Boronia hapalophylla , species Shannon Creek

A response to the Ecological Assessment of this species by Greenloaning Biostudies Pty Ltd for the Amended Preferred Access Road Development Application (Part B Appendices A-E, July 2004)
Clarence Valley Regional Water Scheme

Boronia hapalophylla has a slightly altered status since the Greenloaning Biostudies (GB Pty) report, now with a preliminary endangered listing as opposed to emergency provisional.

In consideration of this species GB Pty concludes there will be no significant impact by the access road construction.

The species ... is confirmed in the Shannon Creek catchment, and the Chambigne Nature Reserve west (GB Pty, Part B p6)

1) Base responses:

Contrary to the above comment, Boronia hapolphylla occurs mainly on east facing ridges of the Black Swamp/Perennial Creek catchment. At this stage B hapalophylla has not been identified on Rockview Station, within the Shannon Creek catchment. Scattered numbers only are known on the extreme southern ridges of Chambigne Nature Reserve (CNR) Western portion, and the species occurs sparsely above a gully to the south-east of the dam wall site, both sites within the Shannon Creek catchment. All the CNR East plants are within the Perennial Creek catchment. At this stage no plants have been identified on CNR North.

Numbers of plants known to be protected by the nature reserve are estimated at being very low, no more than 25 plants per ha in the limited areas of occurrence. A single, fairly dense population is known on CNR East, on land likely to be subject to natural erosion.

Plants to the north of the species' known range occur only sparsely. By impact of a road, heat radiation, dust and weed invasion, it is believed possible that the separated northern population could very well deteriorate, reducing the species' northern limit. Similarly the few known plants on the western escarpment will be impacted by spillway construction, road, car park, public viewing area and human incursion into the CNR.

Cumulative effects have been cursorily addressed by Greenloaning Biostudies Pty Ltd (p7). However, with the species still very poorly known, there is no understanding whatsoever of the possible effect a change in microclimate will have on this species' habitat by dam construction, with eventual moist humidity in summer, damp cold fogs in winter and sandstone subsurface changed from dry to wet.

At this stage, with virtually nothing known about this species and its inter-dependency, it would be wise to adopt the precautionary principles of the Australian Natural Heritage Charter 4, by way of -

(i) working to ensure the health, diversity and productivity of the environment is maintained for the benefit of future generations.

(ii) recognising that living organisms, earth processes and ecosystems have value beyond the social, economic and cultural values held by humans

(iii) accepting that our knowledge of natural heritage is incomplete, so therefore the full potential significance and value of natural heritage and the processes affecting it is still unknown

In summary, where there are threats, or potential threats, of serious or irreversible environmental damage, lack of full scientific certainty should not be used as a reason for postponing measures to prevent environmental degradation.

2) 8-part test responses:

(A) ...whether the life cycle of the species is likely to be disrupted, placing it at risk of extinction.

GB Pty's Responses ...The vegetation in the western sector of the preferred alignment is typical of vegetation in the study area and locality, and the life cycle of B hapalophylla is unlikely to be dependent on any factors unique to the study site. (page 7)

... the access road will remove appoximately 100 plants from the gene pool... but the species is also represented in the adjoining habitats and along the escarpment in varying densities...

With data on this species totally unknown, caution assumes that by its limited environment Boronia hapalophylla is dependent on all current existing factors within the study site. Also -

(i) An approximate 250 plants in fact will be removed by the access road. The route will cause the largest population recorded to be cleared from an area 300m x 20m, containing an estimated 200 plants.

(ii) Escarpment densities are, in all areas, very sparse. The numbers projected by GB Pty by the method of extrapolation (except in areas to be cleared), are grossly over-stated, and a map presented in good faith to GB Pty has been inaccurately revised.

(iii) Only a cursory attempt has been made by GB Pty at defining the preferred habitat for this species, with a notation that it occasionally forms open clumps which seem to be associated with more sheltered locations (Martin/Elks pers obs, p6). More specifically the species seems to prefer deeper sands with a ground surface protected mainly by litter from Eucalyptus planchoniana, on eastern protected ridge faces with a gradual filtration of moisture.

These protection and moisture factors are likely to be altered by road construction, with inevitable accompanying erosion, dust and imported weed infestation.

(B) ...There are no endangered populations of Boronia hapalophyllya listed under the TSC Act.

B hapalophylla at this stage has no final determined status under the TSC Act. However GB Pty has undertaken to treat this species as if the listing has been finalised. Therefore the misrepresentation of the true case in their response must be recognised by the consent authority, and by the Department of Environment and Conservation. If B hapalophylla is considered listed as Endangered under the TSC Act, accordingly, as the only known population of the species, this is an endangered population

(C) ...whether a significant area of known habitat is to be modified or removed.

GB Pty's response admits to just 1.2 ha, or 0.5% of the estimated total known habitat, having to be removed. BG Pty's methodology in assessing numbers of the species by extrapolation is flawed, resulting in considerably higher numbers than is the case, while at the same time underestimating plant numbers likely to be cleared. However, by consideration of bush rock clearing, a further 2.5ha of B hapalophylla habitat will be removed (page 8). By spillway construction a further 2ha of habitat will be removed. No estimation has been made of the broader clearing for the cutting through the cliff top, allowing for side-slopes. Including pipeline/service track construction, and a road up the western cliff side (not presented in the DA), a conservative estimation of habitat to be removed by the entire project would be 5ha. With the total population occurring only sparsely and sporadically over a narrow 5km band, this equates to a considerable reduction of known habitat.

