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By Kath Gannaway |
19th July 2011 02:00:26 AM

Protesters braved icy cold rain to draw attention to what they say is destruction of high-conservation forest that will sound the death knell for the endangered Leadbeater’s Possum.

DSE officers were re-checking logging coupes in Toolangi on Monday to confirm no Leadbeater’s Possum habitat was being destroyed.

The visit came after around 100 people protested on Sunday at the first of two logging coupes to be clear-felled on Sylvia Creek Road under the current VicForests Timber Release Plan (TRP) allocations.

The group included representatives of the Wilderness Society, My Environment, The Save Mt St Leonard Group, Yarra Ranges Council councillors and Toolangi residents.

There were impassioned calls to action over what the environment groups say is high conservation value land which should remain a refuge for the endangered Leadbeater’s Possum.

Spokesperson for the Save Mt St Leonard Group said checking after logging had commenced was an inadequate response to concerns about the Toolangi forests.

“It is the high biodiversity of this forest, not just the Leadbeater’s Possum which is a signature species,” he said.

Mr Mace said the environment groups had no confidence in the surveys done by VicForests which were not supported by surveys carried out by expert ecologists and biologists over the years which identified the area as potential Leadbeater’s habitat in the future.

“Surely if trees are veteran trees and have the ability to provide habitat for the possum in the future it would make more sense to leave them for the future,” he said.

“This 1939 forest regrowth is starting to mature into a forest and the under-storey is starting to become very significant.

“VicForests can say it’s legal, but it’s not ethical to log 100-year-old trees for woodchips, or to send to China and to keep trashing the environment,” he said.

Luke Chamberlain, spokesman for the Wilderness Society said there was research done over many years which supported their claims of Leadbeater’s Possum habitat and that it was simply not possible to do a re-check during the day.

“That is a totally inadequate response, and it is inadequate requirements of the Forest Management Plan that don’t provide adequate protection for the Leadbeater’s Possum and which have been watered down over the years to facilitate logging,” he said.

“The question is, is the Leadbeater’s Possum population growing or diminishing, and the only answer is it is becoming more endangered,” he said.

Sara Rees from My Environment said the BAER Report (Burned Area Emergency Response Report) commissioned by the Brumby Government after the 2009 bushfires recommended preserving refuge areas such as those in Toolangi for biodiversity recovery and for restraint when it came to salvage logging.

“That report got buried and this is what is happening,” she said.

“How can you have something like Black Saturday and nothing change with the conservation of our forests – it’s worse than unorthodox, it’s criminal,” she said.

DSE senior media advisor Nick Talbot said VicForests were co-operating with the DSE in re-checking the area due to be logged to confirm no LBP habitat was present.

“If any Leadbeater’s Possum habitat is identified it will be excluded from logging in accordance with the requirements of the action statement,” Mr Talbot said.

In response to concerns raised at the protest about buffer zones not being left along the Sylvia Creek tourist road, VicForests spokesman David Walsh said the road was an interpretation road.

“Basically, it is designed to give the opportunity to see harvesting, regeneration and, I guess, regrowth, as the forest grows up,” he said.