Banded Ironstone Formation

The Banded Ironstone Formation Ranges
Threatened Islands of the Outback

"Like Islands in the otherwise flat outback landscape, banded ironstone ranges have evolved their own unique plants and animals.  Despite broad recognition of these values by scientists, Government and Industry, there is still no protection from mining for any Banded Ironstone Ranges in the Midwest and Yilgarn.”

Use the hyperlinks to navigate around this page 

News Flash: Mungada Ridge to be mined
The Banded Ironstone Formation Ranges
The BIF Strategic Review 
Some Myths about the BIF
Windarling / Mt Jackson / Mt Manning
Mt Gibson
Mungada Ridge and the Blue Hills
Koolanooka Hills
Jack Hills
Other threats to the Banded Ironstone Formations
What can I do?
Further information

 

***News flash*** Mungada Ridge to be mined 

The Barnett Government has recently overruled the EPA and gone against the recommendations of the Strategic Review and approved mining at Mungada Ridge.  To take action by email click here

 

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The Banded Ironstone Formation Ranges 

The Banded Ironstone Formation (BIF) ranges of the Midwest and Yilgarn are scattered across the WA outback from Kalgoorlie in the South to as far north as the Murchison River.  In the flat arid plains of the outback landscape these hills have often become scenic landscape features that have acted like islands; evolving their own unique biodiversity.

Some plants are so specialised they only live on one peak or range.  Many of these hills can be seen for miles around and, often topped with cliffs, outcrops and giant boulders, provide a unique and scenic vantage point over the surrounding plains.  However, driven by an insatiable demand for steel from developing economies such as China, many of these ancient hills are now threatened by proposals to mine iron ore.   Yet despite these imminent threats, the BIF ranges remain completely unprotected by WA’s conservation estate.

The Strategic Review of the Banded Ironstone Formation Ranges of the Midwest and Goldfields was released by the Government on the 26th October 2007. This document aims to provide guidance as to how conservation of the banded ironstone ranges and mining will be balanced in the Midwest and Goldfields. The exectutive summary in the review has been endorsed by the State Government. The full document can be downloaded here.
 
The review contains positive signs for some ranges, but many important areas of BIF remain under serious threat from iron ore development, in particular Karara Hills, Mungada Ridge and Mt Gibson. 
 
It is crucial that concerned members of the public continue to let the government know that the rare biodiversity and scenic values of the banded ironstone formation ranges must be protected (see section What Can I Do?” below).

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The BIF Strategic Review  

In 2007 the State Government requested that the Department of Envirorment and Conservation and the then Department of Industry and Resources produce a strategy to balance mining development and conservation in the Banded Ironstone Formations. The Strategic Review of the Conservation and Resource Values of the Banded Iron Formation of the Yilgarn Craton aimed to do that by nominating areas of highest biodiversity and lowest mineral potential as reserves, nominating some areas for further assessment, and leaving most areas open for mining.

The final report was endorsed by State Cabinet but has since been rejected by the new Barnett Government.

Areas nominated for A-Class reserves included Mungada Ridge in the Midwest and the Extended Mt Manning Nature Reserve in the Goldfields.

 

Some myths about the BIF

Plants won’t go extinct because the companies are doing translocation programs and rehabilitation programs
In its advice on the proposed extensions to the Mt Manning Nature Reserve to include areas of Banded Ironstone Formation Ranges the EPA recommended that:
 
The precautionary principle be applied in relation to proposals to offset loss of highly habitat specific BIF endemic species through translocation to other sites, as each BIF range generally has its own endemic species occupying equivalent habitats.
 
Each species has its own unique habitat and that it is highly unlikely to survive if that habitat is removed by mining.  Any habitat that a plant might be relocated to is also likely to already have other specialised plants occupying that habitat. Translocation programs are of no value if the specialised habitat of species is removed, and thus there remains a high risk of extinction.

Rehabilitation can be effective in creating a post mining landform that can support some local native species.  However, as a man made waste dump next to an open pit it does not resemble the pre-mining environment.  Specialised BIF species are unlikely to survive in the long term. Landscape values are permanently lost.

