünzner)

A Queensland Department of Environment and Science spokesperson said each application was assessed on a case-by-case basis against specific criteria.

“Even though new projects do not require an HIA, a robust assessment is still undertaken as part of the [environmental authority] assessment process, including, in some cases, public notification,” the spokesperson said.

Queensland Environment Minister Meaghan Scanlon said the state had an independent regulator “and all proposals are assessed through a rigorous process and in accordance with the law”.

But Mr Stephenson said that was not enough.

“This particular mine, Gemini, almost went into production without an environmental impact statement and without even a Commonwealth referral,” he said.

“When you’ve proposed mines like this, there’s supposed to be laws at all levels of government to properly assess what those impacts will be.”

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