29 August, 2013

Push for national park to save possum

Tom Arup, Environment editor
The Age, 29 August 2013

A Leadbeater's possum. Photo: Justin McManus

The Greens and Professor Tim Flannery will back the creation of a new national park in Victoria's highland forests as part of efforts to save the endangered Leadbeater's Possum at a public forum on Thursday.
At an event in Melbourne the Greens will launch a campaign to establish the Great Forest National Park to protect Leadbeater's and other species in the bushfire ravaged highland forests, also a major logging area.

The new national park was first proposed by ANU ecologist Professor David Lindenmayer – who will also speak at the event alongside former Greens leader Bob Brown and Professor Flannery.

Fairfax Media reported this month that cabinet–in–confidence scientific advice to the state government had found the current habitat set aside for the Leadbeater's possum was not large enough to ensure its survival.

The possums lost 42 per cent of their habitat in the Black Saturday bushfires. Conservationists say continued logging in the region has exacerbated the species' decline. Estimates of the remaining populations of the Leadbeater's possum range from 1500 to 3000.

The Greens say they will push for the new national park at both the state and federal level. National parks are largely the domain of state governments.

The Napthine Government has formed a committee headed by loggers and the zoo to make recommendations on how to save the species.

Professor Flannery told Fairfax Media current Victorian government policy was dooming the species to extinction and he backed the national park proposal as a way to change that trajectory.

''We have a legislative and a moral obligation to preserve [the Leadbeater's possum],'' he said.
''To let it go extinct would be a national tragedy. It is the state emblem of Victoria for god's sake.''
Victorian Greens Senator Richard DiNatale said Australia had one of the poorest records in the world when it came to loss of biodiversity and species extinction.

''The government-owned company that logs Victoria's forests gets free land and free trees but it still manages to make a loss. It's economic and environmental lunacy. Creating a national park would create sustainable jobs and give our precious state animal emblem a chance of survival,'' he said.

As part of its environment election platform the Coalition has vowed to establish a threatened species commissioner. The Coaliition's environment spokesman Greg Hunt said the commissioner would prepare, implement and monitor recovery plans for threatened species.

27 August, 2013

D-Day looms for forest peace deal

ABC News (Australian Broadcasting Corporation), 27 August 2013

Tasmania's Upper House MPs are considering a critical report on the Government's efforts to address problems with the implementation of the forest peace deal, as they prepare to vote on its future.

A progress report released last month found the success of the deal was being hampered by a "critical" shortage of wood.

The Resources Minister, Bryan Green, has tabled the Government's response in Parliament.

It includes correspondence with Forestry Tasmania, showing the state-owned company now expects to exceed wood supply targets this financial year as it ramps up a technique called cable harvesting.

It also hinges on no more harvesting contractors leaving the industry.

The report confirms a specialty timber supply target will not be met but says a $2 million review into the problem is progressing.

At the same time, Independent Liberal MLC Tony Mulder is pushing for the Upper House to vote on the future of the peace deal legislation as soon as possible.

The Member for Rumney's motion to create another 380,000 hectares of forest reserves is designed to counter Huon MLC Paul Harriss' attempt to kill off the deal.

Mr Harriss wants his motion debated after the Federal election.

But Mr Mulder says Tasmanians are sick and tired of political grandstanding over the issue.

"The important element of this is that the issue gets decided by Parliament and not left in limbo."

Peace deal negotiators want a quick resolution

Industry, union and green groups that signed the historic agreement are pushing for a vote this week, and they want it to pass.

Terry Edwards from the Forest Industries Association says the government's response to problems raised in the progress report should prompt the Upper House to approve the final stage of the peace deal.

"This has been hanging over the industry like the Sword of Damocles now for three years," he said.

"We need to bring it to a close, we need certainty."

Jane Calvert from the Forestry Union says her members need certainty.

"This has to be done and dusted this week," she said.

"Our members have been well aware from the first day of this that there will be job losses. Never the less they have supported it because the alternative to them was devastating job losses."

Debate on Mr Mulder's' motion to accept the protection of another 380,000 hectares of forest could start as soon as today.

Halt the logging

Marion Lewis, Toolangi
The Age (letter), 27/8/2013

The Napthine government has announced it will set up a committee to investigate ways to save the endangered Leadbeater's possum. Unless the government defers all logging in the Central Highlands until after the committee has delivered its findings, this action reeks of hypocrisy. Several coupes of the best remaining Leadbeater's habitat are due to be logged in the next few weeks. If this is allowed to happen, it will render the committee and its decisions irrelevant.

19 August, 2013

Let's stop playing possum

The Age (editorial), August 19, 2013

The Gymnobelideus leadbeateri, or Leadbeater's possum, is a small and precious creature that has been this state's animal emblem for the past 42 years. The trouble is, there are so few Leadbeater's possums left that their emblematic form may soon be the only way left to see them.

According to a state government-commissioned report obtained by The Age last week, the species has insufficient forest habitat to ensure its long-term survival. This follows the loss in the Black Saturday bushfires of about 45 per cent of the Leadbeater's' permanent central highlands reserve, which is also a primary logging area. Also under threat is another state emblem, the helmeted honeyeater, whose numbers in the wild have fallen to as low as 60.

