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Tree Talk for Mountain Monthly, August 2015

Tree Talk for Mountain Monthly, August 2015

Regular readers of Mountain Monthly will know that when Leadbeater’s Possum was upgraded to Critically endangered in April the federal government’s Threatened Species Scientific Committee (TSSC) also called for a cessation of logging in its forest habitat. Murrindindi Shire Council followed up with a motion calling for an end to logging within the shire.

Tree Talk for Mountain Monthly, August 2015

Regular readers of Mountain Monthly will know that when Leadbeater’s Possum was upgraded to Critically endangered in April the federal government’s Threatened Species Scientific Committee (TSSC) also called for a cessation of logging in its forest habitat. Murrindindi Shire Council followed up with a motion calling for an end to logging within the shire.

And what was VicForests’ response?

In May they announced the postponement of their bid for environmental certification under the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC). A few weeks later they proposed making 300 new coupes available for logging. 170 of these new coupes are in the Central Highlands and many are within the range of the iconic possum. This is the first time for several years that VicForests has amended its Timber Release Plan more than once in a single year. One wonders whether the modest amendment approved in May was cynically staged for the benefit of the FSC auditor, to appear more reasonable. Now the audit has been shelved, the corporation’s real intentions are made clear with the listing of hundreds of new coupes.

Signs recently appeared in Toolangi State Forest announcing the imminent commencement of logging in a coupe called ‘Skinny Jim’ opposite ‘Rusty’, the coupe on Sylvia Creek Road that was logged last year in spite of widespread community opposition and even intervention by Coalition Environment Minister Ryan Smith to save a tree called “Hugo”.

It seems that for the loggers, despite their protestations of concern for our faunal emblem, it’s business as usual. Clearfelling of habitat forest continues unabated.

It’s time to call a halt to the destruction.

The Andrews government is in the process of establishing an industry taskforce to resolve issues around native forest logging in Victoria. This is a worthy initiative but is too slow. It is eight months since the election and the taskforce has not yet met, although work is going on behind the scenes to ensure it is soundly established. It is expected the process will take up to eighteen months. In the meantime, if logging is allowed to continue, more and more forest is being lost. The potential for positive outcomes from the taskforce is daily being undermined. 

To address this issue, conservationists have submitted a list of high conservation value coupes that they want to see protected from logging while the taskforce meets. The majority of coupes already approved would remain available so logging could continue in less contentious areas. One way this could be achieved would be through Victorian Environment Minister Lisa Neville putting in place an Interim Conservation Order. This would come into effect immediately and allow for submissions from interested parties. After 60 days it would be reviewed, then either rescinded or confirmed for two years, creating clear space for the Premier’s industry taskforce to operate.

Meanwhile, Federal Environment Minister Greg Hunt has announced a Threatened Species Strategy in which Leadbeater’s Possum is identified for “Emergency Intervention”. What this means is not yet clear but it could include listing the montane ash forests of the Victorian Central Highlands on the Critical Habitat Register. This would give effect to the “clear and unequivocal” advice the Minister received from the TSSC in April.

Now is the time for both environment ministers, state and federal, to act!