Rare and threatened Greater Gliders have been found by community surveys at Granite Mountain on the Errinundra plateau this week. The old growth forest has been at the centre of controversy since logging begun in late January.
Over 4000 people have emailed Premier Daniel Andrews calling on him to act to stop the logging and protect East Gippsland's forests. Direct action group Forest conservation Victoria established a blockade of the forest on Monday that has stopped logging for the past 5 days.
Logging in Victoria is governed by a regulatory framework that requires VicForests to apply the precautionary principle to their operations. This means that they need to take precautions to ensure that rare wildlife that is protected is searched for prior to logging so that if it is found protections can be implemented.
For Greater Glider, for example, if more than 10 Greater Glider are located over a distance of 1km, a 100 hectare protection zone must be established to protect the Greater Gliders.
Until recently VicForests conducted wildlife surveys before they logged forests. This was an obvious conflict of interest as if the logging company found protected wildlife it may not be able to log. It's kind of like a tobacco company assessing the health dangers of cigarettes.
In an attempt to improve the situation, environment Minister Lily D'Ambrosio committed $17.6 million to establish a pre logging survey program that would be run by the environment department, not VicForests. You would think that a program like this being run by the department who are responsible for regulation of VicForests and ensuring they are complying to the law would produce better environmental outcomes. Unfortunately it has not. In fact it's actually worse.
Large old tree bulldozed for no reason
When we learned that the forest at Granite mountain was being logged we put questions to the department of environment about whether they had conducted a spotlighting survey in the coupe to determine if Greater Gliders are present. It seemed logical to us that Greater Gliders were probably occupying this area of forest.
The forest is at an altitude of 900m and Greater Gliders are usually more abundant at higher altitudes such as this. The planned logging coupe was also with 500m of existing Greater Glider records, where the gliders have been observed and recorded previously. The area was also with 2km of a known high density population of Greater Gliders that is now thankfully protected after GECO surveys in 2016 reported the population just before the habitat was logged.
Large old tree within area to be logged
So it seemed pretty logical that the department would conduct a spotlighting survey right? When we asked the department whether they had conducted a spotlighting survey they replied with this.
Spotlighting is not prioritised nor planned for the Fashizzle coupe. The probability of detection of greater gliders on this coupe, resulting from the prioritisation process conducted on 3 October 2018 was calculated as 0.146 (about 15%). This is a low probability compared to the potential of other coupes to have greater gliders present.
Seems like a pretty strange model they are working off right? They told us the model takes into consideration a number of factors. But these factors just don't stack up.
This means the model apparently looks at what areas have been subject to disturbance from logging and fire and determines whether areas that have been subject to past disturbance are providing habitat and are therefore worthwhile surveying.
75% of the forest at the Granite mountain logging coupe (named 'Fashizzle') has never been logged, some fire came through in the 1980s, but the forest has recovered and has many very large old hollow trees that Greater Glider use for denning.the very large old trees surrvived the fire in the 1980s and are providing important habitat for Greater Glider.
Habitat distribution model (HDM)
The government has developed a model for mapping what is likely to be the best Greater Glider habitat. The model gives a score out of 10 to areas of forest with 10 being the best quality habitat. The forest in the southern half of the Granite Mountain coupe scores 7, 8, 9 and 10 out of 10. So according to the model it's pretty good habitat. Accroding to the department it's not worth looking for Gliders though.
The potential impact of timber harvesting on target species
The potential impact of logging on Greater Glider is well know, well documented and unequivocal. The Scientific Advisory Committee advised the Minister to list the species as vulnerable to extinction. In their advice that accompanied the listing they noted that Greater Gliders die when their home range is logged. The animals have very small home ranges of about 3 hectares, so logging usually wipes out their entire home range. Even VicForests has admitted that their logging is 'very likely' to kill Greater Gliders.
So it comes as no surprise at all that the department's sheer incompetence and determination to keep logging our forests has resulted in the Granite Mountain forests being logged with no surveys for Greater Glider at all.
This begs the question, how many gliders died in this forest before the blockade stopped the logging?
We now know that Greater Gliders are occupying this forest, and they were probably occupying it in larger numbers before the logging started and begun destroying habitat.
This week volunteer citizen scientists with Forest Conservation Victoria conducted spotlighting surveys in the forest and in just a couple of hours they located three Greater Gliders. These animals will most likely be killed if logging recommences and the government chooses to break the blockade and allow logging to continue.
So what is going on with this pre logging survey program?
Clearly the department are not interested in finding threatened wildlife and protecting them. If they were they would have actually looked for threatened wildlife and protected it. The Department has designed the pre logging survey program, with it's fancy $17.6 million price tag, with one thing in mind, ensure as much logging as possible.
Ironically, the department has re-named the survey program the 'Forest Protection Survey Program'. George Orwell could not have written it better.
Old growth woodchipped and exported.
Logging plan documents obtained by GECO have revealed that 75% of the trees being cut at Granite Mountain are pulp grade logs (1500m3). These trees will be trucked to Eden in NSW where they will be woodchipped and exported into the asian market to make cheap paper products.
It is astonishing that the Daniel Andrews government, who pride themselves on being progressive and leaders on climate change are still allowing the destruction of old growth forests and threatened wildlife habitat for export wood chips.