Local ecologist Philip Spark’s letter to friends appealing for help to save Leard State Forest #leardblockade


By Philip Spark

24th January 2014

Dear friends,

This is an SOS call for help to save Leard State Forest which is likely to be bulldozed this month. Two large coal mines have been approved to destroy 3400ha through the middle of the forest, which will lead to the decline of up to 28 threatened species, a critically endangered ecological community, and emissions of approximately 60 million tonnes of CO2 released into the atmosphere each year.

The federal environment Minister Tony Burke approved the mines in February 2013. That approval was challenged by the Northern Inland Council for the Environment in the federal court, based on allegations that the minister in his determination did not adhere to the requirements of the The Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act (EPBC).

The court finding released on the December 20, 2013, gave both mines the green light to proceed. The court outcome was extremely disappointing as this campaign has been going on for nearly four years and all the evidence provided by public submissions and independent ecologists has been ignored.

We need more people to speak out and demand that both the state and federal governments stop the clearing and investigate the use of false and misleading information to get the mines approved. They are legally required to investigate our allegations, and that investigation must be transparent. We have heard on the grapevine that some internal investigation is happening, but we have been told nothing.

The conditions of approval stated that the offsets must be of the same vegetation community and habitat as that destroyed in the forest, and must be of equal to or better quality. The vegetation community being cleared is highly significant, being 1100ha of the critically endangered ecological community (CEEC) of Box-Gum woodland that provides habitat for 28 threatened species of plants and animals. The listing of the Box-Gum community states that only one-thousandth (or 0.1 per cent) of its original extent remains intact.

I have assessed the degraded grazing and cultivation properties purchased by the Whitehaven and Boggabri mines to provide the offset vegetation community and habitats for threatened species. I found that creative accounting had been used to overstate the habitat value and area of habitat on the offsets, and the majority of the Whitehaven offset properties had been falsely mapped as White box woodland critically endangered ecological community (CEEC).

The same Whitehaven properties were independently reviewed by two other ecologists, both found the vegetation community to be Stringybark open forest, not the same White Box woodland CEEC which occurs in the Leard Forest.

The use of highly disturbed offset land to compensate for the loss of known threatened species habitat is a highly contentious issue in science circles; even the best examples are unlikely to achieve a no net loss outcome or equivalent habitat in the long-term.

This case is the worst example with no scientific credibility, where Stringybark open forest has been mapped as grassy White Box woodland CEEC to get the Whitehaven mine approved. The habitats of the offset properties are also vastly different to those in Leard forest that will be destroyed. The Whitehaven offset properties are located in the Nandewar bioregion on the Nandewar range mostly above 900m altitude, whereas the Leard State Forest is in the Brigalow belt south bioregion at 300-400m elevation. The consultant who did the work for the mines is now under investigation for misconduct by the industry body Ecological Consultants Association.

Leard State Forest is of special significance for bat and bird conservation. I have harp-trapped extensively across the east coast, tableland and western slopes and plains of northern NSW, nowhere else have I trapped the same abundance and diversity of bats as I do consistently in Leard forest.

My last monitoring using two harp traps on forest trails on the December 15, 2013, broke the previous record with 246 bats trapped of ten species in one night. Ten species is not unusual for Leard, I have had 12 species before and all told 16 species have been recorded including the threatened species Chalinolobus dwyeri, Saccolaimus flaviventris, Miniopterus orianae oceanensis, and Nyctophilus corbeni. Others of significance recorded are Chalinolobus picatus and Vespadelus troughtoni.

I question why the forest has such amazing diversity and abundance of bats.The only possible explanation I can come up with is that it is old-growth box woodland that has in excess of 100 hollows per hectare and it is a productive soil type. Nyctophilus corbeni and Chalinolobus picatus are good examples of threatened species that will not be compensated by the offset properties of Stringybark open forest at high altitudes, both will definitely decline.

Likewise the diversity and abundance of woodland birds is a real feature of Leard State Forest, with 14 threatened woodland species having been recorded. Leard State Forest provides significant habitat for Barking Owls, they will likely leave the forest when the mines get going. Woodland species such as the Turquoise Parrot, Grey-crowned Babbler, Painted Honeyeater, Brown Treecreeper, and Speckled Warbler will not find suitable habitat in the offsets, all of those will decline. Another species that will definitely decline is the Pale-headed Snake, it would not occur in the Whitehaven offsets.

The approval of these mines shows how low our planning regulations have sunk, where tokenistic tick box assessments are not scientifically reviewed, and nothing is off limits that can’t be offset.

Conservation groups have decided it will be the line in the sand, people are lining up to be arrested, nine were arrested in protest action before Christmas and more are likely in the coming weeks.

The Maules Creek community has grave concerns about their health from the tonnes of dust that will settle over the area, and they fear for their water supplies as the water table is lowered. The sense of community will be gone, the aesthetics of their quiet valley will be shattered, they will be left with the legacy of two huge holes in the ground. The Gomeroi people have similar concerns and are also fighting the mines, as the forest has significant cultural heritage values. If these projects go ahead they will set a shocking precedent for environment protection across the nation.

This really is the death knell appeal that I am sending out in the hope that more people with environmental background will speak out and demand both the federal and state governments to stop the mine construction until our allegations are independently investigated.

Individuals can write, email, or phone the prime minister, or premier, or environment ministers (preferably all of them) asking them to intervene to stop the clearing and conduct an independent investigation immediately. The contacts are below. Please circulate this letter to folk you think would be interested.

