Wednesday 30 December 2015


Two weeks of fauna surveys undertaken recently as part of the federally funded Upper Coldstream Project at Pillar Valley, has again confirmed the high concentrations of native species that occur there.

Already more than 900 native plants, including 43 rare or threatened species, have been found, and this latest survey has brought the total number of threatened fauna recorded by the project team to 27.

As Project partners with the Nature Conservation Council, Clarence Environment Centre volunteers have been assisting highly experienced ecologists undertaking the survey, which involved the use of a variety of traps for safely capturing the animals which turned up some exciting finds.

Along with the more common Antechinus, Bush Rats, and Melomys species, were the rare New Holland Mouse, and possibly a Pale Field Rat. The latter, whose range has diminished greatly over the past century would be a significant find, should hair samples confirm its identification.

Night time call play-back and spotlighting identified Powerful Owls, Yellow-bellied and Squirrel Gliders, Brush-tailed Phascogale and Rufous Bettongs, all listed as threatened.
Also a number of microbat species were caught and identified before release, including threatened Little Bentwing, and the Eastern Long-eared Bats.

Call play-back and spotlighting begins soon after 8pm and often continues until midnight. Then, to ensure the well-being of any captured animals, all traps are checked in the early morning, before the sun heats up, so the ecologists and some of the volunteers camped on-site rather than lose another hour's sleep driving home.

It was a great learning experience for the volunteers and landowners who chose to be involved. For example, play-back of recorded calls of nocturnal species over a loud-speaker, do not always achieve the expected response. At one site, playing Yellow-bellied Glider calls failed to get any response, but playing a Powerful Owl call minutes later resulted in multiple glider calls as the animals reacted with warning calls to the perceived danger. Then a few minutes later, an ecologist spotted a Powerful Owl silently flying in to check out what it believed was an unwelcome interloper.

Another survey is planned for next year.

- John Edwards

 NOTE: The Coldstream River flows into the Clarence River between Ulmarra and Maclean.  Pillar Valley is a rural area to the east of Grafton.

Saturday 26 December 2015


Community opposition to unconventional gas-mining has been rewarded by two victories in the last month.  However, there are still many areas of Australia which are under threat from this invasive and damaging industrySome areas - particularly in Queensland - are in full production with the impacts on the environment and landholders serving as a stark warning to places where full development has not yet taken place.

This post refers to two recent victories and to two areas where strong campaigns have been mounted to protect the land from fracking.

NSW Northern Rivers Now Gasfield Free

NSW Northern Rivers  campaigners against unconventional gas-mining are celebrating the departure of Metgasco, the mining company holding the remaining Petroleum Exploration Licences (PELs) in their region. The Metgasco Board had accepted a NSW Government offer to buy back the remaining PELs for $25 million but had to put the proposal to a shareholders' meeting.  On December 16 a majority of the shareholders accepted the deal.

This means that the Northern Rivers are now gasfield free, something community members have been working towards for years.  The campaign has seen confrontations at Glenugie (near Grafton), at Doubtful Creek (near Kyogle) and at Bentley near Casino and Lismore.  The strength of opposition grew steadily so that thousands were ready to oppose the arrival of the drilling rig at Bentley.  This, plus reduced majorities for local state government politicians in the election early in 2015- and the loss of the seat of Ballina - finally convinced the Coalition Government that the industry was not welcome.

Another Victory in the Northern Territory

The Northern Territory Government was recently assessing an  application by Palatine Energy to explore for shale oil and gas across more than 10000 square km of Watarrka National Park about 300 km south-west of Alice Springs.  Fracking was on the agenda if the company got approval.  Watarrka, contains Kings Canyon gorge, which is a very significant tourist attraction in Central Australia.

The Northern Territory Government initially ignored formal requests by the traditional owners for the park to be protected from an exploration bid.  Consequently a group of traditional owners visited Canberra  in late November to ask the Federal Environment Minister for an emergency heritage listing for the National Park.  Following the traditional owners' trip to Canberra, the NT Government decided to reject the mining applications.  So the traditional owners and other NT community members concerned about unconventional gas-mining are celebrating a victory after a three year campaign.

Image used in the Watarrka campaign

Queensland's Channel Country Under Threat 

The Channel Country  in south-western Queensland is a sparsely populated arid area  of  floodplains and rivers which flow into Lake Eyre in northern South Australia.  The landscapes in this region are home to dozens of rare flora and fauna as well as an organic beef industry. Almost all of the Channel Country is covered by shale gas exploration licences.  Until 2013 there were strong legal protections to prevent fracking on the floodplains - a procedure which would be inevitable to extract the shale gas. However, these measures were abolished by the former Newman State Government.  The current Queensland Government promised to restore protection to the floodplains but so far has not honoured this promise.

If the protection is not restored, there are concerns that the region could be covered by 10,000 shale gas wells.  Because of the threat that this industrialisation of the landscape would bring to water resources and to the natural environment as well as to the beef  industry, a strong campaign is  being developed to force the Government to do what it has promised.

Western Australia's Kimberley Region Also Under Threat

The Kimberley region of northern Western Australia is a wonderful natural area visited by thousands of tourists every year. The area is covered by gas licences and a range of companies have plans to frack for unconventional tight gas with experts estimating that more than 40,000 gas wells could be fracked if the industry is allowed to proceed to full production.

