Two new mines are being assessed within the Tarkine rainforest in north-west Tasmania. The Tarkine is well known for the public battles to save it from logging, and was given emergency National Heritage listing in 2009.
But that status lapsed in December 2010, and with the global price of minerals rising, mining companies began to explore the area. Ten mines have been proposed for the area — nine of them open cut. The first two mines planned will produce tin and iron ore.
The Australian Heritage Council recommended the Tarkine be protected as National Heritage because it “contains extensive high-quality wilderness as well as extensive, largely undisturbed tracts of cool temperate rainforest which are extremely rare.” This heritage listing is still under review by the federal government.
In July, campaign group the Tarkine National Coalition condemned federal environment minister Tony Burke for allowing the Tarkine’s emergency heritage protection to lapse, which means the environmental assessments for the mines will not have to take the rainforest’s heritage values into account.
Federal Greens leader Christine Milne also criticised the decision, saying: “These two mines between them will see nearly 200 hectares of rainforest destroyed, but it is the nine other mines which will follow which are the even greater threat. These two mines have only two years’ life each and will provide only 20 jobs each, which will most likely go to ready to go fly-in contract workers, not local Tasmanians.”
A major concern about mining in the Tarkine is that the area is the last remaining home for healthy Tasmanian devils. Beset by a deadly facial tumour disease, the devils’ numbers are plummeting. Devil populations in some areas have dropped by up to 95%.
In 2009, the federal government listed the Tasmanian devil as a endangered species. The Tarkine is a safe haven for devils because it is isolated from diseased populations. Destruction of this area could lead to their extinction.
Australian Workers Union secretary Paul Howes has said the mines need to be approved for the sake of jobs in Tasmania. In June he said: “It’s vital that mineral processing and exploration activities are allowed to continue on the Tarkine, so that Tasmania can also share the benefits of the resources boom.”
But the Tarkine National Coalition says if the Tarkine was given permanent heritage status it would to boost eco-tourism.