17 February, 2016

Environmentalists accuse state logger of forest survey conflict of interest

AM, ABC Radio 17/02/2016

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: Skilful in the air, but awkward on land - the greater glider, or clumsy possum as it's otherwise known, is having a big impact on East Gippsland's logging wars.

Just last week the state's logger VicForests agreed to lock up 100 hectares of forest after environmentalists discovered 15 of the gliders.

Environmentalists argue VicForests hasn't done a good enough job at surveying the forests for protected rare and threatened species, so they're conducting their own surveys in other areas. 

Journalist Elise Kinsella joined the Goongerah Environment Centre's Ed Hill during a night search for the clumsy possum's smaller mate, the yellow-bellied glider.

(Crickets chirp)

ELISE KINSELLA: It's the dark of night here in the remote Kuark forest, outside of Orbost. We're about to play a recording of the powerful owl, a predator of the glider, to see if we can hear a frightened response.

(Sound owl with distant possum response)

Ed, that second sound we heard after the recorded owl noise, that screech in the background - that's what we were after?

ED HILL: Yeah that's it, it's that low guttural, kind of... it's quite a distinct sound, and that's what we're looking for. So we record the direction that we've heard that call coming from and we estimate the distance.

(Sound of footsteps crunching)

ELISE KINSELLA: Ed, we were walking down a fairly dark, straight patch of road, we heard a noise to our right and looked up. Do you want to explain what we saw?

ED HILL: We just saw a yellow bellied glider just glide right above our heads just across the road and land in a tree. It's really, really lucky to see these animals actually gliding.

ELISE KINSELLA: We're walking back to the car, what's been the final result of tonight's survey? 

ED HILL: It's been a really successful survey. We've recorded 10 yellow-bellied gliders on our transect, which is fantastic. That's enough to get this area of forest protected.

ELISE KINSELLA: Environmentalists want to see Victoria's Environment Minister Lisa Neville hand over responsibility for these ecological surveys to an independent body, not VicForests.

They argue the logging body simply isn't doing a good enough job.

The ABC asked Ms Neville how much confidence she has that VicForests isn't logging protected species and habitat, after the discovery of 15 greater gliders in a separate section of forest. 

She replied with this statement: 

LISA NEVILLE'S STATEMENT: The Government is disappointed to see that rare and threatened species may have been impacted by the harvesting operations in question, if this community generated information had not been made available. We are currently working to ensure that in the future we are guided by the best available data, which will help improve decision making.

ELISE KINSELLA: VicForests communications manager, David Walsh, says the logger will also be changing how it surveys forest.

DAVID WALSH: Look, VicForests wouldn't have found them ourselves in that particular site and as a result of that type of occurrence and information coming to us, we're now reviewing our overall approach to targeted pre-harvest fauna surveys for species like greater gliders.

ELISE KINSELLA: He says his organisation will consider any information it's given about the survey for the yellow bellied glider. 

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: Elise Kinsella with that report.

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