Communist Party of Australia

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Issue #1619      November 20, 2013

Save Pilliga Forest: Stop CSG project

The Pilliga* Forest in NSW is under threat from a proposed major coal seam gas (GSC) project. The Australian government has given the go-ahead and approved plans to conduct exploratory CSG mining in the forest, destroying woodland habitat and putting its large koala population, the Pilliga Mouse, a native mouse which is only found in the Pilliga Forest, and other rare and threatened wildlife in danger.

The Pilliga Forest is a vast, iconic Australian bushland landscape, a unique place of splendid, rugged beauty, with plentiful populations of familiar native animals, such as kangaroos, emus, goannas and echidnas. Eric Rolls wrote in detail about its environment, animals and history in his book, A Million Wild Acres. The Pilliga Forest, which is also known as the Pilliga Scrub, constitutes over 3,000 square kilometres of semi-arid woodland in temperate north-central NSW. It is the largest such sort of continuous remnant woodland remaining in eastern Australia and is recognised as one of the most important areas for biodiversity in the country. The Pilliga Forest also has one of the biggest native cypress forests in Australia.

The Pilliga Forest region is a popular tourist spot due to its abundant wildlife, wildflowers, sandstone caves, Aboriginal rock art and other attractions. Many birdwatchers visit the area, while others come to try to catch sight of the mystical creature, the Yowie, which has often been reported wandering in the region. The Yowie is described as apelike and similar in appearance to a Yeti. They have been seen frequently in the area for a long-time and can even be seen on Aboriginal rock paintings in the Pilliga.

The CSG plans involve the initial drilling of 36 pilot wells, the felling of 400 hollow trees, which are not only vital koala habitat, but are homes for many birds, gliders, possums and other animals and the clearing of woodland, grasses and wildflowers, including the loss of over 200 orchids and the likely contamination of groundwater. The Pilliga Mouse lives amongst the wildflower habitat and these areas will be cleared for exploration wells, well pads, gas pipelines, roads and evaporation ponds. This will also result in further fragmentation of more of their habitat.

The company, Eastern Star Gas, a Santos owned gas company, plan to eventually drill 1,100 coal seam gas wells in the Pilliga Forest, which will result in the clearing of thousands of hectares of the forest and the fragmentation of about 85,000 more hectares. And it is very likely that these gas wells will be the just the start, as over 500,000 hectares are covered by the exploration licences for coal seam gas, posing a serious ecological threat to the region’s forests and wildlife.

The Pilliga Forest is a refuge for several rare, threatened and endangered species; it is essential habitat along with the Pilliga Mouse, (which is only found in the Pilliga Forest), of the Black-Striped Wallaby, the South-Eastern Long-Eared Bat, the Barking Owl, Rainbow Bee-eater, the Eastern Pygmy Possum, the Turquoise Parrot, Glossy Black Cockatoo, Pale-Headed Snake as well as koalas. The South-Eastern Long-Eared Bat has already lost 75 percent of its habitat and now much of its remaining roosting sites are liable to be lost as the forest is cleared and fragmented by gas wells. These species are all at grave risk from the construction of a gas field in the Pilliga Forest.

The forest contains at least 900 kinds of plants, many of them threatened species. Wild animals that inhabit the area include at least 36 native mammals, including Quolls, Squirrel Gliders, Rufous Bettongs and 50 reptile and 15 frog species. Also the Pilliga is a very important area for birdlife, with over 200 bird species recorded here. Pilliga Forest has resident populations of various birds; many of them endangered and protected, such as Painted Honeyeaters, Swift Parrots, Diamond Firetails, Regent Honeyeaters and near threatened Bush Stone Curlews. Many other woodland birds live in or visit the Pilliga, including bird species that are declining in numbers, such as Brown Tree Creepers, Hooded Robins, Grey-Crowned Babblers and Speckled Warblers.

Despite the vulnerability of the habitat and the scale of the CSG plans, the federal Environment Minister Greg Hunt has decided that a proper environmental impact assessment is not necessary and the project can go straight ahead. This is a very sloppy environmental attitude, in which the CSG industry is apparently regarded as more important than the conservation of Australia’s forest habitat and wildlife. This is totally unacceptable.

Conservation of the crucial woodland habitat of the Pilliga Forest is vital to the survival of many of these endangered species. It is patently clear that if this gas project goes ahead it will be a big ecological disaster. Australians must speak up and say no to this CSG field and stop the government’s negligent attitude to environmental protection. Tell Mr Hunt to call an immediate halt to this impending CSG project.

There is already a great deal of grassroots opposition to this project and effective action can stop this devastating development happening. Protests have already succeeded in stopping some similar developments by arrogant CSG companies and protecting vineyards, farming areas and other places in NSW and in other states. Acting together we have the power to save the nationally significant Pilliga Forest and its rare, protected and endangered species from destruction. Let’s make sure we leave this precious place as a haven for the amazing animals that live there and for those people who visit to marvel at its wildlife and other natural wonders.

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*Pilliga means Swamp Oak in the traditional language of the Kamilaroi people, the local Aboriginal people of the region.

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