Photos ups ante in fight to save endangered possum

4 December 2012

FEDERAL Environment Minister Tony Burke has been urged to stop logging in Victoria's state forests after the emergence of photographic proof that endangered Leadbeater's possums are living near the Gun Barrel Coupe in Toolangi.

More than 1000 photographs of two possums, the Victorian state emblem, were recovered from motion-sensor cameras last weekend. MyEnvironment director Sarah Rees said the pair were "literally hanging on for survival in 'emergency housing', a decrepit tree in an old logging coupe".

The discovery of Leadbeater's possums and the call for Mr Burke to intervene coincides with negotiations for the transfer of the commonwealth's environmental decision-making powers to the states. Environment groups said they would step up pressure ahead of Friday's COAG meeting, where the issue is due to be discussed before formal adoption next year.

Efforts to save the Leadbeater's possum pre-date the latest campaign, but Ms Rees said the issue emphasised concerns that state governments were not prepared to act and had worked to weaken environmental protections.

"We expect the minister will see fit to immediately protect these three contentious coupes, and suspend logging in all sites that were considered materially similar by VicForests," the MyEnvironment letter sent to Mr Burke yesterday says. "In doing so he would be acting to prevent the extinction of the Leadbeater's possum which is being allowed under current legislation."

MyEnvironment has been involved in a court action with VicForests over protection for the species. Julian Burnside QC is acting for the group in an appeal that is due to be heard next year.

Ms Rees said the original case had been lost on the precautionary principle because "material evidence" of the possum was considered to be insufficient.

She said the photographic evidence should change this.

Ms Rees said the court case had revealed that the state's environmental regulators, the Department of Sustainability and Environment, and the logging agency, VicForests collaborated to successfully lower the standards of environmental protection.

The Australian has seen correspondence that shows the state government was aware of the significance of Toolangi to the recovery of the Leadbeater's possum after the 2009 bushfires.

Department of Sustainability and Environment project leader Bram Mason said after two years of "efforts to measure impact and recovery (of Leadbeater's) the evidence pointed to such forest being critical to population recovery".

"On the north side of the divide the remaining green forest (all or predominantly all in state forest) is in the Toolangi area," the correspondence said.

A spokesman for VicForests said he was not aware of the discovery near Gun Barrel Coupe. But he said VicForest's policy was to "protect Leadbeater's possum habitat whether there had been a sighting or not".

Greens Leader Christine Milne said the environmental reforms were the most important issue on the COAG agenda. "It's Julia Gillard trashing Bob Hawke's legacy on the environment, abandoning 30 years of work on environmental protection and handing it back over to the states," she said.

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