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Solid Energy's haste risks snail's extinction

Solid Energy's haste risks giant land snail's extinction

A Powelliphanta "Augustus"

Solid Energy risks causing the extinction of the endangered giant land snail, Powelliphanta "Augustus", in its haste to mine the only known habitat of this ancient species, the Royal Forest and Bird Protection Society says.

All Powelliphanta snails are absolutely protected species under the Wildlife Act. Solid Energy has applied to the Department of Conservation for permission to move up to 100 snails from a 5 hectare (ha.) area to another part of the Stockton mine site. It then intends to dig up the species' source habitat.

"Solid Energy's proposals would effectively kill off all but the 100 snails it wants to move. It is uncertain that these would survive translocation. This could pose a real risk of extinction when the total population is thought to be no more than 800-1000 snails and possibly less," Forest and Bird field officer, Eugenie Sage said.

"Solid Energy's claim that its Stockton mine plan "requires" it to mine all 5 ha. of an endangered species' only known habitat in the next few months represents a failure to take environmentally responsible management seriously."

"The coal is not going anywhere. Solid Energy's mining licence covers 2,310 ha. If it wanted to be environmentally responsible, the company could delay mining 5 ha. to examine properly the options for protecting Powelliphanta "Augustus". These options include not mining the site, using underground techniques, mining only part of the site, and/or thoroughly researching, planning and trialing translocation techniques."

Information obtained from the Department of Conservation under the Official Information Act shows serious flaws and risks in Solid Energy's proposal. A departmental report says that to eliminate risk, the time frame required is years with a trial first to determine whether the transferred snails survive and breed.

"This is very different from Solid Energy's one-off proposal with no trial and a timeframe of weeks or months," said Ms Sage.

"Conservation Minister Chris Carter is being poorly advised if he believes, as he told Forest and Bird recently, "Solid Energy's decisions on its Stockton mine are operational and it is not appropriate for the Minister of State Owned Enterprises, or me, to intervene in this matter."

"The possible extinction of Powelliphanta "Augustus" is not an operational matter to be left to the Board of Solid Energy. It is an issue which the Minister of Conservation and Solid Energy's shareholding ministers of SOEs and Finance must take action over in line with the New Zealand Biodiversity Strategy ," Ms Sage said.

"Labour took decisive action to protect West Coast forests against the SOE Timberlands' high impact logging in 1999. Protecting this endangered species of giant land snail is even more urgent," she said.



Forest and Bird believes Solid Energy's snail transfer proposal risks making Powelliphanta "Augustus" extinct for the following reasons:

* There have been no translocations of P. "Augustus" so there is no certainty the snails would re-establish successfully on a new site.

* Solid Energy's very tight timeframe gives no opportunity for a trial run and monitoring over several years to determine whether the snails would survive being moved.

* If the translocation does not succeed, the only known source population will have been destroyed despite the species' endangered status.

* There is no "back-up" population of snails in captive management; and it is not known whether the species can be held in captivity successfully.

* Solid Energy intends to "direct transfer" i.e. dig up and move snail habitat, regardless of whether snails are present. Snails risk being crushed and killed.

* Solid Energy plans to search for snails over a 10 day period in September, using five people, at a time when snails are likely to be hard to find. (A DoC report states, "Snails are more active and generally easier to find in warmer summer months.")

* If Solid Energy cannot find 100 snails during the 10 day survey, it will not delay digging up the area until it finds them.

* The site the snails would be moved too is not protected either physically or legally.

Solid Energy's Stockton mining licence covers around 2,310 ha. on the Stockton plateau near Westport.

The only known population and remaining habitat of the giant land snail, Powelliphanta "Augustus" is a 5.3 ha. area within this on the Mt Augustus ridgeline. The species is classified as "Nationally Critical" in terms of its vulnerability to extinction. An estimated 800-1000 snails may be present, although Department of Conservation scientists state that the population is likely to be lower than this.

Solid Energy proposes to move 100 snails to a 10 ha. site. Altitude, aspect, exposure, soil chemistry and diversity of the vegetation types are all different at the proposed new site, which is only 800m from the source population area. This is close enough that - if the site was suitable habitat for P. "Augustus" - it would have already been "discovered" and "colonised" by the snails.

Solid Energy plans to mine the area in October claiming that the coal in the Mt Augustus block (of which the P. "Augustus" habitat is a small portion) has an estimated net present value of $150-220 million.

Department of Conservation comments on Solid Energy's draft Wildlife Act application include:

"The tight timeframe for this proposal is its undoing. The "rush" attaches huge risk to the proposal...... To eliminate risk the timeframe required is years. Ideally before considering risking the only source population through habitat movement the success of translocation should be confirmed. Snails should be translocated in several batches over several seasons and then monitored until at least breeding of the translocated and captive populations was confirmed."


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