A proposed new road at Canberra Airport would be like a death sentence for the tiny Canberra Grassland Earless Dragon, environmentalists warned this week.
The dragon, which is less than 150 mm long and weighs under nine grams, was listed as “critically endangered” under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act in June this year. Subsequent monitoring at nine sites has since uncovered it at only two places.
The airport road was proposed by the Canberra Airport Group back in 2009, from Fairbairn to Majura Road in Pialligo, and was approved under environmental laws. But later, because the group could not secure the land it needed, the plans were revised, with the new road sparking environmental concern that it would cut the Natural Temperate Grassland habitat in two, threatening the survival of the dragon.
The Conservation Council of the ACT said the dragon had seen a 71 per cent population decline in just 10 years, local extinctions of once reliable populations and a small and ever decreasing geographic distribution. Fragmentation of the remaining habitat made it impossible for individuals to breed between populations.
Outside the road corridor, it said, the addition of two new bus parking areas, along with earthworks, would also destroy the habitat.
President of Friends of Grasslands, Jamie Pittock, said the road would “destroy and fragment critically endangered Natural Temperate Grassland”.
“It would likely be a death sentence for one of only three genetically distinct wild populations of Canberra Grassland Earless Dragon,” he said.
“The Federal Government has been waging a war against native temperate grasslands despite supposedly protecting them as a critically endangered ecosystem.
“In the past few years in Canberra the Federal Government has approved destruction of this habitat at York Park and at Ainslie, and proposes further development at Lawson North and Campbell Park. The new Federal Government has an opportunity to live up to its rhetoric for conserving threatened species – such as the Canberra Dragon – by revoking approval for this unnecessary road at the airport.”
Executive director of the Conservation Council ACT Region, Elle Lawless, called on the Minister for the Environment, Tanya Plibersek, to revoke the road approval.
“We are in the midst of a biodiversity crisis, the Environment Minister has included the Canberra Grassland Earless Dragon in her list of species to be prioritised in the fight against extinctions. To honour this commitment and maintain a chance of protecting this species the road approval must be revoked,” she said.
Ms Lawless said the last time the community could comment on the project was in 2009 and “much had changed since then”.
“There have been huge scientific and planning changes to the project in those 14 years including discovering the dragon was a unique species and it being listed as critically endangered. There is no way the Minister can continue on with such an antiquated and now irrelevant approval.”
Region has approached the Canberra Airport Group for comment.