Bob Brown demands a stop to mining plans in the Tasmanian rainforest to save the threatened masked owl

The Masked Owl (Tasmanian).

The Federal Minister for the Environment, Ms Sussan Ley, failed to protect the takayna/Tarkine’s resident masked owls last month when she gave the giant Chinese mining company MMG the go-ahead for 14 kilometres of roadworks and 170 drill sites in the Tasmanian forest, the Bob Brown Foundation said yesterday.

The Bob Brown Foundation wrote to Ms Ley overnight, 6 February, calling on her to reverse her decision to allow MMG to re-invade the rainforest. 

The Tarkine, officially takayna/Tarkine, is an area containing the Savage River National Park in northwest Tasmania, Australia, which environmental non-for-profit organisations like the Bob Brown Foundation claim contain significant areas of wilderness.

The foundation’s science team, living in the forest, have been recording the threatened owls over recent months.

Ms Ley’s own threatened species unit has listed the masked owl as “vulnerable to extinction” and her own guidelines are:

Priority Actions in the Tasmanian Masked Owl Conservation Advice include:

  • Minimise disturbance in areas where the Tasmanian Masked Owl is known to breed, including necessary actions to manage the conservation of the subspecies
  • For breeding areas, investigate formal conservation arrangements, management agreements and covenants on private land, and for crown and private land investigate inclusion in reserve tenure if possible.    

“Our scientific advice, from expert Professor Brendan Wintle at the University of Melbourne, is that the frequency with which the rare owl has been recorded in the MMG-targeted rainforest indicates a high likelihood that the owl is breeding there,” the foundation’s founder Dr Bob Brown said in Launceston yesterday.

“This ancient rainforest should be reserved under the government’s own guidelines.

“MMG acknowledges it has options for its toxic waste dump on the Rosebery mine side of the river outside the Tarkine but the masked owls have none.

“I flagged the danger to the masked owls when I met the minister at the Tarkine Wilderness Lodge last year.

“The minister knew that MMG’s own consultants had heard the owls, yet she did not require a proper study,” Dr Brown continued.

The Tasmanian Masked Owl (Tyto novaehollandiae castanops) is a subspecies of Masked Owl which occurs only in Tasmania. Its population has been estimated to comprise approximately 500 breeding pairs.

It is a large bird with a mask-like facial disc and distinctive husky, screeching call. 

“Her go-ahead for the waste dump works on 6 January does not mention the masked owls., however, we have now concluded our own study and sent it to the minister. She should act on it,” Dr Brown said.

“We have also asked MMG to hold off while the wellbeing of these very large owls is properly, scientifically assessed.

“MMG’s four or five alternatives for storing its acid wastes – in particular, paste-filling back down into the mine – should be independently assessed too.

“Meanwhile the BBF has a peaceful blockade ready should MMG ignore the urgent environmental need to protect this forest and send in its bulldozers,” Dr Brown said.

In 2021, 71 forest defenders were arrested before MMG’s heavy machinery stopped work when It was found that the company was acting with no legal right: that is, illegally.

“However, no one from MMG was arrested,” Dr Brown added.

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