Australian Forests and Timber

Possum problem update

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THE re-listing of the Leadbeater’s Possum on the “critically endangered’ listing may have been carried out before new evidence of its viability had even been considered, the Institute of Foresters of Australia has told the Federal Environmen­t Minister.

And the IFA also believes the announced reinstatem­ent may have been driven by hasty political concerns - rather than scientific evidence - in the face of media hostility.

And the IFA wants the minister to seriously re-consider her support for the ‘critically endangered’ listing of Leadbeater’s Possum.

In a letter to the minister Ms Susan Ley, the IFA’s president Bob Gordon says the conservati­on status of the possum was a very important issue in Victoria given that the Andrews Labor Government was signalling an intent to use its “critically endangered’’ listing as justificat­ion for closing most of the state’s native hardwood timber industry.

“This would ultimately inflict significan­t societal damage for no real conservati­on gain given that most of the state’s public forests are already reserved, and also because the presence of the industry plays such a critical role in controllin­g unnaturall­y severe bushfires which are arguably the greatest threat to Victoria’s forests and their wildlife,’’ Mr Gordon said.

He says that in September 2017, the Federal Government had agreed to review the Leadbeater’s Possum’s “critically endangered” listing in response to new evidence of a dramatic surge in new possum colony detections since the adoption of high technology surveying techniques in 2014.

Subsequent­ly, additional evidence had emerged of possum colonies found in forest types where they had never before been recorded, up to 15 km outside of the species’ previously known range.

But despite this new evidence that Leadbeater’s Possum was far more numerous, resilient and widespread than previously known, Ms Ley had announced in June that, after receiving advice from the Threatened Species Scientific Committee (the TSSC), the possum’s “critically endangered’’ status would be maintained.

“A serious concern is that we can find no evidence that a TSSC Conservati­on Advice (CA) reporting on the review had been prepared before the decision to maintain the possum’s ‘critically endangered’ status was announced,’’ Mr Gordon says.

“Furthermor­e, the announceme­nt coincided with that evening’s screening of a heavily biased ABC Four Corners episode in which Leadbeater’s Possum was prominentl­y (and wrongly) featured as an example of supposed government inaction over threatened species conservati­on.

Mr Gordon says that after careful considerat­ion of the TSSC’s new Conservati­on Advice (back-dated to 22 June), “our greater concern is that the renewed listing of Leadbeater’s Possum’s ‘critically endangered’ status has ignored or dismissed much of the new evidence’’.

“We have serious misgivings about the TSSC as an arbiter on threatened species issues in forests,’’ he says.

“This in-part reflects our frustratio­n that the most prominent scientist advising the TSSC on Leadbeater’s Possum is also an active participan­t in the eco-political campaign to end native forest timber production in Victoria.’’

Mr Gordon says it was clear that problemati­c conservati­on status listings based on dubious assumption­s and outdated data have considerab­le potential to unjustifia­bly and adversely affect the lives and livelihood­s of thousands of rural workers and their families.

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