Peter Valentine | Conservation Officer
So much of great environmental significance often happens over the summer months. Some people think that developers take advantage of the fact that many people are distracted by summer holidays and, in their attempts to relax, may miss the brief opportunities to comment on proposed developments provided for some projects (but some of our processes get no public input). This year is no different and at a time when there are so many threats to wildlife, including our bird biodiversity and habitat, there is little respite for those who wish to protest as biodiversity goes to hell in a handbasket.
One of the really big issues affecting our region is the determined roll out by the Queensland Government of a quite inappropriate process for industrial wind turbine development along the peaks and ridges of the Great Dividing Range. False claims of green energy accompany the Government bandwagon and, while all of us surely do want a switch from fossil fuels to alternatives like solar and wind, projects must individually and collectively achieve their goals without biodiversity losses. This is definitely not the case now.
First problem is the Queensland Renewable Energy Zones (QREZ), a system to fast-track approval for these huge industrial developments in remnant vegetation communities of high biodiversity value. The simplistic definition developed by the energy promoters in the Queensland Government is evident in their maps. Nobody with any understanding of the environment would have drawn such a map – it’s the “terra nullius” approach to planning. On the other hand it is very likely meant to be deliberately deceptive to those of us watching. Look at the QREZ northern zone! It takes in parts of the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area, most of the Wet Tropics World Heritage Area and a vast area of southern Cape York Peninsula, and the inland savanna areas. Sleight of hand perhaps, when it is clear what is being fished for here are projects along the existing transmission lines, mostly along the rugged and exceptional ridge lines and rocky pavement country just west of the Wet Tropics World Heritage Area.
If the Queensland Government had any serious interest in developing and expanding alternative energy, rather than green-washing their continuing affair with fossil fuel companies, it would have undertaken environmental and biodiversity assessments across the region and used those to define the Zones. The Government has failed us with its simplistic approaches. Moreover, by denying public or community input to the process they have abandoned a key democratic principle. The Kaban industrial site was approved by the Queensland Government without any opportunity for public input. Similarly the Chalumbin industrial wind turbine project was immediately approved by the Queensland Government, without any public assessment or engagement. We have to thank the Federal Government’s Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (EPBC Act) for even the chance to comment. Queensland was happy to see Endangered species lost to gain what it might hope is a bit of green publicity for a flawed fossil Government.
Why the rush to destroy these remnant upland forests – and are they even the best wind resources available? On that matter we might find fault with the former Federal Government that held up for almost a decade the enabling legislation to support offshore wind turbines. Companies were ready to build off the coast of Victoria to supply wind energy where it was needed – southern Victoria – and with so much technical and environmental success stories already demonstrated in Europe and elsewhere. That legislative barrier is now gone and offshore developments will be contributing to our national alternative energy needs sooner rather than later.
It is interesting to note that such developments in the UK have addressed the potential conflicts with birds and have much to offer Australia about siting and management protocols….if we listen. It is well known that our offshore wind resources are among the very best in the world and, given our continental shelf geomorphology, those resources can be developed right where the energy is needed – or just 20 km offshore.
These targeted areas (promoted by the Queensland Government) are being proposed in some of the most important upland forests rich in significant biodiversity. Indeed these places would be first in line on biodiversity and ecosystem grounds to add to our protected area network: especially considering future roles in climate changed circumstances.
Everybody knows that Queensland is the most recalcitrant state when it comes to terrestrial protected areas – the lowest percentage of all states and territories. We struggle by huff and puff to get 8% (against WA 23%, Victoria 17% for example). In the challenge to get 30% by 2030 we need another 10% nationally and the greatest prospect is clearly Queensland. Where are these relatively undisturbed biodiversity assets going to come from if not these wonderful upland forests?
BirdLife Northern Queensland Branch and also BirdLife National Office have made submissions to the Federal Government opposing Chalumbin and will follow up with others. One critical bird species of concern is the Red Goshawk. But there are also others, including Masked Owls.
The CAFNEC submission on the Chalumbin PER was an excellent document and made 40 significant recommendations. We are fortunate to have such an accomplished environment centre for our region.
And right now there is another huge industrial wind turbine development in the upper Burdekin with even more species being threatened – submissions on the PER are due early April.
Another big issue we faced over summer was ongoing concern about second generation anticoagulant rat poisons and its impact on owls especially. And the increasingly urgent need to update the national environment legislation in the Federal Parliament. Both issues are being addressed by BirdLife national office. More than enough to give 2023 a troubling start.