Fate of endangered Leadbeater's Possum must be kept from loggers' hands
Fears are growing that the fate of Victoria's faunal emblem, the critically endangered Leadbeater's Possum, could be handed over to the logging industry after the State Government's Forest Industry Taskforce failed to reach a consensus between conservation groups, the forest industry and unions.
Victoria's agriculture minister, Jaala Pulford, told state parliament two days ago that the taskforce 'reported to government' and would continue to play an important 'advisory role', but it is unclear what that role will look like or when it will eventuate.
Over the past month Australian Sustainable Hardwoods has run a sustained campaign to get special treatment for more timber as well as a $40 million handout to re-tool after logging agency VicForests offered it less wood in future contracts.
It has been clear for some time that Victoria has run out of timber resource and that key areas of forest have been overlogged or burnt.
Alarming news report
A story in the Weekly Times suggests that the Victorian Government has now established a 'working group' that includes Australian Sustainable Hardwoods, the Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union as well as regional development officials to look at future arrangements for the company's Heyfield mill. The group will also deal with the so-called "possum formula" or "how the population of critically endangered Leadbeater's Possum is calculated".
The Victorian National Parks Association, the Wilderness Society and My Environment are deeply alarmed by the news and have called on Victorian premier Daniel Andrews to make the management of Leadbeater's Possum off limits from the 'working group', which is clearly unqualified to manage threatened species.
Independent native wildlife and conservation experts need to be directly involved in any process relating to the future of Victoria's logging industry that will directly impact on the state's conservation and biodiversity values.
Forest agreement renewed
Conservation groups are also dismayed that the failed and out-of-date Regional Forest Agreement for East Gippsland has been renewed until 27 March 2018, the same date the Central Highlands RFA expires next year. The renewal allows existing industry exemptions from Australia's threatened species laws to continue.
Ironically, while her government rolled over existing forest agreements Victoria's environment minister, Lily D'Ambrosio, agreed on Radio National that all of Central Highland's forests need to be protected to ensure the long-term survival of the Leadbeater's Possum.
Logging near the Ada Tree
People are now moving into Victoria's forests to protect them from logging, and local conservation groups in Warburton have started protesting against clearfell logging just a couple of hundred metres from the Ada Tree Reserve.
The reserve is an important tourist destination for the region and home to one of Victoria's largest trees - the Ada Tree is a 350 year old giant mountain ash, one of very few left in Victoria.
The Victorian National Parks Association and other conservation groups want to see a Great Forest National Park created as a responsible and effective way to protect forests and prevent the extinction of native animals.