NSW WILDERNESS RED INDEX

Published by the Colong Foundation for Wilderness Ltd (September 1999)
2/332 Pitt Street Sydney 2000 ph 02 9261 2400; fax 029 299 5713

email keith@colongwilderness.org.au web site colongwilderness.org.au

NAME: Timbarra Plateau
NOMINATED BY: Colong Foundation for Wilderness 23 November 1998.
LOCATION: 25 km east of Tenterfield.
SIZE: 11,400 ha (nominated)
TENURE: Nominated Identified
State Forest 7,000 ha under assessment
Leasehold land 1,000 ha under assessment
Freehold land 3,400 ha under assessment

Wilderness Declared:

None

Wilderness Not Declared:

State Forest

Size: 7,000 ha
Percentage of entire nomination: 61%

Leasehold land

Size: 1,000 ha
Percentage of entire nomination: 9%

Freehold land

Size: 3,400 ha
Percentage of entire nomination: 30%

DESCRIPTION:

The Timbarra Wilderness is a largely isolated, high, undulating plateau area of intruded Ademellite which was formed during the Permian and contains a number of significant features. The sandy granitic soils support tableland and coastal hardwood communities, with occasional patches of rainforest in sheltered sites, and wet sedgelands in several areas. Nationally and regionally significant species include: Eucalyptus rubida ssp. Barbigerorum; Acacia floydii; Eucalyptus olida; and Eucalyptus scias ssp. apoda. The plateau is detached from the Great Dividing Range, apart from a narrow connecting ridge in the north, and has hence been able to provide a significant refuge for wildlife from human impacts and feral predation. The plateau falls away steeply into the valleys of the Timbarra River and Demon Creek.

The area is a biodiversity hot spot. In the forests of the western sector of the nominated area, 29 endangered species are known to occur. These include: mammals (Hastings River Mouse, Yellow-bellied Glider, Tiger Quoll, Rufous Bettong, Golden-tipped Bat, Greater Broad-nosed Bat and Brush-tailed Rock Wallaby); birds (Glossy Black Cockatoo, Powerful Owl and Sooty Owl); and amphibians (Stuttering Frog, Glandular Frog and recently discovered Peppered Frog). The wilderness contains a major overlap of biogoegraphic zones, with faunal representations of coastal, inland, temperate and sub tropical regions converging. The area is the only single site able to provide key habitat for the threatened Hastings River Mouse, Eastern Chestnut Mouse and Brush-tailed Rock Wallaby.

LAND USE HISTORY:

Aboriginal The area is part of the lands traditionally inhabited by the Bundjalung people. The granite tors on Bold Top Mountain are of particular ceremonial significance to the Aboriginal people of the area.
Grazing Scottish pastoralists settled the Rocky River in the 1860's.
Mining Gold mining had a brief but significant history at Malara Tops, being a very early example (1850s) of alluvial mining on Millera Creek and at Poverty Point (mining also took place at Lionville and Solferino in the 1890s). By the late 1870s the emphasis had shifted from the sluicing of gold to the weathered granites of Timbarra Plateau. Some tin mining also occurred along Pheasant and Grassy Creeks in the 1870s.
1988 Exploration by Auralia commenced and extensive drilling around the old gold workings was initiated.
1995 June 29: Capricornia Prospecting, a subsidiary of Ross Mining Ltd, submit a proposal and an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for an open cut gold heap leach mining project at Poverty Point on the plateau.
1996 April 6: Ross Mining granted Mining Lease 1386 over 409 ha, of which 80 ha will be completely cleared and developed as the mine operations area.
1997 Approval is granted for the Poverty Point mine to proceed. While the EIS cited very high faunal values present in the mine site, no species impact statement has been provided as part of the EIS during the mine approval process. Dr Andrew Smith of the NPWS described the Fauna Impact Study (FIS) provided by the developer as "inadequate" and "having no guarantee that habitat restoration and rehabilitation measures will be successfully implemented."
1998 May Ross Mining begin construction of the gold mine. During the operation, the mining releases 26 times as much arsenic as gold from the ore. Thirty million tonnes of toxic waste would be generated by the operation. Mr Simon Smith, Regional Manager of the Environment Protection Authority (EPA), has admitted that the waste heap will leak polluted water through its plastic liner.
1999 27 August: Ross Mining announces suspension of mining at Timbarra, claiming operations have been curtailed by environmental opposition. The gold price, while not claimed by Ross Mining as an attributing cause for closure, has fallen to a twenty year low of $US 253 ($397) an ounce.
Logging Cedar cutters moved into the Clarence Valley during the 1860s.
1917 First State Forests established in the Tenterfield area.
1993 EIS for Tenterfield Forestry Management Area operations, covering Malara State Forest is released.
1995 The Carr Government’s forestry reforms forestall approval of this forestry operations plan.

