An area of forest approved to offset the clearing of Leard State Forest for the Maules Creek coal mine, near Boggabri in NSW, has been found to contain as little as 5 per cent of the critically endangered ecological community of box-gum woodland that it supposedly replaces, a new report finds.
The report by botanist Dr John Hunter, released today, was commissioned by Lock the Gate after major concerns were raised by three other ecologists about the accuracy of vegetation maps used to gain the Whitehaven mine approval.
The new report raises serious doubts about the credibility of all the offsets and how they were calculated, and says the extent of the critically endangered ecological community in the offset areas has been "vastly overstated."
It also throws doubt on the Whitehaven Coal Biodiversity Plan.
National coordinator for Lock the Gate Phil Laird said the report demonstrated that the “like for like” offset was pure fiction and the mine would result in the permanent loss of the critically endangered ecological community and its associated threatened species.
“Whitehaven coal will clear more than 500ha of critically endangered box gum woodland and 1665ha of habitat for 31 threatened species. That impact has been approved based on offsets which turn out to be Stringybark open forest, which is the wrong vegetation community and wrong habitat for the threatened species” Mr Laird said.
“It is like replacing a tropical rainforest with a grassland. The ecosystems are very different and the species they support are very different.
“The Stringybark forest does not provide suitable habitat for the majority of the threatened species that occur in Leard State Forest, species such as Corben’s long eared bat, large-eared pied bat, swift parrot and the regent honeyeater, which prefer the critically endangered Box – Gum woodland.
“This is a brazen attempt to bypass federal and state legislation that are supposed to protect endangered species.”
The study is the latest in a series of scientific reports that have thrown doubt on the way the offsets were calculated and how the $766 million coal mine was approved.
Mr Laird called on Federal Environment Minister Greg Hunt to step in and prevent any further clearing or construction of the Maules Ck mine until a full inquiry had been completed. He also called for the results of previous reviews by both the Federal Government and Whitehaven to be released immediately.
“The Government has been sitting on the findings of its own investigation and Whitehaven’s independent review, failing to release either of them publicly. It raises the question as to why they are keeping this information out of the public eye,” he said.
“The company may already be in breach of its approval conditions by failing to make public the independent review of its biodiversity offsets.
“There have been big question marks over Whitehaven’s offsets from the outset and the secrecy and blatant disregard for regulations continues.”
The report by Dr John Hunter is available for download here.