Glider death sparks new forests management debate

An endangered glider found dead near a fire break has reignited a conservation debate a year after a ban on native logging was announced.

Environmentalists who found the greater glider in the Yarra Ranges National Park on Wednesday said a habitat-bearing tree had been felled in fire break works despite their warnings.

"We specifically told the (Victorian) government that greater gliders were nesting in this tree," said Blake Nisbet of Wildlife of the Central Highlands.

"Instead of stepping in, they chose to knowingly kill endangered wildlife." 

Conservationists in the Yarra Ranges National Park.
Conservationists say a greater glider habitat-bearing tree was cut down during fire break works.

Forest Fire Management Victoria is maintaining existing fuel breaks in the national park and removing trees it says pose a risk to firefighter safety.

The organisation is a branch of Victoria's Department of Energy, Environment and Climate Action (DEECA), which said it will investigate the animal's death.

Greater gliders and Leadbeater's possums were at the centre of legal battles that led to a ban on Victorian native logging from the start of 2024 and the upcoming disbandment of state logging company VicForests, slated for June 30.

Greater glider possums make their habitats in multiple hollows, which take between 170 and 350 years to form.

"So the damage that's been done today by DEECA in these actions will take up to the next 200 years to remedy," Australian National University ecologist David Lindenmayer told AAP.

A a logging truck in the Yarra Ranges National Park
Forest Fire Management Victoria is removing trees deemed to pose a risk to firefighter safety.

Forest Fire Management's chief fire officer Chris Hardman said the organisation made every effort to minimise environmental impacts and followed a rigorous planning and approvals process to remain consistent with state environmental laws.

"We are working within the footprint of existing fuel breaks and crews are only treating dangerous trees and clearing encroaching vegetation," Mr Hardman said in a statement.

"These fuel breaks are critical to enable firefighters to carry out backburning in the event of a major bushfire ... and prevent or lessen the impact of large scale bushfires that can lead to mass wildlife deaths."

But Professor Lindenmayer argues the efficacy of firebreaks is not backed by science, and could actually make forests more prone to bushfires.

"When you log a forest, when you thin a forest and when you prescribe-burn a forest, you disturb it in a way that can make it more flammable," he said.

"These kinds of activities that have been done by the Victorian government in this space are not based on good evidence."

Bushfire mitigation works, like other activities, require referral under the EPBC Act where they are likely to significantly impact a nationally protected species.

Environmental lawyers have written to federal environment minister Tanya Plibersek and state environment minister Steve Dimopoulos arguing the Yarra Ranges works clearly make the threshold for referral.

"Killing endangered species is also obviously illegal under Victorian law - Forest Fire Management are acting with impunity and must be reigned in by the regulators," Environmental Justice Australia special counsel Danya Jacobs said.

Prof Lindenmayer says departmental structures could stand in the way of effective state-level regulation.

"The Office of the Conservation Regulator is in exactly the same department, probably on a slightly different floor, to DEECA," he said.

"So essentially we're asking for self-regulation.

"It's kind of like asking McDonald's if their hamburgers are alright."

The Victorian Greens called on the state government to halt felling and clean-up operations in the Yarra Ranges until after a full ecological assessment and for state departments to be brought in-line with regulators and federal environmental laws.

The party also wants the Office of the Conservation Regulator moved to the Department of Justice and Community Safety to ensure its independence.

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