PRESSURE for Australian Paper wood pulp supplier VicForests to end logging in the central highlands has intensified, after the classification of the Leadbeater’s Possum as critically endangered by the Federal Government.
Last week Environment Minister Greg Hunt said he ordered the listing, which will afford the Leadbeater’s “the highest level of protection under national environment law”, after considering advice from the independent Threatened Species Scientific Committee.
“The challenges facing this iconic species are significant. It has undergone very severe population declines in recent decades with numbers having decreased by more than 80 per cent since the mid-1980s,” Mr Hunt said.
The Leadbeater’s habitats in the central highlands sit among logging coups managed and harvested by VicForests, which supplies Australian Paper’s Maryvale Mill with wood pulp.
“Leadbeater’s Possums have very specific habitat requirements in order for them to survive and flourish,” Mr Hunt said.
“Sadly, almost half of the possum’s ideal habitat – the old-growth mountain ash forest in the central highlands of Victoria – was burnt in the 2009 bushfires.”
The classification comes after the State Government last week announced a number of new Leadbeater protection measures, including fast-tracking identification surveys for 200 new possum colonies, and infrared aerial surveys to identify potential habitat trees.
However, the move has heightened calls to convert 525,000 hectares of native forest in the region into a national park, referred to in environmental campaigns as the Great Forest National Park.
The Wilderness Society national campaign director Lyndon Schneiders said the Commonwealth environment protection powers were hamstrung by national forestry and logging agreements.
“With this new listing, it is now incumbent on the Victorian Government to implement interim protection of Fairy Possum forest habitat while the proposed ‘Forests Taskforce’ is convened,” Mr Schneiders said.
In a statement VicForests said it had been working to develop and implement new initiatives to assist the recovery of the possum over the past 18 months.
These have included remote camera surveys in targeted areas, and increased protections around Leadbeater colonies, changes to harvesting practices, further protection of old growth forest and delays to harvesting in specifically chosen areas.
VicForests’ measures come after it announced last year it would replace 50 per cent of traditional clearfelling with retention harvesting methods in Leadbeater habitats, which it described as the “biggest change to harvesting practices ever implemented” by the organisation.
“While various measures have been put in place to protect the possum, we continue to manage our operations to ensure our customers, including Australian Paper at Maryvale, are supplied with the timber they need to run their businesses,” a VicForests spokesperson said.