Sunshine Coast Birds

Birding and other wildlife experiences from the Sunshine Coast and elsewhere in Australia - and from overseas - with scribblings about travel, environmental issues, kayaking, hiking and camping.

Sunday, 10 June 2018

Rainforest at Amamoor threatened by mining

Subtropical rainforest along Amamoor Creek

Plans are afoot for the development of an extensive network of mines to extract manganese from some of the finest surviving stands of lowland subtropical rainforest in Queensland. The company Eclipse Metals is surveying areas of dry rainforest in Amamoor and Kandanga state forests, south-west of Gympie.

The company has mineral exploration licences over a large area of state forest managed by timber company HQ Plantation. The habitat is regarded by the Queensland Government as being of state significance for biodiversity but the Minister for Natural Resources, Mines and Energy, Anthony Lynham, is not planning to intervene to protect the rainforest.

Mineral exploration underway in Amamoor State Forest
The destruction of lowland rainforest in south-east Queensland and north-east NSW has likely caused the extinction of the Coxen's Fig-Parrot and imperilled numerous plant and animal species. Among those frequenting the Amamoor scrubs is the range-restricted Black-breasted Buttonquail, listed as Vulnerable in Queensland.

Black-breasted Buttonquail
During a visit to the lease area last week, I saw numerous marker ribbons and pegs and a network of recently traversed trails bulldozed through the rainforest. Eclipse Metals has signalled that mineral extraction could begin in 2020 following further surveying and drilling for ore sampling, for which the company has three exploration permits. The exploration area is just 2.5 kilometres from the popular Amama picnic ground on Amamoor Creek.

Mineral exploration underway in Amamoor State Forest
Eclipse Metals chairman Carl Popal denies the area is important rainforest habitat, telling The Gympie Times: “Amamoor State Forest does not constitute as rainforest. The vegetation is primarily made of European lantana bush - considered a pest; African cotton bush (the plant is poisonous and has caused deaths in cattle, sheep and poultry); and hoop pine trees which are planted by HQ plantation for future logging.” Popal adds that the company has “strictly complied with all relevant Queensland environmental authorities and has obtained permits for any and all work on-site”.

Parts of the state forest were mined for manganese between 1920 and 1960 but those mines have long been disbanded and rainforest regrowth has reclaimed much of the mined land.  Popal told the ABC late last year that early exploration led the Perth-based company to anticipate deposits of up to 167,000 tonnes of mangananese at Amamoor and other sites, with more recent surveys suggesting “multiple millions” of tonnes of high-grade ore. He added: “The actual data still has to be interpreted by geophysicists and summarised but at this stage we can say it is looking good.”

Area of exploration near Amamoor
Contrary to Popal's claims, it is obvious to an observer that the exploration area in fact is prime subtropical rainforest. Lantana and other weeds are mostly restricted to the fringes of the main access road. Numerous rainforest birds were present during my visit including Wompoo Fruit-Dove, Pale-yellow Robin Russet-tailed Thrush and Paradise Riflebird.

Wompoo Fruit-Dove
Environmental scientist and long-time admirer of the Amamoor forests, Chris Nichols, says there is little rainforest remaining in the area planned for mining, which is surrounded by hoop pine plantations. He says the exploration works could pollute the nearby Skyring Creek and Amama cascades, which flow into Amamoor Creek at a site frequented by platypus.  Nichols adds that ore trucks will damage roads and mining will have negative consequences for the area's growing ecotourism industry.

Farmers in the surrounding Mary Valley have expressed fears about the impacts of new manganese mines. “It is another threat that is definitely not welcomed," Elaine Bradley from the Mary Valley Country Harvest Cooperative told the ABC. "We are not just looking at the effect of the mining on properties here, but also the dust raised will cause a lot of problems with our farms, particularly if it is toxic dust, depending on the type of ore they are mining.” The region was the focus of a bitter, long-running environmental dispute that led to the federal Labor government vetoing the proposed Traveston Crossing Dam in 2009.
Platypus in Amamoor Creek
A former Queensland Labor environment minister, Pat Comben, made the protection of dry subtropical rainforests a high priority when the election of the Goss Government in 1989 ended decades of environmental mismanagement by Country-Nationals Party-led governments. At the time, the few areas of habitat remaining were being bulldozed for the expansion of hoop pine plantations.
Queensland Government overlay maps show the Amamoor State Forest area includes essential habitat, threatened wildlife habitat, and vegetation regarded as endangered or of concern.

Queensland Government overlay map of Amamoor State Forest area
The Gympie Times reported in March that another WA company, New Base Metals, had applied for mineral exploration rights over forested public land extending south from Widgee and Upper Glastonbury to Yabba Creek, between Imbil and Borumba Dam.

UPDATE 14/6/2018

I received this statement from the Queensland Department of Environment and Science:

"The Department of Environment and Science can confirm that Walla Mines Ltd (owned by Eclipse Metals Ltd) has an environmental authority (EA) to conduct mineral exploration in the Amamoor State Forest. The department has undertaken a recent inspection of the exploration activities in Amamoor State Forest (in April 2018) to confirm compliance with the requirements of their EA. With regards to concerns that these exploration activities “presumably will lead to a resumption of mining in the rainforest”, the department can advise that it has not received any applications to date for extractive industries at this location, and the most recent site inspection showed no evidence of extraction activities being undertaken."

A response that I have passed  on to the department is that the DES should not have issued an environmental authority for mineral exploration in such environmentally significant habitat. Of course there is not yet evidence of extraction activities. The company has said this is expected to begin in 2020.

According to the conditions of the EA, the company can not operate in a category A or B environmentally sensitive area. Activity involving machinery is banned within 1km of a category A environmentally sensitive area and within 500m of a category B environmentally sensitive area. As the mineral exploration area is in the vicinity of environmentally sensitive areas, the department will need to be on its toes.

Some of these issues appear to have risen from the former Newman Liberal-National Party Government's 2013 emasculation of protection for state forests.

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