HISTORY OF CONSERVATION MEASURES:

1992 The Prime Minister and the Premiers of all Australian states, except Tasmania, sign National Forest Policy Statement. This Statement declares "until the assessments (of forests for conservation values) are completed, forest management agencies will avoid activities that may significantly affect those areas of old growth forest or wilderness that are likely to have high conservation value".
1995 March: Labor Party releases its Nature Conservation Policy for the State election. The Policy proposes 24 new parks including a 10,000 ha Demon National Park on the Timbarra Plateau.
1996 April: Demon Nature Reserve of 900 ha is dedicated over former Crown Land west of the Poverty Point Road. This is area is west of the area the ALP promised as a National Park.

September: Resulting from the Forestry Interim Assessment Process (IAP) all the forests of the Timbarra Plateau are deferred from logging pending the establishment of new forest reserves.

The Timbarra Protection Coalition is formed to campaign against the proposed gold mine at Poverty Point.

1997 June: Australian Conservation Foundation (ACF) lodge a request with Planning Minister Craig Knowles, for a Permanent Conservation Order on the Timbarra Plateau to prevent the Poverty Point gold mine from proceeding. The order is not granted.
1998 July: As part of the Comprehensive Regional Assessment (CRA) of NSW north-east forests, several areas of Commonwealth delineated wilderness are given informal identification by the National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS), including 11,400 ha of the Timbarra Plateau. The area is subsequently deleted due to a change in size criteria by bureaucrats to a minimum of 15,000 ha (the minium wilderness size criteria, agreed to by Commonwealth and State agencies and approved by all CRA stakeholders was 8,000 ha).

November: The Colong Foundation submits a letter of nomination for fiftteen ‘wilderness capable’ areas identified during the northern CRA, including Timbarra Plateau.

November 8: Blockade by the Timbarra Protection Coalition has been running 18 months and 30 arrests have been made.

Also in November the Government announces its CRA reserve and timber supply decision for the Upper North East Forest Region. None of the Timbarra Plateau is reserved as NPWS estate. An informal reserve is to be established under State Forest management, however the boundaries of this may be altered by Ministerial authority.

1999 February: The NSW Court of Appeal rules that the Land and Environment Court can hear the evidence provided by the Timbarra Coalition in their challenge to the development approval without the preparation of a species impact statement. The challenge had been earlier dismissed on these grounds.
19 March: The Carr Government presents its wilderness policy to environment groups. The Government commits to complete the Timbarra assessment and determine area for declaration by the end of 2000.

23 March: The office of Premier Bob Carr gives undertakings to the Total Environment Centre that leasehold state forest, under further consideration for reservation as wilderness, will not be logged.

THREATS:

Forestry operations Logging of the critical habitat on the plateau is only curtailed at the discretion of the Minister for Forestry.

The environmental impacts of logging include: soil compaction and erosion; pollution of streams with silt, sediment and ash from frequent fires; escaped regeneration burns and excessive production of CO2; introduction of noxious weeds and dieback; loss of biodiversity; destruction of flora and fauna; and roading of previously remote areas.

The environmental impacts of trails and construction of logging roads in wilderness areas include rubbish dumping, soil compaction and erosion, weed introduction and dissemination by Service and other vehicles, assisting the dispersal and foraging of feral animal, enabling arsonists to light wildfires in remote areas, and other adverse environmental impacts associated with off-road vehicle use and horseriding.

Recommendations: A logging moratorium should be reinstated over all state forests as well as the leasehold lands within the wilderness until these areas can be acquired with the Dunphy Fund for inclusion within the proposed Demon National Park. Revegetation and regeneration of logged and roaded areas should be undertaken by SFNSW, as was the case with Viper Scrub in Washpool. The State Forest areas subject to minerals objections should as an interim measure be degazetted and immediately proclaimed as Crown Reserve with the Director General of NPWS appointed as sole trustee.

Gold mining The Poverty Point open cut gold mine is already underway and involves the removal of some of the richest habitat on the plateau. The headwaters of Williams, Duncans and Nelson Creeks are being cleared and are subject to major open cut mining, with downstream impacts resulting from turbidity, stream sedimentation and the additional longer term impacts of gold processing.

There is an ever present risk of cyanide pollution from the heap leaching treatment process that uses two tonnes of sodium cyanide per day. Fanua, such as native mice and birds, are likely to be killed when visiting the treatment ponds.

The mining activities are expected to last four years, thus offering only short term economic benefits, but leaving a long term legacy of base metal and sediment pollution of the upper Clarence catchment.

Recommendation: The Government should issue a permanent conservation order over the plateau in light of the evidence of species impact which was not duely considered by Tenterfield Council in their approval of the project. ,The Court of Appeal finding that the Land and Environment Court should hear evidence from the Timbarra Protection Coalition should be upheld.

CONTACT ORGANISATIONS AND INDIVIDUALS

North East Forest Alliance
Big Scrub Environment Centre
123 Keen St
LISMORE NSW 2480
Contact: John Corkill Ph: 02 6622 4737
FAX: 02 6622 2676
e-mail brushbox@mail.nrg.com.au

Timbarra Protection Coalition
1/69 Magellan Street
LISMORE NSW 2480
Contact: Dr John Wilson Ph: 02 6737 6651
Mob: 041 857 4863

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