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Fire and drought decimated koalas can’t bear Shenhua’s coal mine

Lock the Gate Alliance is calling on NSW Planning Minister Rob Stokes to revoke mining giant Shenhua’s approval to clear koala habitat for its Watermark coal project, after fire and drought combined to ravage the iconic species' population.

The NSW Government is believed to be preparing to consider the company’s Watermark mine koala management plan, but the situation for the species has dramatically changed since the mine was approved five years ago, prompting the call to stop the project and save the much-loved marsupials.

Recent investigations estimated that koala numbers had fallen to 0.04 per hectare on the site, representing a decline of 87% since 2012-13.

Shenhua has until the end of June to submit environmental management plans and apply for its mining licence or a cancellation clause will be triggered that would effectively allow the state government to terminate the project.

LTGA NSW spokesperson Georgina Woods said the Watermark coal mine simply should not be allowed to destroy koala habitat, given the catastrophic impact the recent bushfires and drought had had on koalas in the state.

LTGA has written to Minister Stokes urging him to start negotiations with Shenhua to stop the project, even if it means paying compensation to the company. 

Quick facts:

  • 10,000 koalas in NSW may have died as a result of this summer’s bushfires and the drought.

  • Shenhua’s Watermark coal mine on the Liverpool Plains was expected to displace more than 260 koalas when it was approved in 2015. 

  • 24 percent of all modelled habitat for the Koala in eastern NSW was lost in the fires.

  • Gunnedah, on the Liverpool Plains, is known as NSW’s “Koala Capital”, but numbers of the iconic species have fallen in recent years. Estimates suggest that up to 70 per cent of the Gunnedah Basin koalas may have perished due to drought, heat, illness, or road strike.

Ms Woods said Mr Stokes should revoke Shenhua’s permission to clear the koala habitat, whatever the cost.

“Given what has occurred across the rest of NSW, we believe every effort must be made to stop their localised extinction on the Liverpool Plains, beginning with revocation of the Watermark coal mine development consent," she said.

“Given the gravity of the situation facing koalas in New South Wales, money should be no obstacle to saving these beloved animals.” 

Cindy Pursehouse, who lives adjacent to the mine site on Breeza Station with her husband Andrew, said she had noticed a dramatic decrease in koala numbers over the years, so it was vital what remained was protected.

“I used to be able to go outside and find four or five every day, but the last I saw was on the 25th of November,” she said.

“I’m missing them.

“We need to do what we can to protect what’s left. The koala is an iconic Australian species, and it would be terrible if this mining company were to destroy more of its vital habitat.”

Upper Mooki Landcare Chair Nicola Chirlian said NSW authorities should re-evaluate the coal mine’s impact on koalas as a species, given the terrible losses that had occurred as a result of the bushfires. 

“Nearly one quarter of all koala habitat in eastern NSW was destroyed by the terrible fires,” she said.

“We cannot afford to drive the koala closer to extinction for the sake of a temporary thermal coal mine, especially now when the world is moving gradually away from coal and towards renewable energy.”

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