THE IMPACT OF BAUXITE MINING IN THE DARLING RANGE 

- from WalkGPS.com  Feb. 2012

Click on map for larger version.

'Off-track' (or cross-country) bushwalking in W.A.'s conditions has minimal, if any, impact on the environment, but ironically the absence of  worn “trails” in popular traditional bushwalking areas, and the lack of  published 'route' maps for most areas, can be mistakenly taken to suggest such areas are seldom visited and have no special recreational amenity value to the community and bushwalkers in particular.

Several cross-country walking areas on WalkGPS will eventually be affected by an expansion of a major bauxite surface strip-mining project within the southeastern headwaters of the Canning River and Mundaring Weir water catchments, along a corridor stretching 55 km from Albany Highway in the south to beyond Brookton Highway in the north (see map). These areas have high recreational value to the community for bushwalking. They are:  Bannister Hill Walk, Geddes Rock Walk, Gibbs Rocks Walk, Upper Dale River Walk, Qualen Road Walk and Christmas Tree Well Walk.

See WalkGPS video, "Bannister Hill -once was a Conservation Park"  and WalkGPS photomovie, "Disappearing wandoo woodlands & laterite breakaways" for  examples of the current and future impacts of bauxite mining.

The Department of Water (DoW), in its "Mundaring Weir Catchment Area Drinking Water Source Protection Plan" (June 2007; 5.5Mb pdf) presents its views on the potential water quality risks of bushwalking and camping activities (Table 1, p.39-42) but makes no mention of future mining within that same catchment. The DoW's "Canning River Catchment...Plan" (WRP#77, June 2007; 5Mb pdf) notes that "bauxite mining does not currently occur in the catchment" but will be "acceptable if operated in compliance with conditions..." The mining expansion plans were known, and have since been approved, yet the DoW Plan mentions only ALCOA's separate mining lease and entirely ignores the more relevant, future Worsley operations; Table 1, p.25.  

In an  article "Bauxite Mining in Jarrah Forests" (8 August, 2007; blog) a former General Manager of CALM, Roger Underwood, noted that "Apart from the loss of native forest, there has been a significant loss of run-off into streams and dams in the mined-over catchment areas. Pits have been designed to retain rather than shed rainfall, so run-off to forest streams is close to zero, and in many cases old mine pits cover nearly 50% of each sub-catchment. This has obvious impacts on water resources and aquatic ecosystems."  However, it seems that the DoW remains more concerned with the impact of bushwalkers than with bauxite miners.

Worsley Alumina (*) bauxite mining expansion Environmental Review and Management Programme (ERMP), May 2005  stated there are only “a small number of recreational sites within and near the proposed mining areas” and “most of  the identified sites are in the area around the Bibbulmun Track” (from ERMP Executive Summary, p.23). The ERMP did acknowledge a number of the walk areas that are included on WalkGPS (refer ERMP Vol. 1, Chap. 3, Section 8.2.2). 

Worsley, in consultation with the State, has a right to expand the mining on its lease which was awarded in 1983. The State's Environmental Protection Authority (EPA) has in turn a responsibility to the community to ensure that “existing and planned recreational uses are not compromised” (refer ERMP Executive Summary, p.52). The EPA is an independent Authority with the broad objective of protecting the State's environment.

The EPA in February 2008 gave final approval for the Worsley expansion to proceed.  Interestingly in late 2009 the former Chairman and CEO of the EPA (1986-1993 and part 2007), Barry Carbon, was appointed Chairman of start-up company Bauxite Resources Limited (BRL; ASX-listed in late 2007) which is currently the largest holder of bauxite-prospective acreage in the Darling Range. Prior to his time with the EPA Mr Carbon also led environmental activities for bauxite miner and alumina producer ALCOA in W.A. Mr Carbon is (in 2010) an active spokesperson for Bauxite Resources and a champion for the bauxite miners' claims of globally unparalleled excellence in rehabilitation of mined forest areas.   

Despite claims to the contrary, post-mining rehabilitation of mined areas can never re-create the intrinsic aesthetic value and variety of the original ancient forested landscape, even in the long-term. The community can only hope that the new mine areas will be minimised so that as much as possible of that value is not lost forever but is preserved to benefit future generations; They will undoubtedly have an even greater need for the amenity and will more widely recognise its value.

Meanwhile, ALCOA is also expanding its operations in the northern Darling Range at a forest-clearing rate of over 900 ha/year to add to the 20,000 ha (200 sq km) of native forest already cleared, mined, 're-landscaped' and 'rehabilitated' . See WalkGPS short video, "Changing the Mt Solus landscape" for another example of the current and future impacts of bauxite mining. Also see Mt Solus Walk page on WalkGPS.

A WalkGPS submission of August 2005 to the EPA (5MB pdf) and a WalkGPS submission of Nov. 2009 (9MB pdf) to the W.A. State parliamentary inquiry into recreation activities in drinking water catchments included summaries of the future enduring impact of bauxite mining on walk areas.  (See also blog posting "Bauxite Mining in Jarrah Forests" of 8 August 2007 by Roger Underwood, a former General Manager of CALM).     - Dave Osborne, WalkGPS.com

(*) Note: Worsley Alumina is a joint venture operation, with BHP Billiton holding 86% interest).

 

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