THE Leadbeater’s Possum will have its critically endangered listing reviewed by the federal government, after surveys show possum numbers are far greater than was originally thought.
Environment Minister Josh Frydenberg has directed the Threatened Species Scientific Committee to fast-track a review of the listing.
It is believed the committee must finalise its advice on the appropriate listing status by March 30 next year.
The possum received the highest possible legal protection under national environment law two years ago.
The listing was prompted by fears that the possum may become extinct due to loss of habitat in Gippsland’s Central Highlands from the 2009 bushfires and timber harvesting.
Timber from the region supplies the Heyfield Australian Sustainable Hardwood sawmill and Australian Paper.
The federal government rethink follows pressure from the Australian Forest Products Association. AFPA chief executive Ross Hampton said a Victorian government report recognised that the possum’s population was much bigger than previously thought.
As at June 29 this year, there were 649 known colonies identified, 49 per cent of which had been identified since 2014.
“This is significant given that, as the report notes, only six to 10 per cent of the possum’s potential habitat has been surveyed,” he said.
“Based on that, now the government will have another look at it. Our expectation is that, based on the field evidence, the scientific committee will take that into account and make a new assessment. The minister must make a determination.”
Mr Hampton said the surveys strengthened the case for the Victorian government to ease its 200-metre timber harvesting exclusion zone.
Each 200-metre buffer took out 12.5 hectares of forest with each possum sighting, he said.
These exclusion zones had resulted in an annual reduction of 65,000 cubic metres of ash sawlog.
The Victorian government review also argued that changing to landscape planning would better manage and recover threatened species such as the Leadbeater’s Possum, and would be a better management tool than the timber harvest exclusion zones.
Mr Hampton said the landscape approach was common sense and reflected the best way to manage natural resources, either in forestry, agriculture or fisheries.
Australia’s forestry scientists strongly criticised as flawed departmental advice that led to the possum being classed as “critically endangered”.
The Threatened Species Scientific Committee did not sufficiently consider all available evidence and relied on erroneous or questionable assumptions to make its April 2015 determination, the Institute of Foresters of Australia said in a submission to the federal government.
The scientists said the TSSC’s erroneous and questionable assumptions included the extent of possum habitat, population density, actual possum population numbers, and the impacts of harvesting and wildfire.