By Rachel Carbonell. Updated
Environmentalists say the plight of Victoria’s Leadbeater’s possum epitomises a national failure to protect endangered species.
The elusive endangered possum, which is the state’s official animal emblem, is restricted to pockets of ash forests in the Central Highlands of north-east Victoria.
Australian National University ecologist David Lindenmayer has studied these ash forests for 30 years.
He says a combination of logging and fire has left them in dire need of protection and rehabilitation.
“Following the 2009 fires we see 1,871 hectares of Mountain Ash forest which is unlogged and unburnt,” he told AM.
“That’s 1.16 per cent of the forest estate which is old growth.
“Why does this matter? Old growth has the most carbon stored, old forest produces the most water, old forest produces the largest number of big old trees where you get Leadbeater’s possum and other species of possums and gliders.
“We need to cease clear felling by the end of this year.”
Professor Lindenmayer says the management of the forests is up to the Victorian Government, but the Commonwealth is responsible for the laws meant to protect threatened species and the Regional Forest Agreements with the states, which he says have failed to protect the biodiversity of the ash forests.
Victorian conservation groups are calling for the Federal Government to weigh into the issue, saying the Regional Forest Agreements have not worked.
Sarah Rees, the director of local green group My Environment, is among those calling for action.
“We have a precedent being set here where we are prepared to send a species to extinction for resource extraction,” she said.
“That is a huge issue that we have a Commonwealth country prepared to sanction that.”
Coalition to create threatened species commissioner
Opposition environment spokesman Greg Hunt says a change in bureaucracy is what is needed and that the Coalition will have a threatened species commissioner.
However, Mr Hunt says there are no plans to change current arrangements with the states when it comes to logging.
“My hope is they will have some sort of agreement and accommodation that will help the possum. It’s a magnificent animal, it is one of our iconic national species and it is threatened,” he said.
Federal Labor promises to expand the use of strategic assessment powers if re-elected and says the Coalition’s idea for a threatened species commissioner is unnecessary bureaucracy.
The Victorian Government has previously stated its forests are among the best managed and most protected in the world.
VicForests is the state-owned corporation responsible for managing the commercial harvest and sale of timber from state forests.
Director of corporate affairs, Nathan Trushell, says his organisation is responding to concerns about logging the ash forests.
“On average we reserve about 30 per cent of our planned area to be retained for a whole variety of values including the Leadbeater’s possum but of course also other important biodiversity and other important values throughout the forest,” he said.