In February 2022 the Koala was listed as ‘ENDANGERED‘ in QLD, NSW and ACT under the EPBC Act.
Land clearing, and climate change collectively contribute to habitat fragmentation, limiting the availability of eucalyptus trees—their habitat and primary food source, pushing them perilously close to the brink of extinction.
Whitehaven Coal's massive coal projects will destroy koala habitat and will almost certainly directly cause the deaths of koalas who depend on this habitat.
The Albanese government and Environment Minister Tanya Plibersek have committed to "no more extinctions." But if they do not protect the habitat of our threatened species their commitments will fail.
“The need for action has never been greater,” Minister Tanya Plibersek has said. “I will not shy away from difficult problems or accept environmental decline and extinction as inevitable.”
Yet at any moment Environment Minister Plibersek could still approve Whitehaven's coal projects (listed below) dooming koalas to their deaths.
Whitehaven’s Narrabri coal mine expansion threatens the Pilliga state forest and several iconic and threatened species such as the Regent Honeyeater, Koala, Pilliga mouse and Corben Long-eared bat.
The NSW planning department’s assessment of the project found the expansion requires a comparatively large area of surface disturbance compared to other underground mines in NSW. This is due to the gassy nature of the mine and the need for mine ventilation and gas extraction. Some 617 ha of native vegetation and habitat for threatened species would be required to be progressively cleared, or else impacted by subsidence.
The project is planning to clear nearly 500 hectares of koala habitat with approximately 235 hectares of this habitat being defined by Whitehaven as ‘core habitat’.
That’s like 500 football fields of habitat destroyed!
Whitehaven’s Maules Creek mine has been approved to clear 1,665 hectares of threatened species habitat, including 544 hectares of endangered Yellow Box - White Box - Blakely's Red Gum grassy woodland. This forest provides habitat for the koala.
Whitehaven was unable to find unprotected forest of equivalent or better quality than what they were clearing to use as an environmental offset. Whitehaven’s failure to secure the required environmental offsets resulted in a Federal Court legal challenge brought against Whitehaven by community group South East Forest Rescue. The court challenge was dropped after the Federal Environment department changed the conditions of Whitehaven’s approval requiring the company to acquire additional properties for use as environmental offsets. However, in October 2022 the department varied the conditions of the approval again to allow for land to to be 'managed to achieve' equivalent of better quality habitat, rather than protecting habitat that already exists. The endangered forest that Whitehaven was clearing is so rare that it was impossible for them to find areas to use as offsets because they simply don’t exist. Now, instead of being required to provide offsets of equivalent or better quality, Whitehaven can use land that can be ‘managed to achieve’ equivalent or better quality habitat. This essentially means they could protect cleared land that one day might regenerate into a forest and that would comply with their approval conditions.
Whitehaven plans on expanding its Maules creek coal mine through the Maules creek continuation project, which proposes to extend the life of the mine by nine years until 2043 and produce an additional 126 million tonnes of coal.
The impacts of this project won’t be clearly known until it goes through environmental assessment, but it will involve extensive further clearing of critically endangered wildlife habitat in the Leard State Forest.
This is likely to include further clearing of the Critically Endangered White Box-Yellow Box-Blakely’s Red Gum Grassy Woodland and Derived Native Grassland ecosystems.
It is also likely to include clearing of habitat for nationally threatened species including the Koala, Swift Parrot, Greater Long-eared Bat and Regent Honeyeater.
The project’s impacts on koala habitat have been criticised by environmental campaigners, including in Japan where Japanese companies and banks who are supporting the mine have been the subject of protests.
Whitehaven’s Winchester South project is the largest proposed green field coal mine in Australia. Whitehaven’s terrestrial ecology report for the project found that 314.5 hectares of koala habitat was identified to be cleared within the project area.
The project EIS (section 5 - Assessment of Matters of National Environmental Significance) identifies Koala as a species likely to be present on the proposed mine site and relevant to the project. Koala scats have been recorded in the project area and have been previously recorded immediately adjacent to the Study Area in association with the Olive Downs Project surveys.
Nine separate regional ecosystems that Koala food trees occur in have been identified within the mine project area. Potential Koala breeding and foraging habitat have been identified within the disturbance footprint of the mine, including remnant and regrowth Eucalyptus woodland with suitable Koala food trees.
The Winchester South proposed mine is located directly adjacent to the Olive Downs coal mine, which is currently under construction and approved to clear 5404.97 hectares of koala habitat. The Winchester South project will add more pressure on koala habitat in this region that is already subject to major clearance from the Olive Downs mine.
Whitehaven recently purchased the Blackwater South project from BMA who referred the project for assessment under Federal environmental law in 2022. The project could impact more than 6,800 hectares of habitat, equivalent to 3,400 Melbourne Cricket Ground sized sporting fields.
BMA’s Terrestrial Ecology survey report identifies an approximate total of 350.3 ha of preferred koala habitat mapped in the survey area. An additional 3,507.7 ha of suitable habitat and 3,026.6 ha of marginal habitat containing emergent eucalypt species suitable for this species also occurs in the survey area.
BMA’s Terrestrial Ecology surveys recorded 5 Koalas at the mine site see page 74 of the survey report. Indirect evidence of Koalas, which includes scratches and scats, were also identified. The survey report applies an assessment of critical habitat for the Koala and concludes the mine area is ‘critical habitat’ assigning a score of 7 to the habitat. A total score of 5 is the trigger at which a site may be described as critical habitat, based upon the critical habitat mapping criteria within the EPBC Act referral guidelines. See table 5.8 on page 102-103 of the survey report.
The below photo of a koala observed on the site of the proposed mine is taken from page 87 of the survey report.
Whitehaven’s Vickery extension project has federal environmental approval to clear up to 80 hectares of koala habitat. In making the approval decision, former Environment Minister Sussan Ley determined that the project ‘would adversely affect habitat critical to the survival of the Koala.’