Another report, by the Victorian Environmental Assessment Council, recommends establishing a 3000-hectare conservation area on Melbourne's eastern fringe. This would resolve only part of a far wider problem: with so many species threatened with extinction, which can or should be saved? This requires governments to start consulting animal, environment and development groups. In a federal election campaign woefully short on environmental policies from the two main parties, this could be a good time to start that dialogue.

National park plans 'betrayal of public trust'

Tom Arup
The Age, August 19, 2013 

Former state governor and Olympic legend John Landy has joined a group of eminent Victorians urging the Napthine government to abandon moves to open up national parks for tourism development.
In an open letter sent to Premier Denis Napthine on Sunday night the group, which also includes Nobel prizewinner Professor Peter Doherty, hit out at the development plans, which will be debated in State Parliament this week.

The letter, titled Privatising Our National Parks - A Betrayal of Public Trust, says allowing tourism development is risky, deprives Victorians of their public land and is not in keeping with the environmental values of national parks.

The state government is opening up two-thirds of national park land for ''nature-based'' tourism development - including low-rise hotels, restaurants and jetties - and has called for potential developers to come forward. Under the changes, the government will grant leases in parks such as Wilsons Promontory and the Grampians to private companies for up to 99 years. Projects will need approval from the environment minister before they go ahead.

''In reality, a 99-year lease transfers ownership of a public asset, something we all own and can share, to a private benefit enjoyed by a privileged few,'' the letter says.

Also among the 21 signatories are former Australian of the Year Sir Gustav Nossal, retired Family Court judge John Fogarty, and founder of SANE Australia Dr Margaret Leggatt. The group points to the troubled tourism project at Seal Rocks on Phillip Island in the 2000s - which resulted in the state government being sued, costing taxpayers $55 million - as an example of what could go wrong.

''Low-risk, attractive development could be encouraged in outstanding locations just outside our national parks,'' the letter says.

Another signatory, RMIT Professor Michael Buxton, said national parks were more crucial than ever in conserving biological diversity and landscapes.

''But on a broader level what worries me is this is part of a systematic destruction of the conservation state and environmental policy by this government,'' Professor Buxton said.

No excuses for losses

Jill Redwood, Environment East Gippsland, Orbost
The Age (letter), 19/8/13

We mourn the loss of the dodo and Tasmanian Tiger as well as countless beautiful creatures that have been wiped from this planet. We excuse these losses as being due to our forebears' ignorance. But it's now 2013 and the Napthine government is set to tip entire species into the extinction pit with full scientific knowledge (''Possum needs more room to survive'', 16/8).

Ignorance is not the reason now; shameless greed and political expedience is. Our governments care more for the protection of their corporate partners than our natural areas and wildlife. Entire species found nowhere else in the world are due to be executed because of their crime of living in the woodchip zones of Victoria's woodchip, pulp and paper industry.

16 August, 2013

Possum 'needs more room' to survive

Tom Arup, Environment editor
The Age, August 16, 2013

Victoria's endangered faunal emblem, the Leadbeater's possum, has insufficient habitat to ensure the species' long-term survival, a leaked report commissioned by the state government has found.

The findings have potential implications for Victoria's timber industry, with the cabinet-in-confidence report suggesting tens of thousands more hectares of forest habitat is needed to give Leadbeater's the best chance of avoiding extinction.

The research - from the state government's Arthur Rylah Institute - investigated the status of threatened species in the central highlands forests, which were ravaged by the Black Saturday bushfires.

The highlands are the last main home for Leadbeater's, but also a primary logging area. Conservationists and scientists say logging has contributed to the possum's decline. The timber industry says fire is the predominant problem.

Institute researchers surveyed 180 sites throughout the highlands, finding Leadbeater's at just 29 locations. None were found at any of the 30 surveyed sites burnt during the 2009 fires.

All up, 45 per cent of the Leadbeater's 30,500-hectare permanent reserve was burnt in 2009. The report does not include an estimate on possums populations.

''The analysis predicts that the population of Leadbeater's possum within the reserve system has a high likelihood of being at a very low population size, which imposes on the species a greater risk of extinction, and that the existing reserve is insufficient to ensure the long-term persistence of the species,'' the report says.
The report also determined the chances of the species maintaining a population of 500 females, considered critical for survival, in different habitat sizes.

It found 46,000 hectares of unburnt, viable Leadbeater's habitat exists in reserves and national parks, of which the animal likely occupies about 15,000 hectares.

To have a strong survival chance, 56,000 hectares is needed under a best-case scenario of no bushfires. Otherwise, the area needed increases to 67,000 to 171,000 hectares.

ANU forest expert Professor David Lindenmayer this week called in a public speech for a new highlands national park to be established. But when contacted he refused to comment on the report citing a confidentiality agreement, as did other authors and contributors.

The researchers also studied the viability of long-footed potoroos in East Gippsland - another logging area - finding reserve systems alone are insufficient to ensure the species' conservation.

The state government has formed a Leadbeater's advisory group, headed by the timber industry and Zoos Victoria, to consider issues such as the size of habitat reserves. A government spokesman said it expected the report to be made public in the near future.

