A NEW self-guided tour developed by a group of eco-warriors is encouraging city folk to head into what’s left of WA’s unique jarrah forests to see what exactly is at stake as American mining giant Alcoa pushes ahead with the expansion of its bauxite mines.
Bauxite, which is used to produce aluminium, is generally found in shallow pools, forcing mining companies to stay on the move to maintain profitable extraction levels, particularly while a current world surplus pushes down the ore’s value.
Alcoa is poised to close its Huntly Mine in Dwellingup within five years and dig into a new site next door, named after the ghost town and former timber mill Holyoake. It also plans another minesite east of Jarrahdale it will call Myara North.
According to WA’s mines department Alcoa has cleared enough land to cover the City of Perth eight times over in the last decade.
The miner claims it has rehabilitated 77 per cent of the land it has cleared in Australia, but Jarrahdale Forest Protectors treasurer Diana Blacklock says “you only have to go and look” to see the forests aren’t what they once were.
“It’s fractured,” she said, noting that bushwalkers have reported that the forest’s biodiversity hasn’t recovered.
Ms Blacklock wants Perthites to see it for themselves using JFP’s 30-kilometre self-guided Jarrahdale Forest Tour, which starts in virgin forest near the small townsite’s cemetery.
The 17 stops along the tour include sites such as the remnants of a tree-sit used by logging activists in 2010, Serpentine Dam, the historic Balmoral Prisoner of War Camp, areas that have been mined and rehabilitated by Alcoa and others where bauxite mining looms.
JFP chair Jan Starr said very few mature trees remain.
“It’s that forest that has the most carbon stored. We need to keep whatever big timber we have to protect against climate change,” Ms Starr said.
Bauxite is responsible for less than 5 per cent of mineral sales in WA and employs just 6.2 per cent of the state’s mining sector.
Ms Blacklock says given bauxite’s minnow status within WA’s iron and gas-dominated mining behemoth, the stakes are too high if WA were to lose much more of its jarrah.
Alcoa says it has only mined 4 per cent of its mineral lease and has plans to double that.
Ms Blacklock said JFP have been trying to get specific data on flora and fauna diversity within rehabilitated areas from Alcoa, but says the company’s published information was a bit thin.
She finds this worrying since Jarrahdale is home to a population of quokkas, classified as vulnerable.
JFP has started collaborating with scientists to create their own independent data sets from rehabilitated forests.
Alcoa’s expansion plans will be subject to public review during an Environmental Protection Authority assessment at the end of the year.
In the meantime Ms Blacklock has urged people to contact their local member of parliament to lodge their disapproval.
by CARSON BODIE