Greater gliders: fears of ‘catastrophic’ consequences from logging in Victoria

Gliders are listed as threatened by both state and federal governments, but they are not protected by legislation.

Logging has begun of trees inhabited by the threatened greater gliders in a forest also inhabited by Victoria’s faunal emblem, the threatened Leadbeater’s possum.

Photo - Greater Glider, Caleb, GECO.
Greater Glider – (Caleb, GECO)

Protections for the remaining Leadbeater’s possum population – believed to be fewer than 2,500 breeding individuals left in the wild – mean logging will be halted within 200m of known colonies. But no such protection exists for the Greater Gliders, which have been listed as threatened by both state and federal governments.

On the evenings of 18 and 19 August, citizen scientists recorded the presence of seven greater gliders in an area of the Toolangi state forest in the Central Highlands of Victoria, which was earmarked for logging by VicForests.

The report was emailed to VicForests, as well as relevant Victorian ministers and departments on 28 August 2017. It is understood that logging had started in the area by then, and has continued with no regard given to the known greater glider population.

A spokeswoman for the Victorian Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning replied to the email about the sighting, saying: “DELWP is still determining our interim protection measures for greater gliders and your report will help inform this work.”

Danya Jacobs, a lawyer at Environmental Justice Australia, said the government was required to make an “action statement” as soon as possible after an animal is listed as threatened.

Greater gliders were listed as threatened under federal law in May 2017, with habitat loss listed as a major threat with “catastrophic” consequences. Logging in particular was noted as a threat, since “prime habitat coincides largely with areas suitable for logging”.

“The government can and should use powers that are available to it to urgently prohibit logging where this species occurs,” Jacobs said.

Lily D’Ambrosio, Victoria’s minister for energy environment and climate change told Guardian Australia the Victorian government was working on protecting the greater glider “as a priority” and interim measures were being finalised to be put in place while longer-term protections are developed.

Victoria’s faunal emblem, the threatened Leadbeater’s possum. Photograph: Healesville Sanctuary

She said the draft action statement would be published in early 2018, with the public invited to comment on it.

Sightings of Leadbeater’s possums by the same group of citizen scientists in the area has resulted in a buffer of 200m around the known colonies, a legal requirement made to protect the threatened species.

A government analysis found that even with these protections, the Leadbeater’s possums had only a 45% chance of surviving.

But a new independent assessment of that protection measure by John Woinarski from Charles Darwin University found the population is still very likely to be wiped out, since that calculation assumed “an implausible future scenario of 200 years without bushfire”.

“When a single bushfire is factored into the analysis, the population within the conservation reserve system, including [timber harvesting exclusion zones policy], is far more likely than not to become quasi-extinct,” Woinarski wrote. (“Quasi-extinct” is defined as when the population drops below a viable threshold.)

The report has been published by the Victorian government, which says it is considering it “and will respond in due course”.

Jacobs said: “Gambling the future of Victoria’s faunal emblem on the slim hope that the central highlands might go 200 years without a bushfire is completely irresponsible.”

While the 200m logging exclusion zones around known colonies can stop those individual possums from being killed immediately, the surrounding logging leaves the possums vulnerable to bushfires, with less habitat to escape into.

“Leadbeater’s possum was hit very hard by the Black Saturday bushfires in 2009,” said Jacobs. “The effort to prevent the species’ extinction is directly linked to protecting its remaining habitat.

“While the government cannot guarantee 200 years without bushfires, it could greatly improve the survival chances of Leadbeater’s possum by prohibiting logging in the possum’s home forests.”

A joint RSPCA-WWF report finds tree clearing in Queensland is the state’s biggest animal welfare issue, killing 34m animals each year in the state, many of which die a painful death.

“Nothing else in Queensland causes as much suffering and death among animals as the escalating destruction of bushland habitat by bulldozers and other machinery,” said Mark Townend from the RSPCA.

“This is due to a gaping hole in our legislative safeguards allowing huge areas of forest to be bulldozed with no requirement to consider or reduce the impact on the animals living there,” Townend said.

The report found that between 2009 and 2014, more than 10,000 koalas were admitted to the four south-east Queensland wildlife hospitals, out of a population of only 15,000 estimated in 2010.

Dermot O’Gorman, chief executive of WWF-Australia, said bulldozing of habitat was a major factor in the 80% decline of koalas in Queensland’s Koala Coast.

“Even if they escape the grinding bulldozers and crashing trees, native animals face deprivation and death crowding into remaining habitats that are already full.”

The two organisations called for stronger restrictions on land clearing, mandatory relocation of wildlife in tree-clearing projects, and enhanced funding for wildlife rescue services.

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