(D) Whether an area of known habitat is likely to become isolated...

GB Pty's Response ...the known locations of the species within the immediate environs will remain connected with similar habitat to the north and south of the preferred alignment...(page 7)

The access road is planned to dissect the population directly from east to west through a central, most healthy pocket. This equates to a direct splitting and isolation of northern and southern populations.

(E) Whether the species is at the limit of its known distribution.

GB Pty's Response ...the population of B hapalophylla ... currently represents the only known location of the species. B hapalophylla, on the basis of current knowledge, is therefore at its limit of distribution. ...However... the species will be conserved and maintained within the majority of the study area and will not be removed from the western limits of its range.

(Note: The western limits include the proposed spillway site.)

All of the above 8-Part test parts are satisfied in this case.

By Section 79(1) of the Planning Act the consent authority must consider the likely impacts of the proposed access road development, including impacts on the natural environment.

It is the view of the NSW Environmental Defenders Office that a determining authority is also obliged to take possible impacts on threatened species into account, regardless of whether or not an SIS is prepared and presented with a Development Application.

In view of the above, more comprehensive, evaluation of the situation by the eight-part test, and by the fact that this proposed road is unnecessary, planned to run parallel to a second service track a short distance to the south, the authority now needs to consider the true potential impacts by this proposal to clear a corridor through remnant native bushland.

The determining authority must concede that this activity could very well disrupt the life-cycle of Boronia hapalophylla, and quite possibly to the point of its extinction

The only conclusion can be that an SIS must be prepared.

3) Director-General's Requirements (initial EIS, 1999)

In consideration of environmental impacts of the proposed access road to the Shannon Creek dam site, two initial requirements directed by the Director-General's Requirements for the project have not been addressed. Ie:

(SIS 1999, 2.2.1, p7) : For all subject species, the SIS shall state the following :

l the location, nature and extent of habitat removal or modification which may result from the proposed action, and

l the likely contribution of the proposed action to the threatening process acting on populations of species in the vicinity.

For the original EIS/SIS the proponents failed to consider subdivision and development of surrounding freehold title lands as a possible (likely) result from their proposed actions. Now, by admission in the DA of subdivision being expedited by the access road, and basing a reason for approval of the proposal on the Nymboida Shire Council's Local Environment Plan (1986) Objective 1.6.2(b) - to encourage development for the purposes of rural settlement on land which is suitable for that purpose (SEE p 8) the Director-General's directions must be considered in this case.

The proponents, and now the determining authority, should also consider the altered mood within Nymboida Shire Council by way of its State of the Environment Report 1995-96, which supercedes the LEP and states for its vision for the future (1.2 Vision statement) : In the year 2010 Nymboida Shire is widely recognised as a leader in progress towards Ecological Sustainability. ... In the latter years of the 1990s the Shire became increasingly aware of: 1) its location in the biodiversity richness of the NE section of NSW; 2) the great importance of biodiversity for all forms of life; 3) the dangers for that biodiversity posed by the population and development pressures of the region... ...Nymboida Shire acknowledged the warnings contained in the State of the Environment Report for Australia 1996, particularly the statements – Adequate measures are not yet in place to combat threats to biodiversity, and The loss of biodiversity is perhaps our most serious environmental problem. (p 6). ...Over the years Nymboida Shire has built up a comprehensive information base for biodiversity in its area. This information, and the effective steps taken to disseminate it, have led to an information-rich and environmentally sensitive society in the Shire. ...Attitudes and actions in the Shire reflect a consciousness of the Shire's international responsibilities to protect its biodiversity, which it regards as a priceless heritage. The people of the Shire have come to see themselves as part of an ecosystem, and they expect ecological thinking to be incorporated into all environmental, economic and social planning. The decline in biodiversity has been halted, and the remaining biodiversity is not only protected, but enhanced. (p7)

If the large and highly significant tract of land now owned by Clarence Valley Council fails to be protected, either by transfer to the National Parks & Wildlife Service or by way of compensation for the diverse habitat to be removed by the regional water supply project as a whole, subdivision will be an inevitable and direct result of the access road's construction.

In the case of Boronia hapalophylla, such subdivision will inevitably cause gradual change and restriction to its environment, so placing the species in severe jeopardy, quite possibly to the point of its extinction.

In summary : This species was preliminarily listed as endangered by the Scientific Committee because of the proposed activity. With such little knowledge of the species, GB Pty can hardly, with confidence, overrule the Scientific Committee's judgment of this likely threat to the long term survival of the species.

- - - - -

Patricia Edwards

(NSW Scientific Licence S11209)

28th August 2004

UPDATE: December 2006

The NSW Scientific Committee made a Final Determination to list the shrub, Boronia hapalophylla (Duretto, FJ Edwards & PG Edwards) as an Endangered Species in Part 1 of the Threatened Species Conservation Act (8.11.04)

The access road to the proposed Shannon Creek dam site is now in the construction phase. Despite Cumberland Ecology's statement in the Statement of Environmental Effects (2004) that the road alignment had been slightly realigned to avoid threatened species, the thickest stand of Boronia hapalophylla has now been cleared. The roadway is direct, with no obvious realignments made.