MATT RILKOFF.A Tasmanian conservation group says expansion plans by a New Plymouth District Council-owned company will spell disaster for the island’s endangered Tasmanian devil.The Tasmanian Conservation Trust say plans by the Van Diemen’s Land Company to expand its dairy operation will lead to a large area of native forest being cleared, putting the world’s healthiest population of Tasmanian devils at risk.
VDL is 98 per cent owned by Tasman Farms Ltd of which the council’s investment arm, Taranaki Investment Management Ltd, TIML, owns 87 per cent.
TIML was set up in 2004 to invest the council’s $250 million windfall from the sale of its Powerco shares.
Conservation Trust director Peter McGlone said the Tasmanian devil population on VDL land was of exceptionally high significance to the survival of the species because it was still free from the deadly facial tumour disease which was wiping out the animals in other parts of Tasmania.
This has already been recognised by the Tasmanian Government and VDL, which have both floated the idea of fencing off the entire station to create a disease-free «island» for devils.
«To destroy the habitat after going to great effort to protect the devils from infection from the deadly facial tumour disease would be a perverse and outrageous outcome â€“ not to mention a waste of Australian taxpayers’ money,» Mr McGlone said yesterday. «Over the last six months, [the trust] has made considerable efforts to raise its concerns directly with VDL and the mayor of the NPDC and the responses from both has been totally unsatisfactory.»
But New Plymouth Mayor Harry Duynhoven has slammed the accusations as politically motivated, scurrilous and economic with the truth.
He said VDL had sent three letters to the trust and made countless phone calls offering to meet and discuss its plans but the trust had never responded. «This appears to me to be a total beatup,» he said.
VDL was developing a small percentage of its 19,000 hectares and trees would be cleared. Mr Duynhoven acknowledged it would indeed be a scandal if a New Plymouth-owned company was clear-felling native forest in Tasmania and not looking after native flora and fauna.
«But I have been assured that is not the case,» he said.
Tasmania’s premier and environment minister had also toured the property and been briefed on the expansion plans, Mr Duynhoven said.
VDL chief executive Michael Guerin said it would only proceed with development plans if all aspects of sustainability were approved by the Tasmanian Government’s independent regulatory authorities.
«We’re very conscious of our environmental responsibilities and have had a range of ecologists undertaking detailed field studies and scientific reports.
«We have not yet finalised documentation on vegetation and environmental impacts and nor have we lodged any land clearance plans,» he said.
– Â© Fairfax NZ News