WILDLIFE corridor or sand pit? That’s the question posed by the Victorian National Parks Association report into the impact of sand mining in the Western Port Woodlands.
This beautiful coastal forest is either habitat – with all that means around protection of forest, preservation, recognition of ecosystems, of endangered communities, and of essential habitat connections – or quarries. It cannot be both.
Despite the importance of this lowland coastal forest to the health and ecology of Western Port, and despite the defining natural character it gives the Bass Coast region, the woodlands are being lost to the growing pits of the sand mines - piece by piece, hectare by hectare.
| || |
What cost should a regional community be asked to bear for Melbourne’s ‘Big Build’? What is an acceptable risk to this region’s tourism economy, for instance? Or to the Ramsar protected wetlands of Western Port? Or to the identified endangered wildlife and flora – some, like the swift parrot, critically endangered – that depend on these woodlands being undisturbed, viable, connected and maintained?
At what point is the environmental cost of this sand mining for Melbourne’s Big Build too high, unacceptable even to the Andrews Government?
Mines and trucks, the welcome mat
Clearly, we are not at that point yet: 10 mines currently operate in vast pits behind the ridgelines in that woodland corridor, another nine have approvals, and a further seven are in prospect. Sand pit indeed.
With that expanded activity, truck movements, those bruising mud-carters that elbow their way into and out of Grantville and along the Bass and South Gippsland highways, are expected to continue to grow to number more than 4000 a day. Such will be the gateway – the welcome mat – to this shire which depends on tourism for most of its jobs.
Why is the building of car parks, bridges, freeways, tunnels and apartments for Melbourne given such priority that even a cautious rethink of an environmentally destructive ‘sand strategy’ is not possible?
So many questions, and yet, a Victorian Government turns a deaf ear to the environment of this region and to the wishes of this community.
Victoria’s Strategic Extractive Resource Areas (SERAs) and Extractive Industry Interest Areas (EIIAs) remove or limit the rights of communities, farmers and councils to object to new mines. It is Bolsonaro with a Daniel Andrews face.
While the imposition of this strategy is at odds with Bass Coast’s community and council, it is also at odds with this Government’s own claims to action on the environment, its professed commitment to addressing climate change (umm, Climate Change 101: stop deforestation, protect native forest), and its claims to responsible custodianship of the Victorian environment.
In this coming election campaign, we will see – you can count on it – political advertising by the Andrews Government claiming its ‘climate action’ credentials, claiming its big-picture commitment to the environment and to sustainability.
But judge it by its actions, here, in this coastal forest. Judge its commitment to sustainability against a public policy that protects the activities of miners over the rights of affected communities, over the protection of mature forest, over endangered and critically endangered wildlife.
Of course, you will hear the inevitable humbug of ‘environmental offsets’, as if responsible environmental management can be played as a zero-sum game. “Don’t worry about losing this forest, this habitat, because we have another one over here”, or even "we're planting another one over here”.
It’s humbug. There is no equivalence, no equal for equal, when displacing mature forest.
When that forest goes, the habitat it provides collapses. The native plants and animals that rely on that habitat to sustain healthy populations are lost too. There is no mystery to it; that’s the way extinction works, piece by piece, habitat by habitat, loss following loss.
The Federal Act and ‘listed species’
In our woodlands, those endangered populations include the endangered southern brown bandicoot, critically endangered swift parrot, powerful owl, lace monitor and white-throated needletail (among a considerably longer list). Listing under the federal Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 means their habitat cannot be disturbed, impacted or removed without reference to the act, ie. referral to the Department.
Each of those listed and identified within this woodland corridor remain at high risk of extinction without without connected habitat.
The risk of habitat fragmentation increases with every mine expansion and new approval.
The fact that there are ample alternative supplies elsewhere – hundreds of years’ supply according to the Victorian Government's own analysis – not in forest, not posing risk to endangered species, and within reasonable range of Melbourne’s needs, might prompt in a reasonable government a rethink of the impact of its sand strategy on this region.
If you would like to help
Write to the Federal Minister for Environment and Water, the Hon Tanya Plibersek, and tell her of your concerns. A letter is better than email. (NOTE: The Minister has expressed her determination to stop forest decline and species loss.)
The Hon Tanya Plibersek MP
Minister for Environment and Water
PO Box 6022
House of Representatives
Canberra ACT 2600
Ask the Federal Minister to review and investigate ALL sand mining activity in the Western Port Woodlands under the Federal EPBC Act.)
Write to the Victorian Minister for the Environment:
The Hon Lily D’Ambrosio MP
PO Box 500
Melbourne VIC 3002
Join Save Western Port Woodlands.
The argument given for continuing to plunder this coastal woodland, despite ample availability of sand, gravel and stone resources elsewhere, is that it takes some “10 years” to open a new mine.
Well, lose the swift parrot, and it’s gone FOREVER. Ditto the rare orchids, southern brown bandicoot, growling grass frog.
So judge this government by its actions, here, in these Western Port Woodlands, Bass Coast’s last forest and its precious disappearing wildlife; our home, our beautiful place.
Tim O'Brien is a member of Save Western Port Woodlands.