Getting it right: Air Commodore Mel Hupfeld, looking at public submissions into Evans Head weapons range.
Getting it right: Air Commodore Mel Hupfeld, looking at public submissions into Evans Head weapons range.

Weapons range threatens wildlife

AS THE RAAF cranks up its FA-18 Super Hornet exercises near the Evans Head weapons range, concerns have been raised about the threat to endangered wildlife.

Veterinary surgeon Rod Blake said he was ‘gobsmacked’ to find there was an estimated 41 bird species and 12 mammals listed as endangered in the Broadwater National Park and, from what he could ascertain, little scientific study into existing fauna in the range or the effects of the new Super Hornet activity on wildlife.

“I’m dealing with injured wildlife daily and I’m deeply concerned about the environment we’re releasing them back into for a second chance,” he said.

While residents report significantly increased noise levels with the new jets, the RAAF plans to reintroduce ‘strafing’ – high-calibre machine gun passes – for the first time in 20 years and continue bombing runs with more powerful bombs.

“These things are going to be ripping up the ground where ground parrots are nesting,” Dr Blake said.

“My other concern is that no one really knows what’s in there and what we will be losing.

“I’m just not satisfied with responses to my letters from the NSW Department of Environment, Climate Change and Water (DECCW), the National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS), or Peter Garrett’s office.

“There appears to be a serious lack of scientific data – I wrote to the NSW Government requesting a key study on shore birds at the bombing range beach but first I had to tell them what I wanted it for, and if I did get access to it I was told I wasn’t allowed to disclose the contents due to copyright.

“I asked them what they would do if I threw crackers at a bat colony and they wrote back saying this was in breach of the National Parks and Wildlife Act.”

With significant wetlands situated within the bombing exclusion zone, some of Dr Blake’s concerns relate to a 1980s US Fish and Wildlife study into the effects of aircraft noise and sonic booms on wildlife.

The study showed significant effects on the behaviour of waterfowl fly-overs, with some species completely abandoning habitat after exposure to low-altitude helicopters.

“ I’ve seen helicopter gunships hovering over the wetlands,” Dr Blake said, adding he was surprised at the general lack of bird life on the wetlands.

“There are also questions about the effects of jet noise on bird eggs,”

Arguments that the bombing range was there long before the national park do not sway Dr Blake.

“People’s attitudes and expectations of wildlife conservation have changed dramatically in the past 30 years,” he said.

“With all these threatened species in there, we need them to come out here and tell us what’s going on.”

Three months ago the RAAF undertook a review into future training requirements following outcries from fishers over the extended exclusion zone following the arrival of the FA-18 Super Hornets.

Two weeks ago, the RAAF opened a public submission period which will run till September 15.

While this did not specifically relate to birdlife or land-based wildlife, Air Commodore Mel Hupfeld promised such considerations would be taken seriously.

“We have already received a very constructive submission from Dr Blake and we will be using that as part of our assessment,” he told The Northern Star.

“It will be a thorough process, we cannot, would not and will not take short cuts.”

The RAAF has liaised with the DECCW and NPWS during its environmental impact assessment and will defer to their recommendations.

A department spokesman said it was still too early to say if scientific studies would be commissioned.

“If, and when, a proposal is lodged, the potential impacts on the parks’ natural values, including threatened species, will be considered, along with fire management and control.”

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