The way potential impacts on threatened species are assessed when compiling an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS), has always been a concern. This was highlighted recently when Essential Energy decided to move a transmission line in Lawrence, east of Grafton.
Despite assuring concerned citizens that they always minimise environmental impacts, their plan would arguably have had the greatest possible impact.
That choice required the removal of twelve old-growth eucalypts, including one Forest Red Gum where Koalas are regularly sighted. The ecologist's report also made the patently erroneous claim that the 200 year old trees had “few if any hollows”, and a legal requirement that an EIS must contain“a description of any feasible alternatives”, was ignored.
A mandatory search of wildlife atlas records was undertaken to determine what threatened species have been recorded in the vicinity. However, no survey was undertaken to determine if any of those species were actually present.
The EIS concluded that “The proposal will not have a significant impact on any threatened species that may use the trees”, and “With the implementation of mitigation measures described in this report, risk to threatened species that may periodically use the trees, is considered low”.
A search for those “mitigation measures”, found only an assurance that tree removal would not occur during their breeding season. For the 6 identified micro-bat species, that period was identified as spring. However, where micro-bats are involved, there is a well-recognised season when clearing should not occur, that is winter when they go into a type of hibernation known as “torpor'. Unsurprisingly, that fact received no consideration.
When that anomaly was raised, the response further highlighted their knowledge gaps, claiming bats live under loose bark on trees, and as the trees in question were smooth barked, they were unlikely to be used as habitat. The fact is that, while there are bat species that live under loose bark, none of the 6 identified species do that, with most known to use tree hollows.
Fortunately, locals have done their homework, and identified a route option which required virtually no tree removal, and that option is now under consideration.
- John Edwards
This article was originally published in the VOICES FOR THE EARTH column in The Daily Examiner on April 15, 2019