Conservationists have condemned a “loophole” that allows a mining company to clear land bordering a reserve that protects an endangered native kangaroo.
- Magnetic South has legally cleared land in central Queensland bordering a reserve set aside to protect the endangered claw-tailed kangaroo
- There is concern about the impact of the clearing, given its proximity to wallaby habitat.
- One conservationist says “massive loopholes in our federal and state government legislation” around new mines are a problem for protected species.
The Magnetic South mining company cleared 218 hectares of land in Dingo, 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 the flanged claw-tailed kangaroo in Australia.
Queensland’s land clearance laws are regulated by the Department of Resources and a spokesperson said the area was designated as bushland, or Category X, and allowed to be cleared without a permit.
Magnetic South CEO James Xu confirmed the logging, saying it was for agricultural purposes.
“The clearing of the firebreak and regrowth is for our cattle operation on those properties and not within the national park boundaries,” Xu said.
But ecologist Alexander Dudley, who was recently hired by landowner Trevor Naughton to conduct wildlife studies, said he was concerned about the potential impacts of the clearing, given its proximity to wallaby habitat.
“Taunton is extremely important in terms of species numbers,” he said.
Dudley said the fact that the company could clear the land without a permit was “difficult to conceive of.”
“It’s [the wallaby] It’s a species that is threatened by cats and foxes over large areas and also by habitat destruction,” Dudley said.
“This is another example of habitat fragmentation and biodiversity loss.”
The bridled nail-tailed wallaby once ranged in bushland from the Murray River in Victoria to Charters Towers in north Queensland. It was thought to be extinct in the 1930s, until it was rediscovered in 1975.
Four years later, the Queensland government established the 11,626-hectare Taunton National Park to protect the marsupial, and their numbers tripled in three years to 1,270 in 2020, according to a CSIRO wildlife magazine published this year.
No federal assessment
The cleared land is part of one of nine ranch properties purchased by Magnetic South and falls within its lease for its Gemini project, an open pit coal mine, rail loop and rail network.
When complete, the Magnetic South rail network will be miles from Taunton National Park.
Threatened species are regulated by the Federal Law for Environmental Protection and Biodiversity Conservation (EPBC), but the responsibility to refer the matter for evaluation rests with the owner.
Magnetic South has not referred the Gemini Project to the federal government for evaluation under the EPBC Act.
A spokesman for the Department for Climate Change, Energy, Environment and Water said Magnetic South had been informed of its obligations.
But a Magnetic South spokesman said it had taken all environmental values into account in the design, development and operation phases of its mining project.
Paul Stephenson, a longtime local and community advocate, said the location of the proposed mine was an issue and more should be done to protect wallabies and other vulnerable species in the area.
“There are huge loopholes in our federal and state government legislation regarding new coal mines,” Stephenson said.
Proposals evaluated through a ‘rigorous process’
The Gemini project has also narrowly avoided completing a environmental impact statement (EIA) for the state government.
Managing attorney for the Office of Environmental Advocates Andrew Kwan said at the state level that mines were not required to complete more rigorous impact assessments if they were below the 2 million tonnes per year threshold.
The Gemini project plans to excavate 1.9 million tonnes 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 asked to provide an EIA: the second is Vulcan South, near Moranbah.
A spokesman for the Queensland Department of Environment and Science said each application was assessed on a case-by-case basis according to specific criteria.
“Even if new projects do not require an EIS, a robust assessment is still carried out as part of the [environmental authority] evaluation process, including, in some cases, public notification,” the spokesperson said.
Queensland Environment Minister Meaghan Scanlon said the state had an independent regulator “and any proposals assessed are done through a rigorous process and in accordance with the law.”
But Stephenson said that wasn’t good enough.
“This particular mine, Gemini, has almost moved to production without an environmental impact statement and without even a Commonwealth referral,” he said.
“When mines like this have been proposed, it is assumed that there are laws at all levels of government to properly assess what those impacts will be.”