Australia — Logging is set to resume in the Victorian habitat of an endangered possum species severely depleted by the Black Saturday bushfires.
Environmentalists claimed the logging of forest near Toolangi, northeast of Melbourne, posed a serious threat to the Leadbeater’s possum, whose numbers halved to 2000 in the 2009 bushfires.
Logging at one of three proposed sites began last year but was stopped following a legal challenge from the MyEnvironment group, which wanted state-owned timber company VicForests to permanently halt logging in the forest.
But the Victorian Supreme Court ruled on Wednesday that logging could resume in the region’s Gun Barrel forest coupe, and dismissed claims that proposed logging projects in two further coupes posed a threat to the environment.
Justice Robert Osborn found the logging did not breach the forest management plan that governs the area.
The judge ruled that the outcome MyEnvironment was seeking was disproportionate to any threat posed by the logging.
“MyEnvironment has not established that the very limited logging now proposed within Gun Barrel by way of variable retention harvesting constitutes a threat of serious or irreversible damage to the environment,” Justice Osborn said.
However, he said evidence called by MyEnvironment demonstrated a strong case for a review of the regulations aimed at protecting the possum’s habitat.
“The 2009 bushfires have materially changed the circumstances in which the existing system was planned and implemented and there is, on the evidence, an urgent need to review it,” the judge said.
The small nocturnal Leadbeater’s possum is found only in the mountain ash forest of the Toolangi area.
The Black Saturday bushfires destroyed 45 per cent of the possum’s habitat.
Victorian Agriculture Minister Peter Walsh said the decision endorsed VicForests’ sustainable forestry practices and the MyEnvironment legal action was a deliberate tactic to tie up resources.
“Forest protest actions aimed at stalling lawful logging activities in the Central Highlands to the end of January has cost government hundreds of thousands of dollars in protest management and legal fees this year,” Mr Walsh said in a statement.
VicForests spokesman Nathan Trushell said there remained a need to remove ambiguity in the rules which govern the native forest timber industry and VicForests supported the court’s suggestion of a review of the zoning system for the possum following the 2009 bushfires.
Greens forestry spokesperson Lee Rhiannon said the decision provided a stronger definition of the habitat of the Leadbeater’s possum, which VicForests should not log.
She said strong action was needed to secure its habitat.