18 January, 2015

Submission on behalf of BirdLife Southern NSW Conservation Subcommittee

BirdLife Australia is Australia's peak bird conservation organisation. We represent over 65,000 supporters across the country. We are dedicated to providing a voice for Australia's birds.

The BirdLife Southern NSW Branch conservation subcommittee thank you for the opportunity to comment on the Planning Assessment Commission (PAC) review of the proposal to extend the operations of the Centennial Coal Airly Mine. Our comments follow below:

1. The Capertee Valley has been designated by BirdLife International as an Important Bird Area (IBA no. 24546). This designation was granted based on the extraordinary diversity of bird species found in the valley; there are at least 216 species present within the IBA. The Project Application Area falls within the Capertee Valley IBA and has potential to impact upon this area.

2. The Capertee Valley is the world's most important breeding area for the Regent Honeyeater which is listed as endangered under the EPBC Act and critically endangered under the TSC Act and internationally under IUCN. A minimum of 55.28 ha of the Project Application Area is considered critical habitat for the species, but the actual area of impact upon Regent Honeyeater habitat is likely to exceed this.

3. The Project Application Area also supports 16 other bird species that are listed as vulnerable on either the TSC Act or EPBC Act.

4. The Project Application Area encompasses a total area of 3,982 ha. While most of this is underground disturbance, surface facilities will permanently remove 39.09 ha of vegetation. This area will not be restored for at least 20 years. This represents a substantial, long-term loss of primary habitat for many endangered bird species.

5. BirdLife commends the decision to avoid removal of mature Box-Gum woodland from proposed Reject Emplacement Area 1 (REA1) by proposing Reject Emplacement Area 2 (REA2). However impacts to threatened bird habitat will not be entirely avoided by doing this. Section 7.1.1 states "The scattered trees are not considered to comprise woodland as their distance and lack of contiguous understorey does not provide sufficient habitat to be considered anything more than dispersed paddock trees." This statement is negligent. It is a known fact that isolated paddock trees contribute some of the most important
remaining foraging habitat for the Regent Honeyeater and the TSC Act and EPBC Act listed Endangered Swift Parrot (Lathamus discolor) as well as the Vulnerable honeyeaters, Painted Honeyeater (Grantiella picta) and Black-chinned Honeyeater (Melithreptus gularis gularis). This is because of the abundance of mistletoe (Amyema spp.) and high nectar flows from flowers in these large trees. Paddock trees also tend to occur in lower elevation areas soil nutrients are higher leading to enhanced nectar supply. The loss of
any large native paddock trees will have impact to local populations of these threatened species by further depleting scarce food supplies

6. BirdLife is not entirely convinced that the mapping of the vegetation in REA2 is correct. The field inspection by Roget Lembit on the 18th June 2014 is inadequate as it occurred during winter when native grasses have died off and seed-head is mostly undetectable (making grass species diversity and accurate species identification questionable). During the winter months, native herbage has usually driedout or grazed by herbivores at this time and annual exotics come to dominate. During this period, it is
impossible to get an accurate representation of the native grass and herb assemblages in order to determine whether the grassland community qualifies as the Endangered Ecological Community (EEC) "Box-Gum woodland derived native grassland (DNG)". Early spring is the recognised time to undertake surveys of grassland assemblages to determine presence of Box-gum woodland DNG. Failing this, surveys may be conducted in autumn but only after sufficient rains. All other times are inadequate for making decisions on the presence of the DNG form of this EEC.

7. The loss of tree hollows is a listed `Key Threatening Process `under the TSC Act and likely to impact on a larger number of threatened birds including the Vulnerable Brown Treecreeper (Climacteris picumnus victoriae). BirdLife maintain that the direct removal of any tree hollows should be avoided, and if unavoidable should be offset irrespective of whether such hollows occur in historically cleared, or woodland environments. The proposal will result in the direct loss of at least seven small (2 - 10 cm) hollows, one medium (11 - 20 cm) hollow and two large (>20 cm) and many additional hollow-bearing
trees from within the surface disturbance areas.

8. The habitat contained within the Project Application Area currently provides connectivity between the Capertee National Park to the north and the Gardens of Stone National Park to the south. The fragmentation or loss of any of this habitat through building of roads, access tracks and other surface facilities will affect habitat and the movement of avifauna species across the landscape.

9. The Project Application Area contains four major creek systems; Airly-Coco Creek, Emu Swamp Creek, Gap-Genowlan Creek and Torbane-Oaky Creek. Genowlan Creek is the most important single location for breeding by the Regent Honeyeater in Australia. Regent Honeyeaters in the Capertee Valley primarily nest in Needle-leaf Mistletoe (Amyema cambagei) growing in River Oak (Casuarina cunninghamii), this habitat is dominant along the lowland areas of Genowland Creek and is also present along Coco and Airly Creeks.

