‘Too dam close’

THE choice of location for a February protest hosted by conservation groups may have seemed like an oddly remote one.

Members of the Jarrahdale Forest Protectors and WA Forest Alliance, along with community members and their families, met at a quiet stand of trees in the forest near Serpentine Dam, an hour’s drive from Perth’s CBD. 

Their 100-strong presence disrupted no one and their cries were heard only by black cockatoos flying overhead. But the location was carefully chosen. 

A few steps in the wrong direction would have put any errant protesters into a Reservoir Protection Zone established by the Department of Water and Environmental Regulation to maintain the quality of water at Serpentine Dam, an important source of drinking water for the Perth metro area. 

A pedestrian caught walking in an RPZ faces a hefty fine, and JFP’s Jeremy Perey was quick to point out the irony when the area has been pegged for mining and logging.

“The reason we’ve gathered here is because we want to highlight how unfair it seems and how inconsistent that they’re allowed to log in there and Alcoa is allowed to bulldoze and blast and excavate that area but you’re not allowed to go walk in there,” he told the assembled crowd.

The RPZ at Serpentine Dam, home to mature jarrah trees and vulnerable species like quokkas, is currently under threat from both timber logging under the DBCA’s Forest Management Plan, and from the expansion of bauxite mining giant Alcoa. 

According to the Forest Products Commission, a whopping 90 per cent of Jarrah logged is fated to become firewood, charcoal, or sawmill residue.

The McGowan government announced last year an end to native logging in 2024, so Jarrahdale stands to be one of the last stand-offs, though the JFP fear that the commission may try to rush a few more through before the ban comes into force.

“As taxpayers, we’re footing the bill to ruin this environment when there are perfectly acceptable sources of sustainable timber available elsewhere,” protest leader Jan Starr said.

“There are countless tree farms lying fallow or going broke because the FPC undercuts their business with half-baked plans like this.”

In a document released March 1, the Forest Product Commission published its intent to begin “Gap/Shelterwood/Thinning/Dieback Selection” of the area, formally called Serpentine 0320, in March-April.

But WA forestry minister Dave Kelly told the Chook on March 9 that “the Forest Products Commission advises that it has not made a final decision to conduct harvesting operations at the Serpentine-03 Coupe.”

Adding to the confusion, when the Chook contacted the FPC about the proposed logging, it directed us to the DBCA; when we contacted them, we were handballed back to the commission, which said it implements the forestry plan but is not responsible for the plan itself. 

Ms Starr said: “The FPC proceeds very quietly, not least because the whole point of their plan is to chop down mature jarrah trees which are some of the last remaining in our state.”

A DBCA spokesperson said the agency was required to “obtain technical guidance from the Department of Water and Environmental Regulation and the Water Corporation” because of the proximity of Serpentine 0320 to a drinking water catchment, but does not publicly list these reports. 

The protected area is also threatened by Alcoa’s proposal to expand into the area north of Serpentine Dam, which it is calling Myara North.

JFP and WAFA are urging Sandgropers to contact their local MPs and ministers to make their voices heard before FCP breaks new ground at Serpentine.

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