Environmentalists say freeway clearing needs minimising

Quinns Rocks Environmental Group says as a minimum the freeway extension project should minimise clearing, retain as many trees as possible and have a better approach to support fauna movement. Picture: Anita McInnes

A NORTHERN environmental group is concerned the Mitchel Fwy extension to Romeo Rd will remove more habitat in an area that is losing bushland as suburban expansion continues.

Quinns Rocks Environmental Group (QREG) said the loss of habitat was concerning as studies showed the high conservation significance of bushland in the area where the freeway extension was proposed to go, with plants and animals lost from other parts of the regions persisting there.

QREG spokeswoman Renata Zelinova said the group was still working through all the documentation submitted by Main Roads WA for assessment under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 but the loss and fragmentation of habitat would add to the other pressures on flora and fauna.

“At a minimum, the project should be designed to reduce the clearing footprint, retain as many trees as possible and a better approach should be used to support fauna movement than what we saw in the freeway extension to Hester Ave where clearing was excessive and provision for wildlife movement was limited,’’ she said.

“The QREG has been invited to provide comment on the draft flora and fauna management plan and the construction management plan required by the ministerial condition under the state regulations.

“In our comments concerns were raised on several matters, including the lack of sufficient information on ways of providing for fauna movement.

“We are yet to see the final version of these documents that Main Roads WA need to submit to the EPA for final approval.’’

Freeway extension has potential to threaten cockatoos February, 22 reported the preliminary concept included a 5.6km extension of Mitchell Fwy from Hester Ave to Romeo Rd with two traffic lanes in each direction and provision for future widening, completion of the interchange at Hester Ave, a new interchange at Lukin Dr and a rail tunnel or bridge for the existing rail to exit the freeway median to Butler station.

It also included a new principal shared path for cyclists and pedestrians on the western side of the freeway from Hester Ave to Romeo Rd, constructing and connecting Romeo Rd between Marmion Ave and Wanneroo Rd, noise mitigation, street lighting and safety barriers where required and duplication of Wanneroo Rd for 1.8km from Romeo Rd to Trian Rd.

In documentation, Main Roads WA said it was required to make available for public comment for a minimum of 10 business days, the authority said it proposed an offset on a property 20 km east-northeast of the Jurien Bay town site to counterbalance the potential significant residual impacts to banksia woodlands of the Swan Coastal Plain threatened ecological community, Carnaby’s cockatoo and forest red-tailed black cockatoo, which included clearing of up to 96ha of high quality foraging habitat, 8.6ha of medium quality foraging habitat and 28ha of low quality foraging habitat for Carnaby’s cockatoo.

It also involved clearing of up to 6.3ha of high quality foraging habitat, 70ha of medium quality foraging habitat and 28ha of low quality foraging habitat for forest red-tailed black cockatoo.

Mrs Zelinova said QREG agreed with the view of other peak environmental groups like the Urban Bushland Council and the Conservation Council that the current offset policies did not deliver and WA was still recording the loss of species and communities.

Main Roads WA said the freeway extension proposal would not result in impacts to known nesting hollows of Carnaby’s cockatoo

But Mrs Zelinova said QREG was aware the project area was within a buffer of a known breeding site for Carnaby’s black cockatoos.

“Within this buffer a significant amount of vegetation remains that is under threat from future urban and other development,’’ she said.

“Thus impacts of proposals such as the freeway extension need to be considered in the broader context of the development within an area.

“In addition, as demonstrated by the recent fires in the coastal areas, Carnaby’s cockatoos feeding habitat is further threatened by wildfires and prescribed burning practices which are being used as a bushfire risk management measure more frequently in this part of the city due to proximity of residential areas to bushland areas.

“Previous study of the impact of prescribed burning on food availability for Carnaby’s cockatoos on the Gnangara Mound showed reductions in suitable food sources due to areas burnt and the frequency between burns that reduced opportunities for vegetation recovery.’’

Main Roads WA said the proposal was not expected to result in impacts to forest red-tailed black cockatoo breeding habitat, as it was well away from their breeding areas and did not include large, mature marri or jarrah trees with suitable hollows.

Mrs Zelinova said according to information available to QREG the breeding range for the forest red-tailed black cockatoos did not extend into the area.

But due to the losses of feeding habitat across the South West of WA, they had been observed venturing further north and had been seen several times in Quinns Rocks in recent months feeding on cape lilac (a substitute food source they seem to seek out).

In relation to the plan to retain or landscaped-revegetate about 60ha with a mix of local, native species suitable as Carnaby’s cockatoo and forest red-tailed black cockatoo foraging habitat she said there was evidence a big number of Carnaby’s were lost due to car strikes and thus it was not recommended to use plant species that would attract foraging cockatoos to be planted along some sections of roadsides where the risk of bird collisions with cars would increase.

“Also our past experience shows that revegetation along roadsides can have very mixed results as seen along freeway section between Burns Beach Rd and Hester Ave where many plants appear to have died.

“In addition, in the previous phase of the freeway extension (Burns Beach Rd-Hester Ave), the concept design identified areas to be retained, but then the construction impacted on areas which were anticipated to be retained.

“Therefore, Main Roads estimates do not provide any assurance on the outcome of the project.’’

She said the project would further reduce habitat in an already fragmented landscape and while Carnaby’s cockatoos could fly significant distances between habitat, for many species that were critical to maintaining the ecological integrity of banksia woodlands such as southern brown bandicoots, small birds and insects, the proposed road widenings would act as a barrier.

“We understand Main Roads is proposing some infrastructure to facilitate fauna movement between Neerabup National Park and Nowergup Nature Reserve but there was insufficient information on the type or location of these provided to make an assessment on whether these would be adequate.’’

The comment period is open until Sunday, March 1.

For the documentation visit https://project.mainroads.wa.gov.au/home/Pages/Mitchell-Freeway-Extension.aspx