A letter sent by Zoos Victoria chief executive Jenny Gray to the state-owned timber company VicForests in January says recent scientific modelling had led the zoos to form the view that rates of highland harvesting could not be viewed as “ecologically sustainable”.
The rules for logging in the central highlands would not save the state’s critically endangered faunal emblem, the Leadbeater’s possum, from extinction, she said.
Conservationists want clearfell logging to end in the highlands to protect the possum an other threatened forests species They are also campaigning for a “Great Forest National Park” to be established.
But the region is also a critical to industry and is helping prop up unprofitable harvesting elsewhere in the state.
Ms Gray’s letter was released by Zoos Victoria – which oversees Melbourne Zoo, Healesville Sanctuary and the Werribee Open Range Zoo – to conservation groups under freedom of information laws, and was also provided to Fairfax Media.
In it Ms Gray points the dramatic loss of 50 per cent of the possum’s available habitat since 2000 due to fires and logging.
She later told The Age the scientific evidence showed there was not enough forest left for both the possum and industry’s needs.
Zoos was committed to fighting species extinction, Ms Gray said, and the Great Forest National Park, while not guaranteeing the possum’s survival, would give it the best chance.
“This is without considering the additional benefits for carbon storage, water production and the creation of jobs from tourism that could generate further value from our ecosystem services,” Ms Gray’s letter adds.
The letter also expresses concern for the future of other species, such as the sooty owl, greater glider and yellow-bellied glider, which depend on hollow bearing trees.
Zoos Victoria has committed to saving 20 key threatened species from extinction and the letter is the most explicit comments it has made on logging and the campaign to set up a new national park.
The letter was sent as a submission to VicForests’ on its proposed new management plan. In it Ms Gray also said conservation protections in the plan had to be significantly strengthened.
VicForests general manager for planning Nathan Trushell said the strategy was still in draft form and a number of submissions were being considered. The zoos’ submission had raised issues “which relate to the entire forest estate, including the management of parks and reserves, not just areas available for timber harvesting”.
A spokeswoman for the Andrews government pointed to an industry taskforce it was establishing that would “bring government, industry and science together to reach common ground on the issues facing the [timber] industry”.
Steve Meacher, from the Friends of the Leadbeater’s Possum, said eight months after the government was elected the taskforce had yet to convene. In the meantime he said VicForests’ latest timber release plan included hundreds of proposed new logging coupes.