Mining companies threaten Tarkine rainforests

An action to stop mining in the Tarkine in Hobart on February 14. Photo: The Wilderness Society.

The Tarkine wilderness in north-west Tasmania is under threat from iron ore mining.

The National Tarkine Coalition took Perth-based exploration firm Venture Minerals and the Tasmanian state government to the federal court last month to challenge a proposed iron ore mine at Riley Creek in the Tarkine.

Former federal environment minister Mark Butler gave Venture Minerals approval to begin exploration of the area in August last year. The National Tarkine Coalition hoped to have the decision overturned because Butler failed to consider its environment impacts.

The Tarkine rainforest is home to the last disease-free Tasmanian Devil population, as well as threatened species such as the wedge-tailed eagle and spotted-tailed quoll.

Venture Minerals has described the area as its “Province of Tin”, because the quality of the ore found in the area — known as “direct shipping ore” — means it can be fed straight to a blast furnace without processing and is considerably cheaper to extract.

Venture Minerals is a small exploration company owned by a group of shareholders. If its exploration is successful, it may sell the mine to a bigger mining corporation to turn a quick profit.

Venture Minerals has also developed plans for an open-cut mine in Mt Lindsey, a source of tin and tungsten reserves, also in the Tarkine. The area has the tallest myrtle trees in the Tarkine.

Mining and exploration of minerals such as tin and iron ore is an emerging threat to the conservation of the Tarkine. There is a proposal to develop 10 new mines over the next three to five years. Fifty-six exploration licences cover the region.

The Tarkine covers more than 447,000 hectares in Tasmania’s north-west. Less than 5% of the Tarkine is protected from mining. There are about 60 endangered land, water and aerial species. The Tarkine also has significant Aboriginal heritage. The Tarkinener Aboriginal people were the first human habitants of the ancient Gondwana forest.

The Tarkine also stores large amounts of carbon from the atmosphere.

The National Heritage Council has recommended 433,000 hectares of the Tarkine be given National Heritage status. However, former Labor environment minister Tony Burke allowed his decision on the issue to lapse.

The Courier-Mail reported in March 2011 that “British miner Beacon Hill resources has also been drilling in the Tarkine in search of magnetite for more than a month after being granted government approval in December”.

There is an increasing demand for base metals in developing countries and the Tarkine is paying the price for that demand. Long-term mining threatens to destroy plant and animal species that rely on the Tarkine forests, and contaminate streams and dams with run-off.

Federal environment minister Greg Hunt is winding back Heritage listings, which will allow mining and exploration companies to extract minerals from pristine temperate rainforest.

The Wilderness Society has been promoting the need for a national park for the Tarkine. It joined forces with Save the Tarkine in the federal court action against Venture Minerals.

The Tarkine rainforest must be protected as a world heritage site from corporations and for real security of the flora and fauna of Tasmania.