26 July, 2011

Tree-sitter takes fight for rare possum to new heights

Adam Carey
The Age, July 26, 2011

A FIGHT to end logging in native forests in Victoria's central highlands has intensified, with conservationists entering a patch of forest they claim is habitat to the endangered Leadbeater's possum and forcing a halt to work there.
Dozens of demonstrators entered a logging coupe on Sylvia Creek Road in the Toolangi State Forest yesterday morning, where a lone protester has stationed himself high in the forest canopy in a move to stall timber harvesting.

Police made no move to evict the "tree-sitter" from his perch yesterday, leaving him huddled in a sleeping bag 50 metres above ground on the edge of a patch of freshly clear-felled forest. Long ropes were strung from the tree trunk to the loggers' bulldozers, which sat idle in the coupe below.

A VicForests worker approached the protesters and asked them to leave the area, but they refused.

"This is one of the few areas that wasn't burnt on Black Saturday … so it's really important to all of us standing here that it is preserved for our children and for the habitat," Karina Doughty of local action group Warburton Environment said.
VicForests, the Victorian government's commercial forestry arm, began logging 19 hectares of forest at Sylvia Creek Road last Friday.

It had planned to log 22 hectares, but cut the coupe's size after the Department of Sustainability and Environment found it contained old-growth forest last week.

Senior VicForests employee Stuart O'Brien told demonstrators the coupe was part of a mixed-age forest that contained only a handful of old-growth, hollow-bearing trees. Those trees would be preserved, he said. "We've done pretty extensive surveying here and we've excluded about three hectares where those old-growth trees are," Mr O'Brien said.

A key aim of the protesters is the preservation of the remaining habitat of the Leadbeater's possum, which is endemic to the central highlands. About 1000 of the animals are believed to exist today after as much as half of its habitat was wiped out in the Black Saturday bushfires.

VicForests is prohibited from logging hollow-bearing trees under a Department of Sustainability and Environment plan to protect the endangered possum's habitat, but conservationists say the plan is inadequate.

"So much of the forest has been so heavily hit by fires and also by past logging that the amount of habitat for Leadbeater's possum is really vanishing very quickly," Australian National University ecologist David Lindenmayer said.

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