ACF investigations reveal the federal government authorised the clearing of north Queensland woodland despite the environment department finding it was likely to destroy critical Greater Glider habitat.
Around 400 hectares of woodland at Meadowbank Station in north Queensland, including parts of an area set aside specifically to protect greater gliders, has been burned down, sometime between 15 and 20 August.
In July, the Australian Conservation Foundation (ACF) asked Environment Minister Sussan Ley to suspend an approval to clear woodland on the property after a field survey by ACF and an independent ecologist found greater gliders living in the trees to be bulldozed.
The survey, conducted from nearby public land in June, confirmed several greater gliders living in the area to be cleared. The ecologist’s report concluded the clearing would have “devastating impacts on the long-term viability of this local community of greater gliders.”
The Federal Government approved the clearing of 1,365 hectares of native woodland at Meadowbank, without environmental offsets, in early 2018.
The approval excluded 106.8 hectares of woodland from the clearing permit after a survey found gliders living there. The Government deemed the rest of the area as not glider habitat.
But in just two nights of spotlighting in early June ACF’s field survey found seven gliders in the woodland that was approved to be cleared.
ACF wrote to Minister Ley in July asking her to suspend the approval under Section 144 of the Environmental Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act until a full and independent on-ground assessment was conducted. To date she has not responded.
Recent aerial images suggest approximately 400 hectares of woodland, including trees in which ACF found gliders and parts of the proposed exclusion area, have been burned down.
To burn or damage trees in the exclusion area could be a breach of the very few conditions in the approval. ACF has alerted the Department’s Office of Compliance.
“Our team found nationally protected greater gliders living in woodland on Meadowbank Station. The sightings were confirmed by an independent ecologist who warned the clearing would have devastating impacts on local glider populations,” said James Trezise, ACF Nature Policy Analyst.
“We warned the Federal Government and asked the Minister to suspend the approval, but no action was taken. Now we are seeing the devastating impacts on these gliders played out.
“Australians should be able to be confident that environmental assessments are protecting our nationally protected species and their habitats from harm. In this case they are not.
“ACF is concerned a number of clearing approvals, particularly in north Queensland, have been subject to intense political lobbying from senior Coalition figures who have advocated for fast-tracked and light touch assessments, irrespective of the risk to threatened wildlife.
“Australia is in an extinction crisis; we have the world’s worst record for mammal loss. Habitat destruction, such as tree clearing, is the primary driver of species extinction.
“Queensland is one of the worst global hotspots for forest clearing, with similar rates to the Amazon and Congo Basin. This is an embarrassment for a wealthy country like Australia.
“The assessment of Meadowbank was not up to scratch. The regulator faced significant political pressure, then didn’t seek all the information it should have.
“Not only was the approval flawed, but there are worrying signs its very basic conditions may not have been complied with. ACF expects the Federal Government to fully investigate this deeply concerning situation.
“In the meantime, this approval should be suspended and re-examined with accurate data that takes account of the presence of the threatened species.
“The Morrison Government must better protect threatened species in the upcoming review of our national environmental law, not gut protection at the behest of a vocal minority.”