Report says Pilliga forest a ‘Noah’s ark’ for declining species, but coal seam gas is a threat

A coal seam gas water pond - part of Santos' CSG operations - in the Pilliga Forest. Photo: Kate Ausburn

Stop Pilliga Coal Seam Gas released the statement below on October 24 about a new report prepared for the Northern Inland Council for the Environment and the Coonabarabran and Upper Castlereagh Catchment and Landcare Group.

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A new ecological study of the Pilliga Forest in north-west NSW has found it is a “Noah's Ark” or refuge for many bird and mammal species that are declining across Australia.

The Pilliga has national conservation significance and is vital to the survival of federally threatened species like the Pilliga Mouse and South-eastern Long-eared Bat.

Coal seam gas exploration has already caused substantial damage to the forest and progression to full scale gas production could lead to local extinctions.

“Our study of the Pilliga Forest included intensive wildlife surveys plus the collection of existing information and analysis of scientific literature on its values” said David Milledge, ecologist and lead author of the report.

“The Pilliga is unique because it is the largest unfragmented block of dry forest and woodland left in eastern Australia. It has become a ‘Noah's Ark’ or refuge area for plants and animals that are disappearing from habitats right across the country.

“We recorded 176 different species of vertebrate wildlife and 22 threatened species and communities during a 5 day survey of the forest. As well as the Pilliga Mouse and South-eastern Long-eared Bat, the latter included the endangered Black-striped Wallaby and vulnerable Pale-headed Snake and Eastern Pygmy-possum.

“The Pilliga is the only place in the world where you can find the tiny Pilliga Mouse and our results show that the area earmarked for coal seam gas mining contains a number of breeding sites for this species.

“Our study also raises real concerns about the future of the important Pilliga population of the Koala as the results support previous findings of a severe decline in the area.

“The risks of coal seam gas mining in such an important wildlife area are very serious, and key species may become locally extinct if commercial production is approved in the forest.

“Coal seam gas exploration in the forest to date has resulted in substantial environmental damage, including clearing of vegetation, habitat loss and fragmentation.

“We hope that the federal environment minister, Tony Burke, will now properly consider the new information in this report before he approves any further coal seam gas exploration in the Pilliga Forest", he said.

[Read the full report, National Significance: The ecological values of Pilliga East Forest and the threats posed by coal seam gas mining 2011-2012, here.]