Leard State Forest handed over to coal miners, public locked out

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Media Release 14th January 2014, 3.30pm

The NSW Government has shut-down Leard State Forest in north-western NSW, in an attempt to prevent the local community and their supporters scrutinising the actions of Whitehaven coal as it moves the bulldozers in to the sensitive location.

The NSW Forestry Corporation has this morning declared Leard State Forest a prohibited area, and told community members and protestors that they must vacate the locality.  Only coal miners will have legal access to the site.

However, the long-standing protest camp at the locality has effectively avoided the move on order, after proving that they were not camped on State Forest land and the closure order did not apply to them.

“This is an unprecedented step by the NSW Government – they have effectively handed over this important public forest, Leard State Forest, to the coal miners, and now they are trying to lock the public out so that the destruction of this priceless environmental area can go on unobserved” said Phil Spark, spokesperson with the Northern Inland Council for the Environment.

“The Forestry Corporation gave us an ultimatum to pack up the long-standing protest camp this morning within 12 hours, but we have since confirmed that we are not on State Forest land and they have no power to evict us.

“We see the closure of the State Forest today as a case of privatisation by stealth – the coal miners are being handed our public forests for free and the NSW Government is colluding with Whitehaven Coal to prevent scrutiny of their activities.

“This action today adds to the cloud of secrecy surrounding the mine – with important documents being withheld and the progress of a Federal investigation being kept under wraps.

“The lock-out can only add to the grave concerns of the Gomeroi Traditional Owners that their sacred sites are at risk and proper cultural processes are not been followed by Whitehaven.

“The public are not the only ones being evicted from Leard State Forest today – endangered species like the Koala and Long-eared Bat will be driven out of the area if the Whitehaven bulldozers are given free rein to clear the bush for an open-cut coal mine.

“With this action today, the NSW Government is treating the coal mining industry like a protected species, while they provide open season for the big miners on the endangered animals of Leard State Forest” he said.