The NSW Government instrumentality Roads and Maritime Services (RMS), formerly known as the Roads and Traffic Authority (RTA), is planning to re-route a section of the Pacific Highway in the Clarence Valley. If the RMS proposal goes ahead there will be a severe impact on biodiversity. The upgrade, from Glenugie to the Iluka turnoff, will leave the old highway south of Grafton, pass through the Tucabia area and re-join the current highway route near Tucabia. This new route passes through significant areas of native vegetation which provides habitat for a variety of species, many of which are threatened.
Of particular concern is the Coastal Emu, a population which is listed as endangered in NSW. The proposed route dissects the last significant habitat of this species. According to local ecologist Dr Greg Clancy there is another population at Main Camp between Grafton and Casino (north west of the highway upgrade route) but the species is now apparently close to extinction in Bundjalung National Park, a coastal park north of the Clarence River, and is extinct in Broadwater National Park further to the north.
Dr Clancy is very pessimistic about the survival chances of the remaining Clarence Valley emus. He said, "The biology and ecology of the Coastal Emu is poorly known but it appears to undergo annual movements from coastal sites to areas to the west. The existing Pacific Highway constitutes the western boundary of the population centred on Yuragir National Park. The highway proposal is likely to prevent this movement as it will create a barrier to Emu movement. It is most unlikely that the usual underpasses constructed by the RTA (now the RMS) will be suitable for Emus. Emus do not handle fences very well and do not easily find exits from large paddocks and are therefore unlikely to find the underpasses they are supposed to use. It is most likely that the Emus will enter culverts to access areas to the west of the highway and therefore further isolation of an already declining population will occur."
Dr Clancy pointed out that changes to the route from Tyndale to the Harwood Bridge (across the Clarence River) would also affect the Emus. The proposed upgrade "originally ran at the western edge of the Emu's habitat but following representations by the Cane Growers of the area it has now been moved further east which will cause the northern birds to be isolated from habitat to the west of the new highway between Tyndale and Maclean if the highway is constructed there."
A large number of other threatened fauna as well as some flora species will be adversely affected if the proposed route goes ahead.
NSW-listed threatened fauna which will be adversely affected are:
Rufous Bettong, Powerful Owl, Yellow-bellied Glider, Grey-crowned Babbler, Diamond Firetail, Black-chinned Honeyeater, Brown Treecreeper and Squirrel Glider.
Federally-listed flora and fauna likely to be adversely affected are:
Square-fruited Ironbark, Quassia sp. ‘Moonee Creek’, Lindsaea incisa, Grevillea quadricauda, Spotted-tailed Quoll, Koala, New Holland Mouse, Australasian Bittern, Bush Stone-curlew, Green and Golden Bell Frog, Grey-headed Flying-fox, Eastern Osprey, Regent Honeyeater, Glossy Ibis, Swift Parrot, Australian Painted Snipe, Latham’s Snipe, Marsh Sandpiper, Sharp-tailed Sandpiper, Pacific Golden Plover, Magpie Goose, White-bellied Sea-Eagle, Cattle Egret, Eastern Great Egret, White-throated Needletail, Fork-tailed Swift, Rainbow Bee-eater, Rufous Fantail, Black-faced Monarch, Spectacled Monarch, Three-toed Snake-toothed Skink.
Conservationists believe that the only route that will reduce the impact on the ecosystems of the area is the orange route which approximates the existing highway with a small by-pass at Clarenza and another at Ulmarra. It was rejected by the RMS on social and economic grounds.