If you look at a satellite photo of New South Wales, it’s quite obvious that a fair bit of land clearing has taken place over the last couple of centuries. Apart from the scattered green blobs of national park and state forest east of the Great Dividing Range, there isn’t a lot of intact remnant forest to observe – except for one large oasis of dark green just north of Coonabarabran in the north-central agricultural plain.
This oasis is Pilliga Forest and it happens to be the largest unfragmented block of dry native forest and woodland left in eastern Australia. The Pilliga is a veritable Noah’s Ark for endangered wildlife that have sought refuge from years of land clearing and habitat destruction. Yet, even this Noah’s Ark isn’t immune from the long-arm of heavy industry. The coal seam gas rush has infiltrated deep into the Pilliga and its affects are having a detrimental effect on the forest's delicate ecosystem.
A recent ecological study supported by the Wilderness Society highlighted the importance of the Pilliga for many threatened species. The report confirms that the Santos coal seam gas project area in the Pilliga has national conservation significance and is vital to the survival of federally threatened species like the Pilliga Mouse and South-eastern Long-eared Bat.
According to ecologist and lead author of the report, David Milledge, 176 different species of vertebrate wildlife and 22 threatened species and communities were recorded during a five-day survey of the forest. As well as the Pilliga Mouse and South-eastern Long-eared Bat, results included the endangered Black-striped Wallaby and vulnerable Pale-headed Snake and Eastern Pygmy-possum.
The Pilliga is the only place in the world where you can find the tiny Pilliga Mouse, and the results of the report show that the area earmarked for coal seam gas mining contains a number of breeding sites for this species.
The report outlines that coal seam gas exploration has already caused substantial damage to the forest and progression to full-scale gas production could lead to local extinctions. The study also raises real concerns about the future of the important Pilliga population of the Koala as the results support previous findings of a severe decline in the area.
This report makes it crystal clear to both the Federal and State governments that the Pilliga forest is a world class wildlife refuge and coal seam gas has absolutely no place there if the unique ecology of the region is expected to survive.
- The report can be read here
- The plight of the Pilliga in a scathing feature story in the Global Mail