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WA’s Northern Jarrah Forest will be ‘ripped apart’ by 2060

The Northern Jarrah Forest – a biodiversity hotspot which rivals the world’s tropical rainforests – is on the brink of ecological collapse according to a new report.

New research 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’, with concerns that the majority of forest between Collie and Armadale will be fragmented or destroyed by 2060.

The Northern Jarrah Forest is situated on the Darling Plateau in a belt more than 250 kilometres long, from the north of Toodyay to just south of Collie.

Findings from the ‘A Thousand Cuts report’ – published today (May 3rd 2022) – place particular emphasis on the effect of bauxite mining which has cleared at least 32,130 hectares of publicly owned forest, an area which is eighty-times the size of Kings Park. Of that total, more than a third was cleared between 2010 and 2020, suggesting the rate of deforestation is accelerating.

Bauxite mining is the primary cause of deforestation in the South West forests of Western Australia. Sixty-two percent, or nearly two thirds, of all deforestation in the South West’s tall and medium forest, between 2010 and 2020, was a result of bauxite mining.

The findings come less than nine months after the WA government moved to ban native forest logging in the state, from 2024. However, the policy omitted existing mining operations, which continue to clear large swathes of forest in the South West.

Mining companies Alcoa and South32 have applied for approval to clear a further 11,109 hectares and fragment another 70,211 hectares. It is estimated that bauxite mining in WA will ultimately be responsible for a total of 83,000 hectares of cleared native forest.

The Northern Jarrah Forest was recently identified as one of a handful of Australian ecosystems most at risk due to climate change by the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which said it was ‘highly confident’ that the ecosystem would ‘transition’ or ‘collapse’ as a result of a hotter and drier climate.

The Jarrah Forest is home to at least 235 vertebrate species, while invertebrate diversity is thought to be in the tens of thousands – including species which have not yet been scientifically described or named. The forest is home to a high number of vulnerable or endangered species, including all three South West black cockatoo species, the southern brown bandicoot, the western quoll, dibbler, two species of phascogale, the mainland quokka, numbat, woylie, tammar wallaby and the western ringtail possum.

Efforts to protect and conserve these vulnerable species and their habitat have been frustrated by a lack of complete record keeping which conservationists say makes it impossible to calculate complete figures on deforestation and forest degradation in WA. At present, there is no legal requirement to keep central or complete records of the amount of deforestation or forest degradation taking place in Western Australia.

Jess Beckerling from the WA Forest Alliance said: “Bauxite mining is putting an unendurable strain on the Northern Jarrah Forest and without swift intervention, now, the damage to this globally significant habitat will be irreversible.”

The reports’ five recommendations include a halt to all authorisations of native forest clearing and fragmentation in the Northern Jarrah Forest and WA’s Environmental Protection Authority to undertake an assessment of past, current and proposed development impacts on the region.

“The WA government ban on native forest logging was a long time coming and a very welcome step in the right direction, but it is critically important that the McGowan Government’s recognition that forests are critical for climate and biodiversity is extended to the Northern Jarrah Forests. This means stopping mining expansions and protecting these particularly vulnerable forests in secure conservation areas”, said Jess Beckerling.

“Bauxite mining has been responsible for more than 60 per cent of all deforestation in WA’s tall and medium forests in the last decade. Alcoa and South32 are now proposing significant expansions of their mining operations which would result in a further 11,109 hectares being cleared from 2025.”