Greater glider hotspot logged against Victorian government’s own advice | Environment

A nationally significant hotspot for the greater glider, a federally listed threatened species, is being logged by the Victorian forest agency, VicForests.

The logging started at Barjarg Flat in the Strathbogie forest in north-east Victoria in February. This was two months after a preliminary update of a government fauna survey conducted by the Arthur Rylah Institute (ARI) documented what are claimed to be the highest-ever densities of greater gliders in the state in that area.

Guardian Australia has obtained a draft copy of the ARI’s three-page Strathbogie greater glider survey report, created at the completion of the survey in mid-December 2017. The ARI has confirmed that the report and the information contained in it is “accurate”. The institute has told stakeholders that the report is in an “advanced draft stage”, and the final report will be available by the end of April.

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Despite the report still being in draft form, Andrew McGuire, VicForests regional manager for the north-east, advised Bertram Lobert, a founding member of the Strathbogie forest group, in an email dated 20 February 2018 that “VicForests is using (the ARI) survey data to guide the harvest plan for these coupes”.

The logging also went ahead despite a recommendation to Victoria’s minister for energy, environment and climate change, Lily D’Ambrosio, on 4 November 2016 from the Victorian flora and fauna scientific advisory committee (SAC) that the minister support “an interim suspension of timber harvesting” in the Strathbogie ranges.

3958 - Greater glider hotspot logged against Victorian government's own advice | Environment



Greater glider numbers are said to be in decline across Australia. Photograph: Alamy Stock Photo

Prof Barbara Evans, the convener of the SAC , wrote again to D’Ambrosio on 24 November 2016, concerned about the “significant impact” logging could have on greater gliders in the Strathbogies.

In November 2016, the SAC assessed that the glider species was “in a demonstrable rate of decline which is likely to result in extinction” in Victoria and recommended it be protected under the state’s flora and fauna guarantee act. It was formally listed as threatened in May 2017.

In 2016, the ARI had agreed with SAC that glider populations had declined sharply elsewhere and that the “relatively large” population in the Strathbogies “is an important refuge”.

Details of the concerns held by the SAC and the ARI are contained in ministerial briefing documents released in May last year under a freedom of information application, but the significance of the Strathbogie greater glider population was not reported at the time.


As a result of those concerns and information from a 2017 citizen science project by the Strathbogie Sustainable Forest Group (SSFG), the official ARI survey was approved by D’Ambrosio and set up in mid-2017 as a collaborative project of the Victorian Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning (DELWP), VicForests and SSFG. It was concluded in December 2017.

“It’s not a secret. VicForests had the survey results showing the highest ever documented greater glider densities in Victoria – possibly Australia – in the Barjarg Flat forest coupe, but they deliberately chose to log it,” said Lobert.

“That’s why we’re so angered that nothing has been done to stop it. Minister D’Ambrosio has the power to protect the greater glider, but it appears she’s politically hobbled by an unsupportive premier and cabinet.

“VicForests’ claim that it operates to the world’s highest standards doesn’t stack up, given what’s happening now in the Strathbogie forest. The whole RFA [regional forest agreement] system is not delivering conservation outcomes. Barjarg Flat should never have been selected for logging in the first place.”

Last month, Guardian Australia revealed concerns by state and federal forest ministers that renewed RFAs in Tasmania, NSW, Victoria and Western Australia could be legally vulnerable without new comprehensive scientific studies.

VicForest’s spokesman, Alex Messina, said the logging was a “low-intensity process … based on community consultation and preference”.

But Lobert said: “We’ve been opposed to VicForests’ logging of Barjarg Flat and other coupes with high greater glider densities from the outset.”

The logging breaks a commitment VicForests gave the DELWP in 2017 that there would be no further forestry operations in the Strathbogie ranges until 2019.

As well as the disputed Barjarg Flat coupe that is currently being logged, there were nine other forestry coupes targeted for logging in the Strathbogie Ranges on VicForests’ 2016 timber release plan. Those remain identified for logging in VicForests 2017 timber release plan.

In September 2017, D’Ambrosio told Guardian Australia the state government was working on protecting the greater glider “as a priority”.

At the time, the minister said a draft action statement would be published in early 2018, but this is yet to be released.

In a new statement, a Victorian government representative said: “Timber harvesting in the Strathbogie forest is legal provided VicForests complies with relevant laws, including the code of practice for timber harvesting.”

The official said work was “well advanced” on an action statement to protect the glider.

During the ARI survey, three forestry coupes considered for immediate logging – Barjarg Flat, Mr Hat and Tartan – recorded more than 10 greater gliders per kilometre.

VicForests confirmed to Guardian Australia that in East Gippsland, more than 10 greater gliders per kilometre automatically triggered a 100-hectare exclusion zone, but these zones do not apply in the rest of the state.

One of the ARI transects through the Barjang Flat coupe identified 14 greater gliderS over 500 metres – equivalent to 28 animals per kilometre.

“I haven’t seen those kinds of numbers in any of the long-term survey work we have done in southern Australia over the past 35 years,” said Prof David Lindenmayer from the Fenner School at the ANU.

“Greater gliders are in nationwide decline. They’ve gone regionally extinct at Jervis Bay on the south coast of NSW, and over the past 20 years, their population has crashed by two-thirds in the mountain ash forests of Central Victoria.

“The federal and state governments know about this serious decline across the glider’s range. They’ve hosted workshops into the problem in 2016 and 2017.

“For VicForests to know that there were such high densities of greater gliders in the Strathbogies and go ahead and log anyway shows that the system is broken.

“VicForests has lost its social and environmental licence, and the department of environment, which is meant to be regulating VicForests, has been shown to be utterly useless and toothless.”

In an earlier written response to Guardian Australia’s questions, Messina said, “VicForests is using “single-tree selection” in the Strathbogies, a different low intensity process compared to previous harvesting in the area, and chosen based on community consultation and preference.

“This harvesting removes far fewer trees, leaving roughly half but still supporting regeneration in this uneven aged forest.”

Messina said VicForests’ biodiversity conservation and research manager thoroughly assessed the coupe for endangered native species and their habitat before harvesting, and weekly checks continued during the logging operations.

“VicForests does this voluntarily for the greater glider and other threatened species even though there is no current prescription for the glider in the central highlands. An action statement is being developed by government and once complete VicForests will modify its harvesting practices, where required, to comply with any additional prescriptions.”

According to Bertram Lobert, after recent communication with VicForests, logging of Barjarg Flat will continue for several weeks, with a “regeneration burn” to follow.