Bauxite miners want to clear WA forest of Seven Rottnest Islands
But the EPA wanted to examine it as part of its review of the Pinjarra expansion to better assess the cumulative impacts of multiple mining operations on the forest on which Alcoa holds a 700,000 hectare lease from Mundaring to Collie.
The company says it will only harvest 8% of the lease which includes the Jarrah forest.
Meanwhile, South32 intends to clear 4,399 hectares near the rural town of Boddington, which would create an additional 150 jobs and allow it to maintain its currently approved extraction rate of 18.8 million tonnes per year and its annual refinery output of 4.7 million tons.
The plans have raised concerns among environmentalists and recreational users of the forest as tourism in towns like Dwellingup increases.
Just 35 kilometers from the Perth suburb of Armadale are popular hiking trails at Sullivan Rock. A short walk on the trail allows you to see approaching mining, which could come closer if Alcoa expansion is approved.
The state government recently announced a ban on native logging in the state from 2024, but the clearing of trees for mining purposes will be exempt.
Jess Beckerling, head of the WA Forest Alliance, said the forest that would be lost to bauxite mining had high conservation values.
“The Northern Jarrah Forest has been identified as one of the few Australian ecosystems most at risk of climate collapse in the latest report from the UN Panel of Experts on Climate Change,” it said. she declared.
“Doing more damage – as this proposal clearly would – would be an unpardonable act of self-sabotage for our state and set conservation efforts back decades.”
The forest – home to endangered species like black cockatoos, woylies and mainland quokkas – is part of the globally significant South West biodiversity hotspot.
Wilderness Society WA campaigns manager Patrick Gardner wants the EPA to go further than its two individual environmental reviews of the South32 and Alcoa extensions by carrying out a strategic assessment, similar to that undertaken in the Gulf of Exmouth.
“The IPCC prognosis [of forest collapse] finds itself uncomfortable alongside state agreements that sanction this massive volume of native forest clearing,” he said.
“These agreements urgently need to be reviewed and modernized to help protect what little native forest we have left.”
Operations support thousands of jobs
Alcoa’s mining operations in WA support approximately 3,750 jobs at its sites, two port operations and three refineries.
Liberal MP for Canning, Andrew Hastie, said the company was an important employer for Peel Region, but there were important social, environmental and strategic factors to consider.
“I have heard from residents of Dwellingup worrying about the impact the proximities of the expansion could have on their community,” he said.
“The region has also benefited from the growth of adventure and nature tourism over the past few years, with support from all levels of government. It is important not to undermine the progress of the booming tourism industry and the jobs it generates.
“On the issue of expanding raw bauxite exports, I fear that we are not jeopardizing the long-term viability of our own strategic industries and the jobs they support. We refine nearly 7% of the world’s alumina here in WA. We don’t want to lose that ability.
The conundrum of rehabilitation
South32 has purchased private land with similar forest values to what it intends to clear as compensation and the two companies are rehabilitating mine sites by planting trees where the operations took place.
Alcoa shifted from planting eucalyptus and east coast pine to native species like jarrah and marri beginning in 1988. The company’s rehabilitation practices evolved to the point where it conserves topsoil that it takes from the ground and puts it back after mining.
But Grant Wardell-Johnson, adjunct assistant professor of forest ecology and environmental management at Curtin University, said any further expansion of bauxite mining would be a step backwards, the fragmentation of the forest by the mining cobweb being a big concern.
“Logging is bad enough because it effectively exploits the timber resource, but logging the substrate destroys the entire Earth system,” he said.
In a dry climate and falling water table, the northern jarrah forests could see the water table touching bedrock by the middle of the decade.
“Once the water table reaches the bedrock, the jarrah forest only survives on falling rain rather than constantly drawing from a water supply,” he said.
Professor Wardell-Johnson said miners should just plant shrubs and no jarrah at all.
“You won’t raise the water table, but you will slow the loss of that water table,” he said.
A spokesperson for South32 said it works hard to be responsible stewards of the environment and treat natural resources with care so they are available for future generations.
He said clearing would be avoided for areas of high environmental value.
“We are committed to continuously improving our sustainability performance and minimizing the impact of our operations and aim to create sustainable social, environmental and economic value,” the spokesperson said.
“In 2021, we updated our internal environmental standard with new minimum performance requirements for land disturbance and remediation activities.
“We are committed to continually rehabilitating the lands we clear as a result of our operations, helping to restore habitat for flora and fauna. Where there is residual impact, we will compensate for habitat loss through direct and indirect compensation packages.
The comment period on the public environmental review of the Worsley expansion of South32 ends on August 15.
A public consultation for a similar review for Alcoa is due to open soon.