Chris Dobney’s article in Echonetdaily of 25 May 2015 was headed Kings Forest gets green light to clear koala habitat. Unfortunately, they have also got the green light to clear the vulnerable Wallum Sedge Frog (WSF) habitat.
Under the misnomer heading of ‘Protecting WSF populations’, the approval document approves the destruction of most of the existing WSF habitat.
‘Existing habitat that will be removed for development’ is comprised of 44 ha of habitat. ‘Existing WSF habitat that will remain as habitat after development’ amounts to an additional 33.63 ha. A comparison of this map with the Kings Forest vegetation map reveals that a significant amount of this land (roughly one-third of the total) is on potential acid sulfate soil, which in its resting state is too basic (pH 6 to 7) for reproduction of WSF. Essential breeding habitat is <pH6.0. So, some of the habitat claimed to be saved from development may not be suitable for WSFs.
Areas indicated as ‘created WSF habitat’ (45.09 ha) are also problematic. The largest chunk (about three-quarters) is to be created on acid sulfate soil. The next largest area is to be created on land mapped as ‘exotic pine plantation’, which is not likely to have soils sufficiently acidic for WSF to thrive and multiply. The proportion of the proposed ‘created WSF habitat’ that might be suitable for WSF habitat creation appears to be small.
The good news is that a WSF Management Plan is now required. And the created WSF habitat must be ‘substantially established’ prior to the commencement of bulk earthworks. In addition, pre-clearance surveys and relocation of WSFs must be undertaken within one day of commencement of bulk earthworks at each stage. Many reporting obligations are described.
On the other hand, the commencement of construction can apparently precede relocation of WSFs. Commencement of construction is defined as clearing of vegetation, erection of onsite temporary structures and use of heavy equipment for the purpose of breaking the ground for bulk earthworks, buildings or infrastructure preceding bulk earthworks. In other words, the WSFs may already be dead by the time bulk earthworks come along.
Created WSF habitat (as compensatory ponds) did not work for the Tugun by-pass. During a couple of years of monitoring, no WSFs had been recorded in the ponds. The pH had usually been too high for them. Evidence should be obtained that relocation of WSFs into compensatory habitat actually works, before it is attempted for the Kings Forest WSFs.
Frog underpasses and exclusion fences to protect WSFs from road kill have not been considered. An offset area is required in case the plan fails, but an offset area will not save the WSFs of Kings Forest.
All in all, the EPBC approval document does not hold out much hope for the WSFs of Kings Forest.
References: Kings Forest vegetation and acid sulfate soil maps are in earlier documentation. Tugun Bypass Management Plan Five Year Review, tugunbypassfrogmgtplan.pdf from tmr.qld.gov.au. NSW DPI, Myths Associated with Pines. Meyer, E., J.M. Hero, L. Shoo & B. Lewis (2006). National recovery plan for the wallum sedgefrog and other wallum-dependent frog species. Qld Gov’t, Identifying acid sulfate soils https://www.qld.gov.au/environment/land/soil/acid-sulfate/identified/ .
Joan Vickers, Toowoomba, Qld