14 August, 2013

Vic govt declines to comment on possum extinction

Mark Colvin 
ABC PM -  14/08/2013

MARK COLVIN: Last night we ran an interview with the leading expert on Victoria's faunal emblem the Leadbeater's possum who warned of the creature's likely extinction.

Professor David Lindenmayer of the ANU draws on more than 30 years of work in the Victorian Ash forests studying the possum.

He argued among other things that a new national park was needed to protect the Leadbeater's possum, because without areas completely free of logging, it had no chance of survival.

We said then that we'd be seeking a substantial response from the Victorian government tonight.

Today, the Victorian Environment Minister, Ryan Smith, declined our invitation to appear.

He referred us to the Agriculture Minister, Peter Walsh, who was also unavailable.

PM then approached the Premier's office, but he too declined.

Mr Walsh's office suggested we talk instead to the loggers' peak body, the Victorian Association of Forest Industries.

Its Chief Executive is Lisa Marty.

LISA MARTY: Look I, I think given the impact of the 2009 bushfires, which burnt 45 per cent of the Leadbeater possum reserve area, the survival of the Leadbeater possum is a concern for many Victorians, certainly including those in the forest and wood products industry.

MARK COLVIN: You don't accept what Professor Lindenmayer says, that it's the effect of both logging and bushfires?

LISA MARTY: Look I think there's a range of challenges facing the Leadbeater possum, but overwhelmingly the impact of the 2009 bushfires has made the situation very critical. As an industry and certainly as the Victorian Association of Forest Industries we're committed to responsible forest management and to the recovery of the Leadbeater possum alongside a sustainable local forest and wood products industry.

MARK COLVIN: And critical means urgent doesn't it? I mean what's being done in the very short term?

LISA MARTY: It is about the short term future of the Leadbeater possum but it's also about the future of the possum in the long term.

David Lindenmayer's work does show that over time there are a range of challenges facing the possum; so there are both short and longer term challenges.

MARK COLVIN: But this advisory committee, this Leadbeater's Possum Advisory Group, when is that going to produce any real results?

LISA MARTY: The group has been requested to provide recommendations back to the government before the end of the year. It's quite a short timeframe but we will be drawing on the latest science, including the work of Professor Lindenmayer, as well as the outcomes of recent work by the Arthur Rylah Institute, which was commissioned by the Victorian government, last year as well as the contributions of stakeholders.

MARK COLVIN: Well he tells me that he's been writing to the government and has had really no response, is he going to have any guarantee of being properly listened to by this group?

LISA MARTY: Certainly. It is absolutely crucial that the work of respected scientists such as Professor Lindenmayer, the scientists at the Arthur Rylah Institute, forest scientists, social scientists, provide concrete recommendations to the advisory group to draw on alongside the contributions of key stakeholders.

MARK COLVIN: What about his proposal that there should be a new national park; that there should be an area which is specifically reserved from logging because he says that's the only way the Leadbeater's possum, which is the emblem of Victoria, is going to survive.

LISA MARTY: Look it's difficult at this stage to pre-judge what might come out of the work of the advisory group. Suffice to say that Professor Lindenmayer is one of the key experts being engaged, and his work will...

MARK COLVIN: But isn't it fair to say that the Forest Industry Association and its previous iterations have always opposed any attempt to lock off more land for the protection of the possum?

LISA MARTY: Look I think in reality there has been an increase in reserves for the possum. It's very unfortunate that along with the impacts on the community of the 2009 bushfires, 45 per cent of the Leadbeater possum reserve area was effected. And unfortunately the Leadbeater possum has been shown to be incredibly fire sensitive and does not continue to exist in the areas which have been effect by fire; so that is really driving a more critical situation.

MARK COLVIN: You would have heard your predecessor, Robert Bain, of the Forest Industry Association last night on the Four Corners program in 1991 saying that he was not worried in the sense that good management would maintain a healthy population of Leadbeater's possum. And he told me at the time it would be alright because they'd be putting in nesting boxes. Now David Lindenmayer says that he did a 10 year study on that nesting boxes idea and the possums simply don't use them. So why would your optimism now be anymore well placed than his then?

LISA MARTY: Look I think that's true, that research has shown that in the Ash forests, where this population of Leadbeater's possums exist, nest boxes are not preferred. They do work very well in Yellingbo, it's difficult to look back and…

MARK COLVIN: That means that you have to have what they call "stag trees" those are the old trees that have the big old hollows in them.

LISA MARTY: That's right.

MARK COLVIN: And the pattern is, isn't it, that the foresters have tended to clear fell them and not leave enough for the possums?

LISA MARTY: Look there are a range of prescriptions in place at the moment to protect Leadbeater possum habitat. Obviously this is a challenging situation and we need to look at what needs to be done in the future, certainly we can look back and we need to learn from the past. But we need to understand based on the work of key scientists right now, what do we need to be doing in the future to ensure the recovery of the Leadbeater's possum. And we certainly believe that the sustainable local timber industry can co-exist.

MARK COLVIN: Lisa Marty, the chief executive of the Victorian Association of Forest Industries.