Massive portions of forests are being destroyed by mining and although there are efforts to rehabilitate the mined areas, it isn’t enough, environmentalists say.
A new report, called ‘A Thousand Cuts’, by the Western Australian Forest Alliance, the Wilderness Society and the Conservation Council of WA has found continued clearing of Western Australia’s South-West forests is putting vulnerable species and plant life under ‘unendurable strain’.
Bauxite mining is the primary cause of splitting West Australian jarrah forests into sections – creating fragmented forests, the report found.
Forests For Life campaign director Jess Beckerling stresses the consequences of fragmented forests to more than just the destroyed area.
“Although only a section of the forest is damaged, we can see that damage spreading to the surrounding forest as the water system is compromised,” she said.
Mining is heavily regulated in WA by state government departments. Recently, the state government moved to ban native forest logging from 2024.
From 2024, timber taken from Western Australia’s native forests will be limited to forest management activities that improve forest health, such as clearing for approved mining operations, such as Alcoa, a government media release states.
Alcoa have two bauxite mines in WA, but say they do not mine in old growth forests and that they are committed to meeting all Environmental Regulations applicable to its operations.
Murdoch University environmental and conservation scientist Dr Joe Fontaine said that after an area has been blown up, dug up and filled back in, the structure of the soil is completely different.
This effects the way rain is soaked into the soil and how plants will interact with the water.
Even if the same number of new trees are planted, trees that get replanted will require a lot more water and the way they use the water will be different. The size and density of the trees will be much less than before. The structure of the forest has changed and the animal life and patterns will be adversely affected.
“Ecosystems are complex. You just don’t get back what you had, because you changed it,” Dr Fontaine said.
“We’re never going to get back what we had. It gone. It’s now different.”
The latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report identifies the greatly mined northern jarrah forest to be specifically at risk of collapse already due to climate change.