Threats to Wollemi National Park: from 8 new coal mining leases

David Hufton, member, NPANSW

The NSW Government has announced exploration and development of new coal mine leases in State Forests bordering Wollemi National Park, a UNESCO area.

As part of the NSW Government 2020 Coal Strategy eight new areas for coal exploration have been identified, four on the borders of Wollemi National Park.

Link to map: Areas in NSW coal regions available and excluded from future coal exploration and mining

The negative impacts to biodiversity from forest loss and coal mining would be catastrophic to the ecosystems and environmental values of the Greater Blue Mountains World Heritage Area (Wollemi Section).

Ganguddy-Kelgoola

“Ganguddy-Kelgoola” is one of the proposed coal leases bordering the Wollemi National Park and Wilderness Area and covers a nationally significant area of forest in Coricudgy State Forest.

The forest is home to nationally listed threatened species, including the critically endangered Regent Honeyeater, endangered Glossy Black-Cockatoo and the endangered Spotted-tailed Quoll.

Ganguddy-Kelgoola coal exploration area includes the catchment for Wollemi Creek, the Cudgegong river, Widden Brook, and Coricudgy and Blackwater creeks. The Cudgegong River catchment, which includes Rollen Creek montane peat swamp, has rare, unique plants and sphagnum bogs. These ancient, pristine creeks and rivers that contain unique sandstone pagodas, gorges and mountain tops would be exposed to toxic runoff from coal mining, coal dust pollution and destroyed by open cut mining.

The potential coal leases also surround Ganguddy-Dunns Swamp, a significant site to the Aboriginal peoples.  New coal mines could cause Dunn’s swamp to lose significant amounts of ground water and potentially be polluted from coal mining toxic spillages.

With the local wildlife and biodiversity devastated by 2019-2020 Gospers Mountain mega fire, it’s critically important that we protect our wild places and native animals from coal mining expansion.

The Greater Blue Mountains World Heritage Area (Wollemi) has no buffer zones and is at risk of these coal mines being constructed right up to its borders – an unacceptable risk to this globally significant UNESCO park.

Some of these sites identified for coal mines, including Coricudgy State Forest, are currently being assessed by the Australian Heritage Council to inscribe them on the National Heritage List as a step towards including them in the World Heritage Area itself.

Areas at risk of coal mining such as Coricudgy State Forest are of World Heritage Value and should be treated as such.

Climate Change Impacts

Australia is a country that is experiencing large scale, dangerous climate change impacts from human induced global warming (1.2° Celsius average global temperature rise) (IPCC) from burning fossil fuels and 7.5 million hectares of forests burnt in the 2019-2020 bushfires.  This threatens planetary and human heath with 50° Celsius summer heat waves becoming ‘normal’.

Our planet teeters on a climate change ‘tipping point’ where new coal mines could tip our planet to out of control climate change impacts from a 2° plus average temperature rise, global warming planet.

NSW should not deforest high conservation value state forests for coal mining that buffer UNESCO Wollemi National Park.

Australia does not need more coal resources as cheaper more efficient renewables are displacing the need for coal fired power. Coal is the most significant single contribution to the climate crisis. Extreme weather events are directly caused by a warming world due to mining and burning fossil fuels, triggering unprecedented storms, floods, droughts, heatwaves and fires. NSW lost 2.7 million hectares of National Parks (37% of total) and 830,000 hectares of native State Forests in the 2019-2020 bushfires.

The NSW Government should adopt a precautionary approach to NSW State Forests and cancel the development of coal exploration and mining in the eight areas identified by the NSW Coal Strategy. It should add Coricudgy State Forest to the NSW National Park estate because it contains World Heritage values.

 A moratorium on logging in the other seven forests coal exploration areas should occur.  Coal exploration areas (state forests) on the borders of Wollemi National Park should be considered as additions to Wollemi National Park (Kelgoola-Ganguddy, Rumker, Giants Creek, Hawkins).

Urgent action is needed to cancel these new coal leases. Global warming and its extreme global temperature impacts will accelerate and threaten the health and safety of all Australians. For a safe, liveable climate we need to keep fossil fuels in the ground and transition away from coal mining to clean energy hubs.

The State Forests that buffer Wollemi National Park have a higher biodiversity value as conservation forests and are internationally significant as potential UNESCO National Parks. New coal mining sets NSW on a dangerous climate path.

Keith Muir of the Colong Foundation says of Coricudgy State Forest (Kelgoola) “It’s a spectacular landscape that should not be mined for coal, ever. Those days of coal mining are gone forever.”

Haydn Washington (ecologist) says “Coricudgy State Forest was recommended for addition to wilderness in the original assessment by the Greater Blue Mountains Heritage Advisory Committee because of significant national wilderness qualities. Coal deposits in Kelgoola-Ganguddy coal lease are high ash content, inefficient in energy quantity and highly polluting. It would be madness to consider coal mining on the western border of Wollemi National Park because of the potential climate change emission risk of new coal mines and of the high, conservation significance of Coricudgy State Forest… Regional, renewable energy hubs are a better energy strategy rather than new, highly polluting coal mines.”

Economic Impacts

The Great Koala National Park: economic impact assessment & environmental benefit analysis (Newcastle University, Great Koala National Park Economic Impact Assessment and Environmental Benefit Analysis – Hunter Research Foundation ) demonstrates that converting high biodiversity state forests to National Parks has a more important economic and biodiversity value than using state forests for forest production or coal mining.

The University of Newcastle Study found that the proposed Great Koala National Park would add 175,000 hectares of state forests to a new national park. The new park would generate additional regional economic output of $1.2 billion over 15 years and $1.7 billion in biodiversity value. A new Koala National Park would generate 9,800 additional full-time jobs.

Thus, adding Coricudgy State Forest to Wollemi National Park would create thousands of additional sustainable new tourism jobs, tens of millions of biodiversity economic value for the long term and boost Rylstone-Mt Coricudgy (Wollemi) region visitor numbers. There is more economic and biodiversity value in converting these eight coal leases to National Parks rather than deforesting them for coal mines.

Conclusion

As Australia faces severe climate change impacts and biodiversity losses from deforestation, it cannot afford to mine and deforest these eight state forests. All these eight proposed coal mines should be added to the National Park Estate to protect pristine catchments and high biodiversity landscapes for an environmentally sustainable future.

Call to Action

Take action to cancel these new toxic coal mines threatening Wollemi National Park.

Sign the online petition at Protect the ancient forests for our future | Wilderness Society go to “Our Work” then “Wollemi National Park” then “Sign the Petition”.

Write a letter to Matt Kean (NSW Environment Minister) and Rob Stokes (NSW Planning Minister) or your local MP outlining why the eight new coal leases need to be cancelled and why Coricudgy State Forest deserves being added to Wollemi National Park because of its unique wilderness values.

Matt Kean NSW Environment Minister: office@kean.minister.nsw.gov.au

Rob Stokes NSW Planning Minister: office@stokes.minister.nsw.gov.au

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