Select Page on May 15, 2013

IN THE PAST, MOST LOSSES OF SPECIES HAVE BEEN THE RESULT OF ignorance or an unfortunate catastrophic event (1, 2). We now see a government in a developed nation taking calculated actions to drive an endangered species to  extinction.

To counter biodiversity loss, the most widely used strategy is to establish reserves. Hence, a system of protected areas was established in 2008 for Leadbeater’s possum (Gymnobelideus leadbeateri)— the faunal emblem of the Australian state of Victoria. This reserve system is based on a population viability analysis that uncovered the best strategy for costeffectively securing the species (3). The strategy consists of no-logging reserves embedded within government-owned forests that are otherwise primarily for wood production (4). Yet in the past 2 years, government-sanctioned changes in legislation (5) and substantial watering down of protocols for habitat protection (6) have resulted in clearfell logging of those reserves (in which most of the trees are cut down) and destruction of known habitat for Leadbeater’s possum. Clearfell logging renders the animal’s forest habitat unsuitable for at least 150 years (4).

Global analyses have revealed that the formal reserve systems of many developing countries are being degraded by logging, land clearing, mining, and other practices (7). A poor understanding of ecological and conservation requirements, together with management inaction, leads to species becoming threatened or extinct in such countries.

These considerations provide no excuse in the case of Leadbeater’s possum; the species has been the subject of more than 30 years of detailed research (4). Government-sanctioned legal logging of the reserve system will signifi cantly increase the chance of extinction of Leadbeater’s possum. To the best of our knowledge, and despite state and national threatened species legislation, this is the first time an Australian government has taken calculated actions to substantially reduce the viability of an IUCN-listed endangered species with full knowledge of the likely consequences.
1ARC Centre of Excellence for Environmental Decisions, Fenner School of Environment and Society, The Australian National University, Canberra ACT 0200, Australia. 2ARC Centre of Excellence for Environmental Decisions, The University of Queensland, Brisbane, QLD 4072, Australia.
*Corresponding author. E-mail:

1. M. Mangel, C. Tier, Ecology 75, 607 (1994).
2. G. C. Caughley, A. Gunn, Conservation Biology in Theory and Practice (Blackwell Science, Cambridge, MA, 1996).
3. D. B. Lindenmayer, H. P. Possingham, Conserv. Biol. 10, 235 (1996).
4. D. B. Lindenmayer, Forest Pattern and Ecological Process: A Synthesis of 25 Years of Research (CSIRO Publishing, Melbourne, 2009).
5. Proposed Variation to the Code of Practice for Timber Production 2007 (Department of Sustainability and Environment, Victoria, Australia, 2011).
6. Survey Standards: Leadbeater’s Possum Habitat Zones (Central Highlands Forest Management Plan) (Department of Sustainability and Environment, Victoria, Australia, 2013).
7. M. B. Mascia, S. Pailler, Conserv. Lett. 4, 9 (2011).