Open-cut gold mine triggers worries for Australia’s Wombat forest

Environmentalists and the local community of central Victoria, Australia, are angry at the Department of Primary Industries for allowing Queensland-based company Fortitude Mining to go ahead with its gold exploration plans in the Wombat State Forest.

Opponents to the venture, scheduled to start in September, were shocked to hear the open pit gold mine was given the go ahead without public consultation. They claim it would involve “clearing out native vegetation, extracting 5,000 tonnes of material from the ground, and taking it away for processing,” according to The Hawkesbury Gazette.

They also fear for the future of the wombat population, since several of these short-legged quadrupedal marsupials native to Australia, live in that forest (photo).

But Victoria's Minister for Mining and Resources, Michael O’Brien, says he sees nothing wrong with the operation.

"This is a process that has been 11 years in the making; the applicants first sought a license back in 2001, there was a six year period of consideration of that application, including consideration of an objection that was lodged by the Wombat forest group," O'Brien told ABC.

He added Fortitude Mining’s license was finally granted in 2007, under a different minister and government, and that it took the company five years to come to his department with a plan that met current guidelines.

Last May O’Brien office approved the mining plan and granted the miner permission to conduct a "bulk sample operation" in Wombat State, an area well known for its forest, which covers about 70,000 hectares between Woodend and Daylesford, 50 kilometres west of Melbourne.

The area has a history of gold mining, which goes back to 1851, when the discovery of the precious metal draw thousands of miners to Victoria. Alluvial gold discoveries ran out by the 1860s and the rest of all quartz-reef based mining operations concluded by mid 1930s.

Victorian National Parks Association spokesman, Nick Roberts, told The Hawkesbury Gazette Saturday the Wombat forest should be granted state park status. This, he said, would prevent all sorts of mining activities in the area.

O'Brien disagrees as, he points, mining is a job and investment maker in rural and regional Victoria, and “it has been the policy of successive state governments that mining activities are permitted on Crown land."