In devastating, but unsurprising news, the iconic Southern Greater Glider was listed as endangered under federal environment laws last week. Native forest logging, climate change, and bushfires were all named as serious threats to the glider which led to the listing.
The Greater Glider was first listed only 6 years ago as vulnerable. In the Guardian coverage Federal Environment Minister Tanya Plibersek said; States would need to evaluate the new expert advice “to determine if changes to their forest management systems are required”. The listing will have little impact on logging regimes unless the Victorian state government acts to properly protect the species by removing logging coupes scheduled in the glider's key habitat.
Under the Andrews government the Greater Glider has gone from vulnerable, to endangered in just 6 years. Protecting all Greater Glider habitat from logging is essential to saving this iconic species before it's driven further to extinction.
Greater Glider captured by Matt Tomkins at GECO's Easter citizen science camp
Wildlife like the Greater Glider has been in catastrophic decline in the last three decades under state and federal government agreements called ‘Regional Forest Agreements’ (RFAs) which give logging a special exemption from complying with federal environment laws. These dodgy agreements were rolled over in Victoria just a few months after the catastrophic 2019/2020 bushfires which wiped out over two-thirds of the glider’s habitat in East Gippsland. They used the excuse of conducting a Major Event Review which is meant to look at the impact of the fires on ecosystems and species with possible revision of logging practice. 2 and a half years later we are still waiting for the review to be handed down.
Meanwhile the Andrews state government has done nothing to curb the collapse of Greater Gliders, and continued to fuel their decline by logging some of the few remaining refuge areas for the glider after the fires. In November 2019 the Victorian state government released a long awaited action statement for the Greater Glider which was meant to provide further protection. Instead the action statement proposed prescriptions which still allow logging where Greater Gliders are found, weakening existing East Gippsland prescriptions used by GECO citizen scientists for over a decade that protect areas where very high numbers of gliders are found (more than 10 in a kilometre). One of the key measures in the statement to save the glider was new reserves in East Gippsland - but the areas set aside had very low detections of Greater Gliders. What's the point in an action statement, that doesn't take any action then?
The areas that were protected (called Immediate Protection Areas or IPAs), while high in biodiversity values, didn't include some of the best Greater Glider habitat in East Gippsland - the Errinundra and Bendoc forest region. Only a few months after the Action Statement was announced, the devastating fires tore through eastern Victoria, impacting more than 90% of the newly protected areas, leaving no measures or protections in place for Greater Gliders in East Gippsland. Today, critical unburnt refuges are still open for logging despite all of this knowledge.
Majestic forests in Errinundra - critical habitat for the Greater Glider, still scheduled for logging
Recently a landmark court case put forward by Wildlife of the Central Highlands (WOTCH) and represented by Environmental Justice Australia (EJA), took the state-owned logging company VicForests to court over their continued logging of bushfire affected threatened species habitat. The trial finished on March 29, and until they receive a judgement the case is the only thing holding the bulldozers back from Greater Glider refuges in Errinundra.
WOTCH are arguing that VicForests hasn't complied with legal obligations under the Precautionary Principle, by failing to take into consideration the impacts of the fires on threatened species habitat in East Gippsland and the Central Highlands. Nor have they taken necessary action to address the risks of serious and irreversible damage to wildlife, and that logging continued in areas which are critical for the survival of the species subject to the case, the Greater Glider, Sooty and Powerful Owl, and the Smoky Mouse.
White-morph Greater Glider in the Central Highlands of Victoria - Photo credit: Justin Cally
During the trial it was revealed that both VicForests' and WOTCH’s Greater Glider experts agree that logging should not go ahead in East Gippsland, particularly in the Bendoc/Errinundra forest region which has long been identified as a critical refuge for the Greater Glider. Both experts also agreed that VicForests logging practices are inadequate to address risk of serious and irreversible harm to threatened species following the fires. Continued logging will have catastrophic impacts on the species like the Greater Glider which is highly likely to go extinct in the next 40 years if immediate action by the states is not pursued.
What's clear now is that the Andrews government must urgently act to protect the Greater Glider by cancelling all planned logging in glider habitat. The federal government must move to abolish the disastrous Regional Forest Agreements, which have fuelled the decline of wildlife like the Greater Glider for decades.