Each mine will take up only a small percentage of the total area of the BIF, and impact will be minimal
The value of the Banded Ironstone Formations is that each range tends to have unique species that are found nowhere else (a high level of endemism).  Thus, the percentage of BIF affected is an inaccurate and misleading measure of the impact of mining on the environment.

Opposition to mining in the BIF is based only on saving one or two species of rare plants
The public focus on the impacts of BIF mining often comes down to the possibility of extinction of one or two endemic plants or animals found only on a particular BIF range.  This is very important as it would be unacceptable for a mining development to go ahead if it was to make a species extinct. However, opposition to unrestricted mining of the BIF is also based on unacceptable impacts to a number of other rare plants and animals as well as landscapes and natural beauty.  Currently there is no BIF in the conservation estate.

The DEC is trying to extend the conservation estate for no reason and is against mining
The majority of mining projects in WA are never challenged by the DEC or conservationists. Proposals are only challenged where there is a belief they are likely to cause unacceptable impacts. WA is committed under national and international agreements to develop a comprehensive, adequate and representative (CAR) system of conservation reserves to protect our environment. By definition this must include a CAR representation of unique environments like the Banded Ironstone Formation Ranges.

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Windarling/Mt Jackson/Mt Manning

In December 2002 the EPA made a rare move, recommending against mining at Windarling Ranges due to the threat to scenic and floristic values, including a high risk of extinction for declared rare flora Tetratheca Paynterae.   The recommendation was overturned by the Government and mining is currently underway at Windarling.

However, a Section 16e advice was commissioned under the Environmental Protection Act to look at conservation reservation for the remainder of the Mt Manning BIF ranges as an offset for the biodiversity losses at Windarling. This area has been recommended for conservation since 1962.

The EPA’s section 16e advice came out mid-2007 supporting past recommendations for substantial increases in A-Class nature reserve at Mt Manning to protect areas of BIF and associated rare plants and animals.  The EPA advice noted that Mt Manning was a biodiversity hotspot for its rare flora and fauna.  As yet these recommendations have not resulted in any extensions to the nature reserve.

Extract from EPA Statement on Koolyanobbing (Windarling Range)

EPA Chairman Bernard Bowen said the EPA had concluded that the whole proposal as described should not be implemented.

"The ranges in the proposal area are of outstanding conservation significance," Mr Bowen said.
"They have been isolated over geological time, and are bio-geographical 'islands' with distinct and often unique species and communities of plants.
"At Windarling Range the proposal would remove plants of a species to an extent that it would become critically endangered.
"Thus, the EPA could not responsibly recommend to the Minister that the proposal be judged to be environmentally acceptable."

(Source: EPA Report - Koolyanobbing iron ore mine expansion, www.epa.wa.gov.au, 9th December 2002) 

Extract from EPA Section 16e advice on extensions to Mt Manning Nature Reserve

The [EPA recommends that the] Mount Manning Region (MMR) be recognised as a Biodiversity Hotspot for its combination of high levels of species richness, concentration of rare and endemic flora, restricted ecological communities and the threatening processes associated with the mineral potential of the BIF Range environments, which coincide with the highest concentration of threatened and endemic species and communities in the region.

2) Areas of the highest conservation value and surrounding areas in the MMR protected from mining by:
•  Establishing an A Class Nature Reserve to include the highest priority conservation areas, as outlined in Table I and Map I below;
•  Defining temporary exclusions for mining and mining infrastructure in proposed A Class Nature Reserve in areas where mining is currently approved. These areas should become part of the Reserve after successful rehabilitation (consistent with the approach of Ministerial Statement 627).
•  Proponents be advised that proposals for further mining in areas of the highest conservation value are unlikely to be found environmentally acceptable.

(Source: EPA Bulletin 1256, Advice on areas of the highest conservation value in the proposed extensions to Mount Manning Nature Reserve, www.epa.wa.gov.au, May 2007.)

