Leading conservationists claim that ancient big trees, endangered birds, wildlife, and ecosystems are being sacrificed for an Albanean government-approved ring road south of Perth.
For a portion of the $1.25 billion Bunbury outer ring road, habitat for the severely endangered western ringtail possum and the rare black cockatoos will be permitted to be removed.
An representative from the department speaking on behalf of Tanya Plibersek, the new federal environment minister, approved the road plan made by the government of Western Australia at the end of June.
The five-yearly state of the environment report, which indicated that Australia’s natural heritage was in poor and deteriorating condition and that land clearing played a key role, was brought up by conservationists as they noted that it arrived after Plibersek had received and read it.
When the report was released last Tuesday, Plibersek observed that between 2000 and 2017, habitat for threatened species on the continent has been removed of more than 7.7 million hectares. The study, she claimed, was “awful,” and “too much clearing has already taken place.”
The Gelorup environmental corridor, which is home to highly endangered western ringtail possums, black cockatoos, and tiny black-stripe minnow fish, is traversed by 10 km of the proposed ring road’s dual-carriageway outside of Bunbury.
In a letter to Plibersek, a group of locals and conservationists, including Carmen Lawrence, the former leader of the WA Labor Party, expressed concern that the state’s main road agency would not be able to comply with the environmental requirements placed on the project, including providing offsets for the affected species and ecosystems.
The Friends of Gelorup Corridor organization urged the minister to halt the project and look at a road’s lower-impact route in a second letter that was delivered on Monday.
Bob Brown, an environmentalist and former Greens leader, who is one of those fighting against the development, stated, “It’s inexplicable.” “These ancient trees, woods, and unique and endangered species are being sacrificed for no advantage.”
According to Brown, the road had been marked for nearly 25 years and a different route had been suggested that would cross cleared land.
“The extinction crisis about which we were then forewarned has arrived. The lack of any green police on the job and all that is wrong with environmental decision-making are present here, he claimed.
“We appreciate it would be extraordinary to overturn an approval, but there is new material available today that she may use to call for a second independent review of the decision,” said Dr. Sue Chapman, a urologist and vice-president of Friends of Gelorup Corridor.
Because so much of the region around it had been removed for farming, industry, and housing, according to Chapman, the environmental corridor was essential for the survival of the impacted species. A total of 1,088 trees and over 70 hectares of possum and cockatoo habitat may be removed.
She said that heatwaves posed a threat to the highly endangered possum species as well, with reports of numerous animals falling from trees last December due to harsh weather. She predicted that “this will drive these possums in the south-west to extinction.”
The Banksia and Tuart forests, two biological zones classed as vulnerable nationally, are included in the corridor. Under the approval, clearing is permitted on four hectares of Tuart woodland and 24 hectares of Banksia woodland.
A woody pear estimated to be 175 years old, two moodjar trees, and a holly-leaf banksia estimated to be 200 years old are among the four trees that the organization is concerned about.
The group said in its most recent letter to Plibersek that construction barriers had already been put up, preventing a scientific assessment of 152 GPS-marked tree hollows.
The majority of the Banksia and Tuart woodlands and forests were historically cleared by the state government, according to Dr. Joe Fontaine, a forest ecologist at Murdoch University.
We cannot clear any more land, he declared, citing the state of the environment report. “On what planet is it okay to do this when these biological communities are recognized by the federal government as threatened?”
Work cannot begin unless the minister has authorized plans from the principal road agency of the Western Australian government to control the impact on threatened species, ecosystems, and woods.
While the situation is a terrible disaster, Brown insisted that there is still time to repair it. There are excellent possibilities, including a different path.
A necessity to set aside areas as compensation for the regions being cleared, he claimed, would not be effective. Offsets, he claimed, were a “scam”. Put the ring road over the paddock next door if you want to safeguard those species.
Plibersek’s office was questioned by Guardian Australia. The Department of Climate Change, Energy, the Environment, and Water was contacted on their behalf.
The government said in a statement that the route was approved with requirements to mitigate consequences, such as the need to create management plans. It said that until those plans were completed, no work harming the threatened species and woods may begin.
In order to make up for the effects on black cockatoos, western ringtail possums, banksia woodlands, and Tuart woodlands and forests, the government also mandates Main Roads WA to give environmental offsets, according to the statement.
Alternative routes for the southern portion of the ring road have been looked into, but, according to a statement from Main Roads WA, “there wasn’t a feasible alignment with reduced environmental impacts.”
This month, environmental management plans that outlined how the project could satisfy the minister’s requirements were finished and delivered to Plibersek’s office. Soon to begin work was anticipated.
These plans “include numerous complex circumstances, including baseline and ongoing fauna surveys, a study of the behavior of the western ringtail possum, predator control, clearing controls and staging, and animal crossings.”
Western ringtail possum surveys are still being conducted to “help us better understand the movements of western ringtail possums in and out of the survey area,” and clearing will be meticulously supervised with “professional fauna spotters on site to ensure that no possum is hurt.”
“We are currently examining the condition of each of the indicated trees and chances to safely keep them inside the road corridor,” the statement continued.
This article by Graham Readfearn was first published by The Guardian on 26 July 2022. Lead Image: The ring road proposal includes 10km of dual-carriageway outside Bunbury that cuts through the Gelorup environmental corridor, which is home to critically endangered western ringtail possums, black cockatoos and tiny black-stripe minnow fish. Photograph: Terri Sharp.
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