Tusked Frog survived pandemic in Mole River ark

Mole River Protection Alliance

MEDIA RELEASE 8th March 2021

“Tusked Frogs and Northern Brown Bandicoots – both are amazing finds I would not have dreamt of” said Phil Spark who has been conducting wildlife surveys for decades. “That’s on top of Spotted-tail Quoll, Rakali, Catfish, Murray Cod and so many other species – it seems the Mole River is an ark of conservation for species that are declining or have already disappeared elsewhere.”

Mr Spark was one of three professional ecologists who spent a weekend surveying the site of a proposed dam 25 km west of Tenterfield near the NSW-Queensland border for the Mole River Protection Alliance.

He explained “This is the first place west of the Dividing Range where Tusked frogs have been found for over four decades. They used to be common in the New England Tablelands or North West Slopes but rapidly disappeared in the 1970s.”

Tusked Frogs were severely affected by a pandemic of chytrid fungus, like many other frog species around the world. The species survived in coastal regions but were feared extinct in this region where any remaining Tusked Frogs were declared an endangered population.

Mole Station owner, David Caldwell, showed the ecologists a dead Bandicoot he had found very close to the Mole River downstream from the dam site. “They were excited because bandicoots are very rare in this area. The Australian Museum advised us that there were no previous specimen-based records of this species from west of Tenterfield. The species is likely to be at the western edge of its range in this area which makes the Mole River population significant” Mr Caldwell said. “I’d not seen one before but my father remembers seeing them here long ago – it is lovely to know Bandicoots still live in our valley.”

“It was great to see a camera-trap photo of the Rakali, proving they had survived our extreme drought. Most people call them Water Rats because they live in rivers, although they are not much like rats. My grandfather told me people around here called them moles and this may be the origin of the Mole River’s name”.

Phil Sparkes shows turtles to Mole River Information Fun Day participants

NSW Fisheries surveys in early 2020 showed at least six fish species had survived the extreme drought in Mole River, including three species threatened by river regulation Murray Cod, Catfish and Purple-spotted Gudgeons.

This brief survey brought the number of fish species re-found to 8 and recorded 11 frog species, 3 kinds of turtle, 42 birds and 16 native mammal species.

Kate Boyd of the Mole River Protection Alliance says “This river valley is an ark in which so much wildlife has survived past land use changes, diseases and introduced predators. The forest on the riverbanks suffered a bit in the drought but it remained as a refuge with habitats these species need. Many thousands of bottlebrush shrubs overhanging the river channel flowered brilliantly last spring when everything was able to reproduce again.

“This is the ark in which these species have a chance of surviving climate change.”

WaterNSW proposes to build a dam that would inundate and permanently destroy about 13 km of the Mole River, plus the side creeks, River Oak forest, woodlands and productive grazing land.

“All of the Mole River downstream would be adversely impacted by greatly changed river flows if funds to build the dam are found.”

$24m of public funds are currently being spent trying to work out a final business case for the dam. Consultants have been paid to look for threatened species in the inundation site but their findings have not been made public. They may be used to calculate part of the money required to “offset” loss of threatened species – a cost to include in the business case along with construction costs and benefits – the dam is primarily to improve reliability for irrigated agriculture.

Kate Boyd says “Water NSW has not looked for threatened species on downstream properties although the impacts and “offset” cost calculations can’t be done properly without this. Mole River Protection Alliance may have to find volunteers to do its own survey of wildlife habitats downstream and indicate how big this hole in the business case could be. 

“The business case may not be made public either, unless the Premier or Treasurer are persuaded to release it before considering expenditure of more funds.

“It is not possible to offset the destruction of this whole endangered population of Tusked Frogs by a dam. These frogs live in creeks, natural rivers and on sheltered riverbanks, not in drowned dead treetops or up hills. No amount of money can create another river with the right habitats for Tusked Frogs and threatened fish to thrive in.”

The Mole River Protection Alliance, of local people and wider community interests, believes careful promotion of the valley for its wonderful wildlife and other values would be a much better future.

Contacts:            

Phil Spark            0427 642245                       

David Caldwell   02 6737 5429

Kate Boyd           0429724026   Kate can’t take calls at work 8am-5.15 Monday-Wednesday:

                                                                so please leave a text message then I will call you back

For more on Tusked Frogs:   https://australian.museum/blog/amri-news/frog-with-tusks-rediscovered/

Rakali on the Mole River
A quoll was seen under this Red Gum on the Mole River

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