22 June, 2012

Brown back to his roots on rescue mission

Adam Morton
The Age, 22 June 2012

A WEEK after retiring from politics and 40 years after first wandering into a Tasmanian forest, Bob Brown yesterday gazed up at old-growth trees in Victoria's central highlands for the first time and gave a commitment to campaign to save the endangered Leadbeater's possum.

First-time visit: former Greens leader Bob Brown 'experiences' the old-growth forests near Camberville and vows to fight for Leadbeater's possum. Photo: Justin McManus
The former Greens leader was the first senior politician to accept an open invitation from scientists to visit the forests around Healesville and Marysville to see the impact of logging and bushfire, which they say has reduced the tiny possum's population to less than 1000.

Today he plans to join protesters at a camp blockading logging at Mt St Leonard, near Toolangi.
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When he first visited the island state in 1972, in part in an ambitious search for the Tasmanian tiger, Dr Brown was stunned to learn its extinction was linked to the Tasmanian Parliament placing a £1 bounty on its head. He said the situation facing Leadbeater's possum was similar, citing scientific advice that it could face extinction within 20 years.

''The bounty is on the trees the possum lives in here, by deliberate government fiat. It is listed as imperilled by the federal legislation, which says therefore you must have a meaningful plan to bring it up. None of that is in place,'' he said.

''One of the reasons I have left Parliament … is to talk more generally to a very alert audience about turning the destruction of habitat and species around. And if you can't turn it around for Leadbeater's possum in wealthy, democratic Victoria, forget the planet. It's as simple as that.''

The plight of Leadbeater's possum, Victoria's faunal emblem, has been at the centre of a campaign by conservationists and scientists to end clearfell logging. An ecology team headed by Australian National University professor David Lindenmayer estimates its numbers were cut in half by the Black Saturday bushfires, and say its remaining population is under pressure from forestry.

The forestry industry says it is acting within the law, which requires it to leave pre-1900 trees and prime possum habitat. In March, Healesville group MyEnvironment lost a Supreme Court bid to stop logging in parts of the central highlands, though Justice Robert Osborn said there was a strong case for a review of protection of the possum's habitat in the wake of Black Saturday.

Walking beneath old-growth forest at Camberville, east of Marysville, Dr Brown said it felt like visiting Tasmania's Styx Valley, though at higher altitude.

''Why isn't half Melbourne out here looking at it, craning their necks?'' he said. ''We've got on the back step of Melbourne fabulous forest and rare and wonderful creatures, but I think people don't know it is here.''

Professor Lindenmayer said he had extended the same invitation to tour the forests to Prime Minister Julia Gillard and Opposition Leader Tony Abbott.

In 2009, ANU scientists found Victoria's mountain ash forests were the most carbon-dense in the world. Dr Brown said this was poorly understood. ''There is a fortune standing here looking up at the sky in an age of carbon trading,'' he said. ''It is being traded for a pittance lying down on the back of a truck. It economically doesn't make sense any more.''

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