Botanist blows whistle on mining rehabilitation ‘slip’ amid new cleanup threat

The Boddington community is increasingly concerned about the size of the mining operation.

The Boddington community is increasingly concerned about the size of the mining operation.Credit: Jessica Burton.

Smith said some plants appeared to have stunted growth over the long term, were unable to penetrate the clay layer or were under pressure due to the changing soil profile, something of particular concern in light of an arid climate.

Smith said the newly restored areas had only cast doubt on the company’s ability to fully restore the vanishing forest.

“The rate at which they have cleared the Marradong forest in the last 10 years has been just phenomenal,” he said.

“It’s devastating to see the destruction…the biodiversity in the forests here cannot be duplicated.”

A spokesperson for South32 vehemently defended the company’s environmental record, tellingly WAtoday it had passed both state and federal approval processes and made every effort to protect the area’s natural resources, sponsoring and conducting research and adjusting species composition to yield the best results.

“We have and will continuously and simultaneously rehabilitate land that we clear to minimize open areas and help restore wildlife habitat,” the spokesperson said.

But it’s something WAtoday may reveal is already on the regulator’s radar, with the Department of Water and Environmental Regulation launching an audit of the ministerial statements under which the miner operates.

And that probe includes a review of rehabilitation requirements.

Concern about the company’s operations among subdivisions of the Boddington community has reached a peak in recent months, with dozens now gathering to voice concerns about the rare flora and eight endangered species affected by the operations, including the black cockatoo, Chuditch and Woylie.

The race to save a rare orchid

The theft of hundreds of the state’s rarest orchids in Kings Park in February made headlines and sparked outrage.

But the move of heavy machinery to one of the last known locations for the federally protected Quindanning Spider Orchid has barely raised an eyebrow outside of the small town in which it lives.

The move, which was made under state government approval granted two decades earlier, would initially have been a contingency plan.

But with the environmental watchdog still considering the company’s plans to expand operations north across the Hotham River, including a review of rehabilitation criteria and the health of the restored forest ecosystem, the miner has been forced to take action. for its annual 18 million ton mining rate.

Smith and several conservation experts fear the move could spell the end for the orchid, a species with a population of just a few hundred that has already suffered the weight of rising water tables and the infestation of wildlife.

He said the discovery of the orchid in 2004, after being missed during initial surveys of the mining area, presented an opportunity for environmental stewardship, but that cleanup efforts now threatened its survival.


The threat was enough to drive Dr. Ryan Phillips, a conservation biology professor at La Trobe University, Andrew Brown, a former Department of Parks and Wildlife biologist, Dr. and halting the clearing of the Quindanning Reserve.

The company has reportedly conducted numerous surveys since the orchid was discovered, most recently in 2022, and vowed to build a buffer around known populations in the developing area.

South32 labeled the expansion plan as crucial to the sustainability of its operations and the procurement of metals needed for the energy transition.

Since the project was first proposed in 2017, South32’s planned land clearing has shrunk by 38 percent, with the miner prioritizing avoiding endangered wildlife because it was “the right thing to do”.

And it has highlighted the possibility of further reductions as part of the project’s ongoing refinement.

But South32 remains committed to supply despite fellow bauxite miner Alcoa pledging to implement an 8,300-acre exclusion zone around the town of Dwellingup and Rio Tinto, completely scrapping its plans for the Jarrah forest amid growing social pressure to keep pace to keep up with the rising expectations of environmental protection.

Meanwhile, Smith has also pleaded with government agencies and regulators to raise the bar if mining in the forest continues, insisting that the rehabilitation standards of those operating in the region can be improved.

A spokesman for the state government said it recognized the importance of striking the delicate balance between protecting the environment and allowing projects to boost the economy, and that South32 was bound by strict conditions when clearing native vegetation which required extensive research and the protection of protected areas.

Member for the Central Wheatbelt and mining spokesperson Mia Davies, who has met with concerned voters, said the alarm was understandable under a state government that pledged to stop indigenous forestry in one breath and allow it to continue under certain circumstances in another.

“Government and industry both have a responsibility to provide assurance and evidence that conditions for South 32 and any other mining operation are met,” she said.

“I support the sustainable management of plantation and native forests through logging and forestry practices, and when done right, endangered species, ancient trees and wildlife are preserved for future generations.”

And for Smith, the thought of what might be left for future generations was what fueled his drive for change.

“We need to stop clearing so much forest, protect more of it and pay more attention to its conservation value,” he said.

“I believe that future generations will look back in disgust at what was allowed, what we lost.

“They’ve cleared so much, so fast. If we don’t stand up, if we shut up, the biodiversity of species in the Boddington will be gone. It’s going to be a social permit issue.”

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