Victorian state emblem Leadbeater’s possum pushed closer to extinction

Victoria’s state animal emblem, the Leadbeater’s possum, is set to be formally recognised as being on the brink of extinction. But the state government has again stopped short of backing a new national park to protect the Leadbeater’s habitat, which conservationists and many scientists say is crucial to ensuring the species’ survival.

The species lives primarily in the ash forests and sub-alpine woodlands of Victoria’s central highlands, with a small lowland population to the east of Melbourne.

In face of this challenge, Environment Minister Lisa Neville will instigate more surveys, without actually promoting what’s actually needed – a new National Park! More paper-shuffling, procrastination, political spin and riding roughshod over the best advice, but no actual progress in protecting our State’s dying emblem from the threatening process – logging!

This Fairy Possum is so elusive it was thought to be extinct until it was re-discovered in 1961. It’s endemic to Victoria. We all know what needs to be done to save it… the extinction of the species is entirely preventable. Australian Paper’s ongoing use of wood pulp from VicForests, which fails to meet sawmill production quality standards, is sourced from known Leadbeater’s possum habitats. Populations of large, old trees necessary for the survival of Leadbeater’s Possum (and many other vertebrates) are crashing to historically low levels. Unburned and unlogged old-growth forest now covers just 1.16% of the mountain ash forest estate – probably the most limited extent in the evolutionary history of this tree species.

Leadbeater’s Possum is an arboreal marsupial with soft grey fur. It has a prominent dark brown stripe along its back and is pale underneath. Its ears are thin, large and rounded and it grows up to 17 cm in length. Its thick tail grows to 18 cm in length. A wildfire in 1939 created suitable habitat for the Leadbeater’s Possum’s current range and led to a peak in population numbers, estimated to be about 7500 individuals in the early 1980s. This population estimate is predicted to undergo a 90% reduction by 2025. Nobody would call this population dwindling “sustainable”.

According to official State government sources, the Victorian Government is committed to supporting the recovery of the State’s faunal emblem – the endangered Leadbeater’s Possum.

The Leadbeater’s Possum Advisory Group was established in 2013 to provide recommendations that support the recovery of the possum, while in an apparent oxymoron, is committed to maintaining a sustainable timber industrythe same “sustainable” timber industry that’s largely wiping out the species!

In a great twist of irony, a mixture of oxymorons, and loaded contradictory terms, the government is trying to “save” the Leadbeater’s Possum, whilst at the same time preserving the environmental and socio-economic values of our logging the old-growth forests – their home! Surely the species dependant on the forests are integral to their environment, and can’t be surgically dissected from logging profits! Wonder what the important “socio-economic” values of the logging industry are if it destroys our own State’s native emblem in the process?  More like bulldozer diplomacy.

New measures by our State government include VicForests commencing a program of remote camera surveys to look for Leadbeater’s Possum colonies in targeted areas planned for harvest, that will complement existing measures such as the protection of habitat and retention harvesting in forest outside of the reserve system. (Premier of Victoria media release: Protecting Victoria’s Iconic Leadbeater’s Possum Friday 17 April 2015)


(image: George is a taxidermied male Leadbeater’s Possum (Gymnobelideus leadbeateri) that Friends of Leadbeater’s Possum uses for it’s educational work concerning this threatened species. George was found dead but intact on the side of a logging road about 2011 in the Victorian Central Highlands. It is assumed that George’s home in the mountain ash (Eucalyptus Regnans) forests was a victim of logging, and as his home was being carted away he fell off the logging truck.)

They are going to great length to preserve their political integrity, and their reputation as being environmentally friendly, with a “proud history of protecting and enhancing the natural environment”… but fall short of actually ending the timber harvests in the Central Highlands of Victoria the Leadbeater Possums rely on!  You can’t keep your cake and eat it too.

The proposed Great Forest National Park park would add 355,000 hectares of protected forests to the existing 170,000 hectares of parks and protected areas in the Central Highlands of Victoria by amalgamating a group of smaller parks. The park would stretch from Healesville to Kinglake in the west, through to Baw-Baw plateau in the east and north to Eildon. A new national park is needed not only to conserve possums and forests, but to protect carbon stocks, water supplies and lower the risk of bushfires. Surely such a new forest National park would be a win-win for Victoria, on numerous levels, and embrace much more socio-economic values that VicForests’ destructive logging “harvests”.

Numerous conservationists and scientists – including Sir David Attenborough and Dr Jane Goodall – have supported a campaign to set up the “Great Forest National Park” in the region, which would encompass much of the highlands forest.  The value of the forests for their natural qualities can’t be seen for the dollars worth of the trees!

The Australian Greens say that the Future of our forests treated as little more than garbage. The time has come to acknowledge that Regional Forest Agreements have failed to protect our carbon stores, our water catchments, our local jobs and communities, and so many of our unique plants and animals,” said the Greens forests spokesperson Senator Janet Rice. “We’ve seen the impact Regional Forest Agreements have had on the decline of the Swift Parrot in Tasmania and the Leadbeater’s Possum in Victoria – they are both hurtling towards extinction”.

Letterboxing for the Great Forest National Park– The Wilderness Society.


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