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.