Q&A with Sean FitzGibbon- Integrating Wildlife Into Mine Closure Practices


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Sean FitzGibbon is speaking at the Mine Rehabilitation and Closure conference.

For more information about this event, please visit http://www.minerehabilitation.com.au , call +61 2 9229 1000 or email enquire@iqpc.com.au

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Q&A with Sean FitzGibbon- Integrating Wildlife Into Mine Closure Practices

  1. 1. Q&A with Sean FitzGibbon: Integrating Wildlife Into Mine Closure Practices Mine Rehabilitation and Closure 2011 www.minerehabilitation.com.au 1. We understand youre a Wildlife Researcher - can you give us an overview of howyour work and research fits in with mine closure and rehabilitation?I research koalas on mine sites, looking at how to manage & conserve them throughout thelife of mine. A major component of my work concerns mine closure and rehabilitation, toensure post-mining landscapes can once again support wild koala populations. To do thiswe need to understand the needs of koalas (e.g. local food tree preferences, home rangerequirements) which is where our ‘Koala Venture’ research partnership with Rio Tinto fits in.I collar and monitor the movements of wild koalas at two RTCA mines in centralQueensland.At Blair Athol Coal Mine, we have found koalas are utilising rehab areas only 12yrs old,eating and sleeping in ironbarks and spotted gums that are only 6-8m tall. Connectivity tointact forest seems very important too, despite the ability of koalas to move long distanceson the ground. These are the sort of scientific findings that are invaluable in guiding mineclosure and rehabilitation efforts for koala conservation.When mining companies are planning for closure and rehabilitation, what do you feelthey should foremost consider?The desired end-use of the post-mining landscape has to be the foremost consideration toguide rehabilitation strategies. Hopefully this will usually involve an aim of restoring wildlifehabitat to some extent even where is it impractical to aim for what was once naturally-occurring. My research is focused on koalas but land managers obviously need to take abroader approach and try to maximise recolonisation by a range of native species torestore ecosystem function.In your opinion, do all mines have the same impact on the environment? Or aresome have greater effect?Without doubt there is variability in the environmental impact of mines. This is influenced bya range of factors such as the ore/mineral being mined, the extraction and processingmethods employed, as well as the state and ecological value of the landscape prior tomining. Unfortunately, I think mines are often tarred with the same brush in terms of publicperception, but there is an enormous spectrum in environmental accountability. 1
  2. 2. How can mining companies better integrate wildlife into their closure practices? Howcan environmental managers be well-prepared for this during mine closure?The first step is for land managers to have a solid understanding of what wildlifeoccurs/occurred on their site, and then to know how (or if) they can provide for theecological needs of these species in their rehabilitation. This is where science must informpractice.Research has demonstrated the value of even relatively simple measures, such as placinglogs or piles of dead wood in rehabilitated areas to provide micro-habitats for a range oflittle critters like skinks, geckos, snakes and frogs. Follow-up tubestock plantings, provisionof artificial bird and bat boxes, introduced predator control – there are a range of measuresso managers have to take an integrated approach and tailor it to the specific challenges attheir site.What do you see as the biggest impediments to effective mine rehabilitation?Unfortunately, I think mine site rehabilitation can fall down the list of priorities. Achievingeffective rehabilitation is not an easy task, especially in areas with harsh environmentalconditions, so those charged with doing so need to be properly resourced and supported.Mining companies need to walk the talk and invest appropriately in landscape restoration,and there are some great examples of progressive mines doing just that. Conversely,government regulators need to hold to account those mines not performing adequately. It’sa complex issue and although we have made some major advances in recent times, I thinkour industry needs to aim for continual improvement and there is still plenty of room for thatoverall.Dr. Sean FitzGibbon is speaking at the Mine Rehabilitation and Closure conference this June. For more information about this event, please visitwww.minerehabilitation.com.au or call 02 9229 1000. Or email enquire@iqpc.com.au You can also follow Mining IQ on Twitter, @MiningIQDr Sean FitzGibbonKoala Venture ResearcherCentre for Mined Land RehabilitationThe University of QueenslandSt Lucia QLD 4072s.fitzgibbon@uq.edu.au 2