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Mt Gibson

Only four hours drive from Perth, Mt Gibson is the closest the outback banded ironstones come to Perth. The Extension Hills, proposed to be removed for mining, are clearly visible from the great Northern Highway.    The area is important for conservation, having three pastoral leases dedicated to this purpose surrounding the ranges. The ranges themselves host a suite of unique and threatened plants and plant communities supporting a range of fauna species.

It is also a highly scenic area, with tall peaks, aboriginal heritage sites, sweeping outback vistas and picturesque salt lakes. A number of fledgling ecotourism operations exist from the three conservation stations that surround Mt Gibson, including one Indigenous Protected Area. Sunset over the outback ranges from Mt Singleton is a sight that every Western Australian should be able to enjoy in perpetuity.

Mining proposals already approved for Mt Gibson will turn the Extension Hills arm of this range into a pit and waste dump, permanently damaging the landscape and destroying almost half the known population of one rare plant, along with sizeable populations of other rare plants and floristic communities.  The mining approval required the remaining half of Extension Hills to be made into an A-Class reserve.  This has not yet been declared.

 

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Mungada Ridge and the Blue Hills

Mungada Ridge and the Karara (Blue) Hills are near the Midwest town of Morawa. The scenic values of these hills are comparable to Windarling, with stunning BIF outcrops and cliffs overlooking a valley of woodlands, mulga and a rare red earth paperback swamp.  Current proposals are to put four pits into Mungada Ridge and to mine haematite pockets and a giant magnetite pit that would turn most of the Karara Hills into a giant open pit.

Mungada Ridge and the Karara Hills are in the southerly quarter of the DEC purchased pastoral lease of Karara station. They are the jewel in the crown in both biodiversity and scenic terms of this important future conservation reserve at the transition zone between the largely cleared woodlands of the wheat belt and the vast arid mulga plains to the North.

In 2009 the EPA advised against two mining projects in this ridge. These projects were the Mungada Iron Ore Project, by Karara Mining Limited  (Gindalbie Metals) and the  Koolanooka/Blue Hills Direct Shipping Iron Ore Mining Project, by Sinosteel Midwest Corporation Limited.

On the 2nd June, 2009, The EPA said in regard to these proposals:

EPA Chairman Paul Vogel said that EPA advice and recommendations given to the Minister for Environment on Sinosteel Midwest’s proposal was consistent with that given in April on the Karara Mining or Gindalbie proposals.
“That is that development of any kind on the Mungada Ridge is not supported as the EPA considers that the whole of the Mungada Ridge should be reserved in its entirety in an A Class Nature Reserve,” he said.

‘The Mungada East mine cannot be managed to meet the EPA’s objectives in relation to the conservation of biodiversity and ecological integrity and the EPA has recommended that it not proceed.

As at November 2009, mining companies had been given state Government approval for three pits in Mungada Ridge against the advice of the EPA and the findings of the Strategic Review.

To take action by email click here (Link to email at bottom of page )

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Koolanooka Hills 

Near the wheat belt town of Morowa a range of hills looks over the wheat farms to the West and the start of pastoral country to the East.  These Koolanooka Hills are the site of a small historical iron ore mining pit.  Further mining in the Koolanooka hills has been approved but not yet commenced.

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Jack Hills

The Jack Hills are the northern most of the banded ironstone formation ranges currently targeted for iron ore mining. The hills remain under surveyed for biodiversity but already a rare community of upland spinifex and a unique trapdoor spider have been found on the hills.

Mining of a test pit commenced in late 2006 with plans for a massive expansion likely to go to the EPA in the near future.

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Other Threats to the Banded Ironstone Formations

Even before mining begins exploration on hillsides can do significant damage to the ranges. Exploration drilling rigs need flat ground from which to drill into the ground to find out what ore is beneath.  To achieve this they have to dig flat benches into the hillside using bulldozers or rock breakers.

Some areas of WA are designated as ESA’s (environmentally sensitive areas) and special approvals are required before exploration can occur in these areas.  None of the BIF ranges are currently ESA’s.  The Conservation Council is working to have the BIF included as ESA’s.