A local group, Frack Free Kimberley, has been campaigning to get a moratorium on fracking in the region. Yulleroo Camp is one of the centre points of the campaign. Yulleroo, on Yawuru country, 70 km east of Broome, where Baru Energy plans to frack two wells, is the site of a protest by Yawuru Traditional Owner Micklo Corpus and his supporters. 

The area is important ecologically.  The wells are located at the head of internationally significant wetlands which flow into Roebuck Bay, a Ramsar listed wetland. Yulleroo is also home to an important population of threatened Greater Bilbies.

Thursday 17 December 2015


On December 15, two days before the closing of their share offer, Enova Community Energy announced that it had secured more than the required minimum to commence retail operations in the NSW Northern Rivers area.  So Enova is set to become the first community owned electricity supplier in the country.  Its progress is certain to be watched with interest by people in other parts of Australia who are keen to see the expansion of renewable energy as well as communities taking power over their own energy futures.

Of the $3,238,000 raised by the time of the announcement, nearly 75% of the total of 857 share applicants came from the local community.  "This indicates the high level of local support from the local community, making us determined to take control of our renewable future, providing local jobs, enabling new technologies and community benefit projects across the Northern Rivers Region,"  said Alison Crook, the Enova Chair.

Some background on the establishment of Enova was given on September 19 in a CVCC post Enova: New Northern Rivers Energy Retailer.

For further information:  Enova website.

Founding Partners, L-R Steve Harris, Alison Crook, Melissa Mac Court, Patrick Halliday


Saturday 12 December 2015


The Northern Quoll (Dasyuris hallucatus) , a carnivorous marsupial, is the smallest of the four Australian quoll species.  It is listed as endangered under the federal Environment Protection and Biodiversity (EPBC) Act.  In the Northern Territory it was listed as critically endangered in 2012.

 Photo: Australian Wildlife Conservancy

Northern Quolls, once very common in the northern part of the Northern Territory, became critically endangered as feral cane toads[1] spread across the north. Twelve years ago quolls from the Darwin and Kakadu areas were collected and relocated to two cane-toad free islands with suitable habitat off north-east Arnhem Land.  They have flourished there and now number in the thousands.

Some of these quolls are now to be returned to the mainland where they will be trained to leave cane toads alone. Initially they will be re-housed in the Territory Wildlife Park where they will be fed on cane toad sausages.  This food, which will smell like cane toad, will make the quolls ill.  The scientists conducting this conditioned taste aversion program expect that the quolls will learn to reject the toads as a food source. After the training they will be released in the Mary River district of Kakadu National Park which contains suitable quoll habitat.

The animals which are released will be closely monitored so that the success of the program can be gauged.

An earlier trial of this taste aversion in Kakadu led to the survival of some quolls and the passing on of the cane toad aversion to baby quolls – which gives the scientists hope that quolls can be successfully reintroduced to areas where cane toads are living.

There are also plans to use the cane toad sausages with wild quolls in the Kimberley area in the hope this will lead to their survival in spite of the toad invasion.

[1] Cane toads (Bufo marinus), natives of Central and South America, were introduced to Queensland in 1935 in the mistaken belief that they would control pest beetle in sugar crops.  Since then they have moved south along the east coast with established populations as far south as the Clarence Valley (Yamba and Brooms Head) in NSW and west across the Queensland savanna into the Northern Territory and across into northern Western Australia. They have had a devastating impact on native wildlife which has eaten them  (e.g. goannas and quolls)

Tuesday 8 December 2015


The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), a trade agreement between Australia and another 11 countries around the Pacific, has been negotiated over a period of five years. It is significant because the countries involved collectively represent over 40 per cent of world Gross Domestic Product (GDP).

The text of this agreement was recently released.  After years of speculation Australians now have the opportunity to see details of what the federal Government has declared will bring enormous benefits to the country.

The chapter on the environment is a matter of concern to community members who see the long-term necessity for strong environmental protection.

Matthew Rimmer, Professor in Intellectual Property and Innovation Law at Queensland University of Technology has pointed out some weaknesses.

“The agreement has poor coverage of environmental issues, and weak enforcement mechanisms.  There is only limited coverage of biodiversity, conservation, marine capture fisheries, and trade in environmental services.  The final text of the chapter does not even mention ‘climate change’ – the most pressing global environmental pressure in the world.”

Australia’s Trade Minister, Andrew Robb, dismissed concerns about the treaty not addressing climate change claiming that as a trade agreement it did not need to address climate change.

Trade agreements deal with economic matters.  Climate change is an economic issue because to reduce its impact we need to move to a low carbon economy which obviously presents enormous economic challenges – and opportunities.  Failure to see the need to include climate change suggests an ostrich-type head in the sand mentality.

Another concern is the controversial clause giving foreign companies the right to sue Australian governments which introduce laws they claim have harmed their investments. We have already seen this clause in use in another trade agreement with a cigarette company suing Australia over its plain packaging laws.

Minister Robb has claimed that he has negotiated safeguards on this.  However, Dr Patricia Ranald from the Australia Fair Trade and Investment Network said, “The general ‘safeguards’ in the text are similar to those in other recent agreements which have not prevented cases against health and environmental laws.”

There are serious environmental concerns about the TPP.

-          Leonie Blain

This post was published in the VOICES FOR THE EARTH column of The Daily Examiner on November 16, 2015.