Conservationists call for moratorium on logging to save endangered Leadbeater’s possum – The Guardian

Conservationists have called for a moratorium on logging more than 100,000 hectares of Victoria’s remaining native forest estate to protect the critically endangered Leadbeater’s possum.

Environmental Justice Australia, acting on behalf of volunteer organisation Friends of the Leadbeater’s Possum, wrote to the Victorian environment minister, Lily D’Ambrosio, on Monday requesting she implement an interim conservation order to “completely prohibit logging within the critical habitat of the Leadbeater’s possum” in order to ensure the survival of the species, which is at risk of dying out within the next 40 years.

The critical habitat area is made up of 171,345 hectares of mountain ash forest in central Victoria, according to recent research.

According to lawyer Danya Jacobs, about 101,400 hectares of that habitat is currently available for logging.

The proposal would see state-owned logging corporation VicForests lose access to almost a quarter of its remaining 490,000-hectare native production forests, leaving it unable to meet already reduced logging quotas.

The majority of Victoria’s native forest logging reserves are in the mountain ash forests of central Victoria and Gippsland, an area that overlaps with Leadbeater’s possum habitat.

In a letter provided to Guardian Australia, Jacobs argues that existing protections in place for the species are “inadequate and not working” and that the possum was at “very high risk of extinction if additional areas of its habitat are not protected”.

“An (interim conservation order) that completely prohibits logging within the critical habitat of Leadbeater’s possum would be entirely reasonable and appropriate given the status of the species, the outdated and inadequate nature of its current protections under Victorian law, the new scientific information and recommendations,” she wrote.

The suggested order would prohibit any commercial activities that may disturb, damage or destroy the possum’s habitat within the critical habitat zone. It would also expand the existing 200-metre buffer zone to 1km around places where possums have been spotted outside that zone, and introduce a 100-metre buffer around all hollow trees.

As a compromise, Jacobs wrote, the order could instead require the secretary of the Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning to individually approve any logging or commercial activity within those areas.

D’Ambrosio said she had received the letter and would consider it.

The effectiveness of the 200-metre buffer zones are currently under review, with a report due this month.

There are more than 400 identified Leadbeater’s possum colonies within areas controlled by VicForests, all of which have been protected by a 12-hectare special protection zone.

In February, D’Ambrosio halted logging in the Blue Vein coupe in central Victoria after signs of Leadbeater’s possum habitation were spotted next to the bulldozers.

Special protection zones – the product of the 200-metre buffer – can be implemented even if there have been no positive sightings of the possum in an area that is highly likely to be possum habitat.

“The management prescriptions proposed by the environmental group would likely lead to significant difficulties in delivering timber to current contracts and put at risk thousands of jobs across the Victorian timber industry,” VicForests said.

The push to secure more protections for Victoria’s state faunal emblem comes a month after Australian Sustainable Hardwoods announced it would close its Heyfield saw mill after VicForests reduced its timber allocation, prompting the federal agriculture minister, Barnaby Joyce, to call for the Leadbeater’s possum to be taken off the endangered list.

Prof David Lindenmayer, the leading expert on Leadbeater’s possums, replied that “if you want to conserve Leadbeater’s possum, you basically have to protect almost all of the remaining mountain ash forest”.