10. Centennial Coal and RPS have provided no proof or scientific backing to show that that subsidencerelated effects (a section of Genowlan Creek is predicted to have a groundwater drawdown of up to 1.1m) on natural drainage will not permanently affect vital Regent Honeyeater streamside breeding habitat which could potentially contribute to the Regent Honeyeater's extinction.

11. All of the listed creeks provide important water sources and habitat for the threatened woodland bird species discussed. All of these creeks are threatened with accidental mine water discharge. The number of cases of environmental spills from inadequate waste water management and poor storm water holding capacity is alarming and enough to suggest that a spill will one day occur as a result of the proposed expansion of Airly Mine.

12. The lack of mention of Needle-leaf Mistletoe (Amyema cambagei) in the total flora species list for the entire Project Application Area, or mention of `Needle-leaf Mistletoe in River Oak Forest' as important habitat for the Regent Honeyeater is cause for concern as this is the most crucial habitat for Regent Honeyeater in the Capertee Valley. The omission of this brings BirdLife to question the rigour and validity of background research undertaken for the entire Flora and Fauna Appendix Report (Appendix H).

13. There is no suitable explanation as to how RPS and Centennial Coal determined that MU 20 (Capertee Rough-barked Apple - Redgum - Yellow Box Grassy Woodlands) is the only `Critical Habitat' for the Regent Honeyeater in the Project Application Area.

14. The term `Critical Habitat' is officially only given to habitat which has been declared under the OEH `Critical Habitat Register'. Only four species have been allocated `Critical Habitat' under this process to date, the Regent Honeyeater is not one of them. However, this must not detract from the reality that much habitat within the Project Application Area is considered extremely important and critical to the survival of the Critically Endangered Regent Honeyeater.

15. Any vegetation community which contains the important feed trees, White Box (Eucalyptus albens), Yellow Box (E.melliodora), Blakely's Red Gum (E.blakelyi) and the breeding/feeding resource Needle-leaf Mistletoe (Amyema cambagei) and its host River Oak (Casuarina cunnignhamii) that occurs in the vicnity of the Capertee Valley is crucial to the survival of the Regent Honeyeater. This means that all tracts of MU 54 (Capertee - Wilgan Riparian Rough-barked Apple - River Oak Riparian Forest), MU 42 (Capertee
White Box - Tumbledown Red Gum - Ironbark - Callitris Shrubby Woodland), MU 38 (Capertee Grey Gum - Narrow-leaved Stringybark - Scribbly Gum - Callitris -Ironbark Shrubby Open Forest )and MU 21 (21 Capertee - Wolgan Slopes Red Box -Grey Gum - Stringybark Grassy Open Forest) should be included in the RPS `Critical Habitat' map for the Regent Honeyeater across the Project Application Area (see Page lxiv in Appendix H). This means the area of `Critical Habitat' for Regent Honeyeater in the Project Application Area will greatly exceed the initial (unrealistic) calculation of 55.28 ha.

16. Further targeted survey of Regent Honeyeater during the breeding season and non-breeding (foraging) seasons should be carried-out across the Project Application Areas, ideally using both observational survey methods and passive acoustic devices (e..g. SongMeters). This will assist in establishing where birds are present and possibly breeding across the Project Application Area.

17. Impacts of subsidence on vegetation and bird habitat (e.g. through dieback caused by the shearing of tree roots, or alteration of tree root access to ground water) is overlooked in this report and not addressed adequately enough to provide any satisfaction that impacts will not be significant.

18. Subsidence will cause the collapse of pagoda formations, cliff lines, overhangs and other outcropping sandstone formations. This may cause direct impact to roosting Sooty Owl (Tyto tenebricosa) listed as Vulnerable under the TSC Act, and breeding habitat of the rare Rockwarbler (Origma solitara) which is the only species of bird that is endemic to NSW.

19. BirdLife recommends that subsidence risk be audited by environmental agencies that are impartial (e.g. not employed by Centennial Coal). Any potential impacts upon native vegetation should be adequately documented, released to the public and addressed by Centennial Coal.

20. BirdLife maintains that offsets are rarely an appropriate response to proposed biodiversity or native vegetation loss http://www.birdlife.org.au/documents/POL-Offsets-Policy.pdf Any consideration of offsets should address all surface area disturbance vegetation losses (including derived native grasslands) and any subsidence or other mine-related vegetation dieback at like for like ratios or more. Offsets must comply with both Commonwealth (EPBC Act) and State (Biobanking or an adequate Conservation Agreement).

We appreciate this chance to comment on issues that we are most passionate about and we look forward to being informed of the final decisions of the PAC process.

Yours sincerely,
Birdlife Southern New South Wales
Conservation Subcommittee
IP Address: ppp121-44-208-33.lns20.syd7.internode.on.net -

Submission: Online Submission from company BirdLife Australia (org_objec

click here to read the Birdlife submission on Planning's web site

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