90th Day: Documenting Leard Forest with the K Team.
With the clock ticking now until the 31 January when a decision from Tony Burke is now expected on the federal approval for Idemitzu’s Boggabri Mine extension, thousands of hectares of box ironbark woodland have received a temporary reprieve. The K Team has spent the last week documenting the values and condition of the forest, including the critically endangered box gum woodlands and nationally listed species, a key issue is the Koala.
As the trucks and excavators work around the clock near camp FLAC it’s hard to imagine that more than half of this old growth forest is to be removed for open cut mines, the irreplaceable box forest and its rich biodiversity eliminated from the face of the earth if we are unable to convince Tony Burke of its national significance. Already 500 ha of box forest have been removed due to coal mines, to allow the rest would be to destroy one of the largest remaning stands of box gum woodland in the state, to eliminate an important stepping stone between the Pilliga and Nandewar range forests and completely sever an important east-west habitat link. The loss of this forest as a refuge and dispersal corridor will have consequences far outside the forest itself.
The box woodlands in Leard, dominated by White Box, Pilliga Box and Bimble Box, form an ancient landscape dominated by massive old trees riddled with hollows, massive logs with considerable litter cover, native grasses and forbs, delicate wildflowers, it’s easy to get lost just being there just taking in the majesty of the woodland, on which it seems has always been there. Faces peer at you and it seems ancient limbs stir the minute you look away, what could be more valuable to save?
While the environmental assessments for the mines have provided mainly predictive vegetation mapping, the true extent of the nationally significant matters has not been adequately documented. Work so far by the K Team has shown the extent of White Box woodland matching the federal listing is more extensive than supposed. It was and still is found in the grassy, flatter areas of the forest and occurs as pure stands of White Box as well as occurring with other tree species and, along with ironbark forest on the upper slopes, forms the dominant vegetation type in Leard.
Mt Leard is the highest peak in the forest, a scraggly peak with twisted cypress pine and crystal rich rocks, is another area inside the mine footprint. The K team have also documented many likely scar trees showing the long connection between the original owners and the forest, many of these will go.
The birdlife in the forest is incredible, most of which are all year residents, with about 100 species known from the forest, 50 species have been recorded from the FLAC camp, including 8 threatened birds, all part of the group of birds commonly known as the declining woodland birds. the density of birds is very high with fantastic views of species rarely seen outside the forest, such as Turquoise Parrots, Speckled Warblers, Varied Sittellas and White-browed Woodswallows flying in vast aerial flocks. This time of year is a busy time for birds, with breeding and nesting at a frantic pace. As you walk through the woodland you find many nests on the ground, as the activity has been so high, waking up is always to a multitude of tiny voices, a pleasant relief from the continual reminder of the mine’s round-the-clock works. AT night yo may hear the Barking Owl, Masked Owl or more common Boobook.
But the main focus of this week is to gather and document and all the information that the K Team has gathered in relation to the distribution of the Koala in the forest. While the environmental assessments say there are few Kolas in Leard as it is not preferred habitat, the K Team has found high levels of Koala activity throughout the forest by undertaking scat surveys. We have found that preferred tree species for the Koala is Pilliga Box and Blakely’s Red Gum , which are not considered important for the Koala on state-wide listings of feed species prepared by the government. It is a race now to get this information consolidated and sent to the federal government as new information that he urgently needs to consider.
The Box woodlands surveyed also show the importance of the forest for other native mammals, during the scat surveys, some sites showed a 50% use of all eucalypt trees by Brushtail Possums, surveys have also found Ringtail Possums, Squirrel Gliders and Sugar Gliders. The high density of hollows in the box forest are able to support a rich arboreal fauna, not seen before by the K Team.
So please think about what you can do to support FLAC, visit the Leard camp and stand by the those who are standing up for the forest, it’s a great stay at camp with many stimulating conversations and problem solving in action. Write to Tony Burke and tell him the forest is too precious to lose, it is irreplaceable and a gift we should treasure to be around long after the mining boom is but a sad embarrassing memory.