Campaign group Save the Tarkine has condemned federal environment minister Mark Butler’s July 31 decision to approve an iron ore mine in the Tarkine wilderness in Tasmania’s northwest, saying it could guarantee the extinction of the Tasmanian devil.
The Tarkine is home to more than 60 rare and endangered animal and plant species. It is also home to the last remaining disease-free population of the Tasmanian devil. Since 2008, the devil has been listed as an endangered species.
Devil numbers have plummeted by 80% in recent years due to the spread of a contagious facial tumor disease. The disease has wiped out up to 90% of the animals in other regions of the state.
Save the Tarkine won a Federal Court injunction against the mine two weeks earlier. The court ruled that former environment minister Tony Burke, who had previously approved the mine, had ignored advice from his own department that warned the mine would likely introduce the disease to devils in the area.
Butler said new conditions placed on mine owners Shree Minerals would “minimise the risk to Tasmanian devils”.
The conditions include restrictions on private vehicle travel to the mine and a requirement that Shree Minerals give $350,000 to a program to protect the devil.
However, the new rules also allow Shree Minerals to kill two Tasmanian devils each year without penalty. Should the mine cause the deaths of more than two animals, the company will pay $48,000 for each animal killed.
The federal government has also put a cash price on the wedge-tail eagle. Shree Minerals can kill one eagle each year without penalty, but will pay $20,000 per eagle after that.
Tasmania’s Labor government welcomed the decision, with deputy premier Bryan Green saying he was delighted: “This is great news for the company and for the many people on the northwest coast who will benefit from the jobs and economic activity that this mine will produce.” The company says the mine will involve 70 jobs.
But Save the Tarkine said the mine approval “effectively constitut[ed] a decision for extinction” of the Tasmanian devil. It said it may challenge the approval in court once again.
Group spokesperson Scott Jordan said in a statement: “It appears that the minister has again ignored his legal responsibilities and has failed to properly assess the impact on the endangered Tasmanian devil.
“The advice tendered by the [environment] department clearly stated that the mine project is likely to introduce the devil facial tumour disease in to the last disease-free stronghold. This minister finds that acceptable.”
Former Greens leader and Save the Tarkine patron Bob Brown said on July 31: “Mark Butler is the new minister for extinction. Australia has two ministers for mining, and no minister for the environment.”