Tuesday, April 09, 2013

leadbeater's possum - situation critical

Pam Miskin, President of the Friends of Leadbeaters Possum,
Eric Wilkinson who rediscovered the species in 1961 and
Cr Samantha Dunn, keen to continue to highlight the plight of our
state emblem, the Leadbeater's Possum.
It was great to get up into the forests in Camberville behind Melbourne's water catchments as part of the Leadbeater's Possum Awareness Week. Leadbeater’s Possum is Victoria’s State Faunal emblem. An endangered species with both State and National Recovery Programs in place. Endemic to Victoria, they exist nowhere else but the Central Highlands forests, Yellingbo Nature Conservation Reserve and alpine areas between Lake Mountain & Mt. Baw Baw. 

Dave Blair assists Prof David Lindenmayer with his
research work in the Central Highlands forests.

Friends of Leadbeater's Possum organised a walk and talk led by David Blair, scientific researcher for Professor David Lindenmayer, world expert on Leadbeater's Possum.

Eric Wilkinson has many a tale to tell about rediscovering
Leadbeater's Possum, including the challenges of
photographing his discovery with old bulb flash technology.

It was wonderful to hear from Eric Wilkinson, who rediscovered the possum in on the 3rd April, 1961. Eric retold his tales of exploring the region in his Hillman Minx as a 22 year old and his amazement that he had seen a Leadbeater's Possum, at the time, thought to have been extinct.

David Blair led the group on a walk through both intact, burnt and severely burned forests and explained the importance of large old trees to this species and the many threats to this species including fire and logging.

People came from near and far to learn more about
the Central Highlands forests, home to Leadbeater's Possum.

Population estimates for Leadbeater's Possum prior to the 2009 bushfires were around 2,000-2,500 individuals, post-fire estimates are at around 800. Approximately 40-50% of their prime habitat was lost in the fires whilst what is left is often logged, the legislation in place to protect the species, weak, currently being contested in the MyEnvironment v VicForests Supreme Court Appeal.

Even as part of his judgement Justice Robert Osborn said, "MyEnvironment has demonstrated a strong case for the overall review of the adequacy of the reserve system intended to protect LBP habitat within the Central Highlands Forest Management Area. The [2009] bushfires have materially changed the circumstances in which the existing system was planned and implemented and there is, on the evidence, an urgent need to review it".

The future of Leadbeater's Possum is dire, a recent article in New Matilda highlights the proposed watering down of legislation to protect this species, the Victorian State government has since backed away from these changes, highlighted in a story in today's Age.

Back in September last year, Prof David Lindenmayer resigned from the Leadbeater's Recovery Team in protest over policies which he said was managing the species into extinction. At the time Prof Lindenmayer said he could no longer work with "the most environmentally bankrupt administration". You can read more about it in this Age article.     

In the state of Victoria Leadbeater’s Possum is listed under the Victorian Flora and Fauna Guarantee Act 1988 as threatened.

In Australia Leadbeater’s Possum is listed under the Environment Protection & Biodiversity Conservation (EPBC) Act 1999 as endangered.

The IUCN (International Union for the Conservation of Nature) Red List of Threatened Animals 1994 lists Leadbeater’s Possum as endangered.

Logging of the Mountain Ash forests in the Central Highlands for woodchips (paper production) has resulted in the loss of vast areas of Leadbeater’s Possum habitat. Prof Lindenmayer says our forests are being overcut, so there'll be no habitat left for Leadbeater's Possum into the future.

The fragmentation of suitable habitat by timber harvesting causes isolated small populations of animals, who are then unable to reach other colonies for breeding.

Other events, such as bushfires, disease, drought (climate change) and collapsing old habitat trees are also threatening processes for Leadbeater’s Possum.

It is a crisis and we have to ask ourselves as Victorians, do we accept watching on as this species, our state emblem, teeters on the brink of extinction.

If you'd like to help Friends of Leadbeater's Possum in their efforts you can find out more about them here. My congratulations to the group, it was sobering to learn more about the perilous situation Leadbeater's Possum are in and I'll be doing my utmost to continue to highlight their plight.

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At 11:11 PM, Anonymous Pam Miskin said...

Thank you for your excellent summary and photos here Samantha. Friends of Leadbeaters Possum appreciates your tremendous support for our emblem!


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