Traditional Owners are concerned there are no plans to rehabilitate a patch of bushland in WA’s North West alleged to have been illegally cleared by a Chinese company.
Zenith Australia Investment Holding was in June ordered to stop clearing vegetation at Yakka Munga Station after native title group Walalakoo Aboriginal Corporation complained.
Last week, its appeal against a stop-work order was largely dismissed.
The land is considered sacred by the Nyikina Mangala people. WAC chairman Wayne Bergmann said Traditional Owners were shocked to find massive trenches had been dug up, causing significant damage to important flora, including boab trees ripped out of the ground.
Zenith Australia is a division of Shanghai CRED, a real estate conglomerate that jointly bought the Kidman cattle empire with billionaire mining magnate Gina Reinhart.
The company had disregarded the binding terms of a land use agreement by undertaking major work without consulting native title holders, showing what Mr Bergmann says was "unacceptable" behaviour.
“The chances are we have people buried in these areas and they were cleared without any surveys’, without any archaeological studies,” Mr Bergmann told NITV News.
“You can just put a blindfold on, destroy things and then seek forgiveness rather than permission.”
WA’s Department of Water and Environmental Regulation said about 120 hectares of land was cleared without authorisation.
It's understood the company intends to use the trenches for all-year-round stock watering and argues it did not need a clearing permit because the clearing was undertaken in line with exemptions relating to using the land for pastoral purposes.
But Appeals Convener Emma Gaunt has only recommended amending the vegetation conservation notice to include reference that up to five hectares of the cleared area may be exempt.
Ms Gaunt otherwise dismissed Zenith Australia's appeal, saying "there is a reasonable basis to suspect unlawful clearing".
Environs Kimberley has called on WA Environment Minister Stephen Dawson to prosecute the company and rehabilitate the land to discourage further bulldozing.
"It would be an absolute travesty if this company gets away with illegal landclearing by simply applying for a retrospective permit," spokesman Martin Pritchard said last week.
Mr Pritchard also said it was questionable the trenches would be useful for stock watering given highly variable rainfall in the Kimberley region and very high evaporation rates.
The Wilderness Society also called for sanctions against Zenith Australia.
A spokeswoman for the WA environment minister said he declined to comment as the appeals process was not exhausted.
Meanwhile, the Nyikina Mangala people have indicated they intend to seek legal advice about company’s actions.
Traditional Owner Rosita Shaw said the land should be returned to its previous state.
“This country is like a library for us – filled with the stories and knowledge of our Elders - and we will not allow any more of it to be destroyed," she said.