Dust from mining operations can also extend the impact well beyond the pits and waste dumps

Feral animals, particularly goats, also present a threat to the rare plants on the BIF.  However, goats have had minimal impact on most of the BIF ranges to date, and no threat is as great as the complete removal or partial removal of these ranges for iron ore extraction.

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What can I do? 

Take a minute to copy and paste the email below  to the addresses provided (make sure you include your name and postcode at the bottom):

Send To: cottesloe@mp.wa.gov.au
cc: Minister.Faragher@dpc.wa.gov.au; Minister.Moore@dpc.wa.gov.au; Minister.Grylls@dpc.wa.gov.au 
bcc: tim.nicol@conservationwa.asn.au

 

Dear Premier,

We write to ask for your intervention to ensure mining is balanced with conservation in the banded ironstone formation ranges by establishing A-Class reserves over the biodiversity hotspot ranges in the BIF, these reserves must include entire landforms as reccomended by the EPA and DEC through the Strategic Review of the Conservation and Resource Values of the Banded Iron Formation of the Yilgarn Craton (Strategic Review), and must include Mungada Ridge and the Extended Mt Manning Nature Reserve.

We also write to ask that you reverse decisions by the Environment Minister to allow mining at Mungada Ridge.

The EPA has recently advised against two mining projects in this ridge. These projects are the Mungada Iron Ore Project, by Karara Mining Limited  (Gindalbie Metals) and the  Koolanooka/Blue Hills Direct Shipping Iron Ore Mining Project, by Sinosteel Midwest Corporation Limited.

On the 2nd June, 2009, The EPA said in regard to these proposals:
EPA Chairman Paul Vogel said that EPA advice and recommendations given to the Minister for Environment on Sinosteel Midwest’s proposal was consistent with that given in April on the Karara Mining or Gindalbie proposals.
That is that development of any kind on the Mungada Ridge is not supported as the EPA considers that the whole of the Mungada Ridge should be reserved in its entirety in an A Class Nature Reserve,” he said.
"The Mungada East mine cannot be managed to meet the EPA’s objectives in relation to the conservation of biodiversity and ecological integrity and the EPA has recommended that it not proceed."

Further, the Strategic Review conducted by the Department of Environment and Conservation and the then Department of Industry and Resources and endorsed by the previous Labor State Government cabinet in 2007 identified Mungada Ridge as a future A-Class reserve (protected from mining and exploration) because of its exceptional environmental values and the relatively low value of the iron ore resource. 

This strategic review sought to balance mining with the high conservation values of the Banded Ironstone Formation (BIF) Ranges. It recommends some areas off-limits to miners, whilst others can be developed for economic reasons.  It also recommends establishing secure A-Class conservation reserves to protect the best of the BIF. It was to be applauded that conservation and resource development agencies could work together to find a balanced solution to the inherent conflicts between mining and conservation, and deplorable that this advice has now been discarded.

 In the flat arid plains of the outback landscape many of the BIF Ranges have acted like islands; evolving their own unique biodiversity.  A number of plant species are restricted to only a single range.  These areas are also important to threatened animals such as the Mallee Fowl.

We implore you to reverse the state Environment Minister’s decision to overturn the EPA’s advice on this project, and thus to allow these rare hills to be turned into pits and waste dumps, and instead enact the recommendations of the BIF strategic review to balance conservation and mining in the BIF.

Currently none of the BIF is protected from mining.

Yours Faithfully,
NAME
SUBURB, POSTCODE

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Further information

Download the article, Insatiable Appetite for Steel, published in The Greener Times.

Click here to download a map showing the location of Banded Ironstone Formation iron ore deposits in the Midwest and Yilgarn.

Contact Tim Nicol, Mining Spokesperson for the Conservation Council or phone (08) 9420 7266.  You can follow progress on a the campaign via happy_squid on twitter or via email updates from http://onehappysquid.wordpress.com/ - a blog by Tim Nicol focusing on the BIF and other issues.

You can view more photos of the BIF on Flikr at http://www.flickr.com/photos/44809028@N02/  - or by searching for Banded Ironstones.

If you have more BIF photos to share upload them to Flikr and tag them as “Banded Ironstones”
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