Australia’s peak environment groups have today questioned the Commonwealth Department of Environment on its recent statements that controversial vegetation clearing on Cape York Peninsula has had no significant impact on threatened species and their habitats.

The Australian Conservation Foundation (ACF), The Wilderness Society (TWS) and the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) are calling on the Commonwealth’s Department of Environment to publicly release the findings of its investigation at Olive Vale station on Cape York Peninsula.

“You can’t clear 15 square kilometres of Cape York’s unique ecosystems without having a significant impact on one of many threatened species within the region,” said ACF’s Northern Australia campaigner Andrew Picone.

“We have mapped the cleared areas using satellite data and have identified the ecosystems cleared and the proximity of known locations of threatened species,” said Dr Martin Taylor, Conservation scientist with WWF Australia.

The areas cleared were ideal habitat for the endangered Gouldian finch, the vulnerable Red Goshawk, the endangered Mareeba pea and the endangered Buff-breasted button quail. The Buff-breasted button is one of Australia’s rarest birds and has only been seen a handful of times since its identification. No photographs of the bird exist.

“This clearing alone has contributed to 165,000 tonnes of Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions, equivalent to running 38,000 passenger cars for a year. Its impacts on the Great Barrier Reef are harder to estimate, but we are working on that,” said Dr Taylor

Dr Tim Seelig, Queensland Campaigns Director for TWS, said: “This is not some minor event. This was old-school clearing by bulldozers and chains on an industrial scale. It’s left a gaping hole in the heart of Cape York endangered world class woodlands and habitats for threatened species.”

The Olive Vale clearing was not given Commonwealth approval under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act before the destruction commenced. Despite calls from conservation groups for a full Commonwealth assessment before clearing, no action was taken by the Commonwealth. This allowed the proponent to clear 1525 hectares with no environmental approvals or assessments.

In contrast, the Mount Emerald Windfarm, also in North Queensland, would result in the clearing of 38 hectares but has been required to supply the Commonwealth with several years’ worth of site-specific data and still awaits approval.

“Allowing the clearing of 1525 hectares at Olive Vale without consequence is unacceptable,” Mr Picone said.

“If allowed to go ahead, another 30,000 hectares of primary forests will be bulldozed for cattle fodder and grazing, killing tens of thousands of native trees and animals in the process,” Dr Seelig said.

WWF, TWS and ACF are calling for the Commonwealth’s findings to be made public and for the government to identify the risks to threatened species, wetlands of national significance and the World Heritage Great Barrier Reef Marine Park.

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