The ANZ bank are financing the Maules Creek mine, letters to them will add further pressure on them to reconsider their credibility.

Whitehaven should also be feeling under pressure, contact them at the address below.

It would be great if you could inform me of the actions you take, or cc my email address, as we intend to compile a list of those supporting our campaign that we will use to demonstrate the broad support we have.

For further information go to the Maules Creek Community Council website or Facebook page or phone or email Phil Spark at (02) 6764 2245 –
<mailto:pdspark@activ8.net.au> pdspark@activ8.net.au


Thankyou for your assistance, people power can still save the 3400ha of forest and millions of plants, birds, mammals, reptiles and frogs.


Phil Spark
President of the Northern Inland Council for the Environment Inc.

Leard State Forest Significant Species list

Vulnerable fauna species

Plants and Migratory sp.

Spotted Harrier
Little Eagle
Square-tailed Kite
Brown Treecreeper
Varied Sittella
Black-necked Stork
Hooded Robin
Black-chinned Honeyeater
Painted Honeyeater
Turquoise Parrot
Little Lorikeet
Barking Owl
Masked Owl
Grey-crowned Babbler
Speckled Warbler
Diamond Firetail Finch
Large-eared Pied Bat
Little Pied Bat
Eastern Bent-wing Bat
Eastern Cave Bat
Yellow-bellied Sheathtail Bat
Corben’s Long-eared Bat
Squirrel Glider
Pale-headed Snake
Threatened Plants
Pomaderris queenslandica
Pultenaea setulosa
Tylophora linearis

Endangered Ecological Community
Box-Gum woodland
Migratory Species
Satin Flycatcher
White-throated Needletail
Rainbow Bee-eater

Not recorded but suitable habitat present for

Regent Honeyeater
Swift Parrot  Spotted-tail Quoll

Whitehaven Coal Limited – Head Office

Level 28, 259 George Street, Sydney NSW 2000
PO Box R1113, Royal Exchange NSW 1225
Phone: (02) 8507 9700
Fax: (02) 8507 9701

Paul Flynn

Maules Creek Project office

121 Merton Street, Boggabri, NSW 2382
PO Box 56, Boggabri, NSW 2382
Phone: (02) 6749 7800
Fax: (02) 6749 7899

Brian Cole

Tony Abbott Parliament Office Contacts

PO Box 6022
House of Representatives
Parliament House
Canberra ACT 2600
Telephone: (02) 6277 7700
Fax: (02) 6273 4100

Electorate Office
(Principal Office)
Level 2, 17 Sydney Road
Manly, NSW, 2095

Postal address
PO Box 450
Manly, NSW, 2095

Telephone: (02) 9977 6411
Fax: (02) 9977 8715

Connect with Tony Abbott

http://www.tonyabbott.com.au Personal website
http://www.liberal.org.au Party website
http://www.pm.gov.au Prime Minister’s website
http://www.pm.gov.au/contact-your-pm Contact the Prime Minister

Alternative URL

Grey Hunt Minister for the Environment at:
<mailto:greg.hunt.mp@environment.gov.au> greg.hunt.mp@environment.gov.au

Greg Hunt MP
Member for Flinders
Minister for the Environment

Postal Address:
PO Box 274
Hastings Vic 3915

Electorate Office:
Shop 4/184 Salmon Street
Hastings Vic 3915

Phone: (03) 5979 3188
Fax: (03) 5979 3034

Barry O’Farrell NSW Premier Contacts

Ku-ring-gai Electorate Office

Ministerial Office
The Hon. Barry O’Farrell, MP
27 Redleaf Avenue

The Hon. Barry O’Farrell, MP
Level 40 Governor Macquarie Tower
1 Farrer Place

The Hon. Barry O’Farrell, MP
GPO Box 5341

P (02) 9487 8588
P (02) 9228 5239
F (02) 9487 8550
F (02) 9228 3935
E kuringgai@parliament.nsw.gov.au
E http://www.premier.nsw.gov.au/contact-premier-new-south-wales
W www.premier.nsw.gov.au

Robyn Parker Minister for the Environment NSW Contact details

Maitland Electorate Office

Ministerial Office

The Hon. Robyn Parker, MP
34 Church Street

The Hon. Robyn Parker, MP
Level 32 Governor Macquarie Tower
1 Farrer Place


The Hon. Robyn Parker, MP
PO Box 920

P (02) 4933 1617
P (02) 9228 5253
F (02) 4933 4782
F (02) 9228 5763
E Robyn.Parker@parliament.nsw.gov.au
E office@parker.minister.nsw.gov.au
W  www.robynparker.com.au

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  1. This is OUR home, planet earth. What happens in my earthly backyard, affects me, my family and those I love…what can’t we see that A affects B. This message comes all the way from Canada…and yet, one can not ignore the effect of all that CO2 release, will not somehow affect Mother Earth. We cannot continue to poop in our own nest…

  2. Another appalling act by equally appalling state and national politicians who do not care one iota about what we leave for our future generations. Please help the Boggabri district retain some of it’s natural environment.

  3. Excellent work. Proponents and corrupt regulators count on the public not noticing all the holes and flaws in their documents and approvals. We need people with the ability to discern and challenge, so thank you!

  4. Where does that leave our sustainable future for us and the generations to come. Long-term vision, not short-term gain, is what is needed.

  5. Many thanks to Philip Spark, the Maules Creek community and others for standing up against this outrage and spreading the word. I have sent letters of protest to 3 politicians and the ANZ bank. The comprehensive report provided has enabled me to construct a fair argument in my own words against the mine.