With a length of 10-16cm, there isn’t much of the rare dune dunnart to see, even with extensive knowledge of the four remote places it inhabit.
But now the pint-sized carnivore could disappear entirely from one of these sites, with fears that Western Australia’s proposed uranium mine at Mulga Rock could destroy its home among the spinifex mounds. east of Kalgoorlie.
In fact, since the so-called marsupial mouse has not been seen in the Northern Territory since its discovery there in the late 1800s, its habitat is more likely to be reduced to just two locations on the whole continent.
State and national environmental groups are calling for a re-examination of the disputed Mulga Rock project, which is Australia’s third-largest undeveloped uranium site and owned by Perth-based Vimy Resources.
The WA Conservation Council and the Australian Conservation Foundation say the miner is in a self-proclaimed race to demonstrate a “substantial start” before a key approval date expires next month.
“The work on the site is unnecessarily destructive,” said Annica Schoo, ACF environmental investigator.
“The company does not have a set of required approvals, plans and agreements, does not have the capital to start mining, and has not made a final investment decision to continue.”
On the contrary, Vimy’s acting general manager, Steven Michael, said last month that obtaining approvals to begin ground disturbance activities at Mulga Rock “a milestone”.
The first production, he said, was likely by 2025.
The two green groups want Washington state and federal governments to urgently investigate a potential violation of conditions at the main mine site on the southwest edge of the Great Victoria Desert.
They insist that the rapid clearing of an airstrip occurs without a necessary conservation plan and in an area beyond that covered by the national environmental law.
It is also said to be too close to where the sand dunnart has so far managed to survive despite encroachment by cattle and predation by introduced foxes and cats.
While its digging abilities have also enabled it to withstand the threat of fires, removing spinifex is not that easy for the dunnart to overcome.
The removal of mounds to create farmland on South Australia’s Eyre Peninsula over the past few decades has caused an alarming 60% reduction in its viable habitat, one of only two in the state.
Mulga Rock is known to contain 76.8 million pounds of uranium in four deposits, which Vimy intends to extract using shallow open pit methods.
Concentrates of cobalt, copper, nickel and zinc will also be phased out and sold separately.
Washington State Environmental Protection Authority says Vimy’s original project was approved in 2016, but is weighing claims the miner is moving forward with a proposal that is now significantly different .
A spokeswoman for Federal Environment Minister Sussan Ley told AAP her ministry was aware of some of the allegations and “made a number of inquiries.”
Premier Mark McGowan said in 2017 he hoped Mulga Rock and other large WA uranium projects would not be built, but refused to block them and risk compensation payments worth of “hundreds of millions, even billions”.
Australian Associated Press