Protecting the Leadbeater's Possum
In June 2013 the State Government established an Advisory group to support the recovery of the Leadbeater’s Possum.
As a member of this advisory group, VicForests has been putting into place measures to protect the species and its habitat across areas available for timber harvesting operations.
More than 30,000 hectares of Ash-eucalypt forest has been reserved in the Central Highlands specifically to protect the Leadbeater's Possum population. All of the best known areas of Leadbeater's Possum habitat not already reserved were included in an expansion to this reserve system during 2008.
The Leadbeater’s Possum Advisory Group and has provided recommendations to the Victorian Government on ways to support the recovery of the Leadbeater’s Possum while maintaining a sustainable timber industry. The latest progress report was released in October 2015 confirming 71 new Leadbeater’s Possums colonies. This number has now risen to over 200 new colonies.
More information about the Advisory Group process can be found on the Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning (DELWP) website.
Protection of habitat and potential habitat
Prior to any harvesting operations, VicForests staff survey areas proposed for harvest for a range of environmental values, including potential Leadbeater's Possum habitat.
These surveys are guided by the prescriptions provided in the Central Highlands Forest Management Plan and Leadbeater's Possum Action Statement developed by DELWP to protect this species.
The Central Highlands Forest Management Plan outlines a range of conservation objectives in relation to the species and details the habitat prescriptions for the identification and protection of potential Leadbeater's Possum habitat in areas of State forest where timber harvesting is permitted.
These include Habitat Zone 1A and Zone 1B where harvesting operations are excluded, to protect potential habitat for the species, which is in addition to the areas already set aside in reserves for the species.
There are 204,400 hectares of potential habitat found across the range of the Leadbeater’s Possum and 69 per cent of the potential habitat within the range is in formal national parks and conservation reserves, Special Protection Zones in State forest or areas excluded from timber harvesting due to biodiversity and regulatory reasons.
The Leadbeater's Possum preferred habitat is found in Ash forests that contain both wattles as a food source and an ample supply of old, hollow-bearing trees for nesting. Because these possums do not have the ability to glide, they also require dense surrounding vegetation to allow them to move through the forest.
Habitat protected in national parks and reserves
Parks and formal reserves
National parks and formal reserves contain 34% (69 200 hectares) of the potential habitat within the range of the Leadbeater’s Possum. This includes 30 500 hectares set aside in the permanent Leadbeater’s Possum reserve
Special Protection Zones
Additional reserves outside the National Park/formal reserve system contain 14% (29 300 hectares) of the potential habitat within the range of the Leadbeater’s Possum
State forest excluding from harvesting
A further 21% (43 300 hectares) of potential habitat within the range of the Leadbeater’s Possum found in State forest is also excluded from timber harvesting for biodiversity, regulatory operational and prescriptive reasons
Protection of habitat outside the formal reserve system
There are approximately 140 000 hectares (69%) of potential Leadbeater’s Possum protected in National Parks, reserves and other areas formally excluded from timber harvesting.
Within the remaining 31% (62 200 hectares) of potential habitat within the Leadbeater’s’ home range, forest areas that meet the characteristics of high quality habitat will also be excluded from timber harvesting by the regulations in place to govern Victoria’s native timber industry.
The Central Highlands Forest Management Plan and Leadbeater's Possum Action Statement outline operational measures in place to protect the population and habitat of the Leadbeater's Possum in areas available for timber harvesting.
Operational measures specifically includes assessing whether forest areas meet Zone 1A and Zone 1B habitat characteristics which must be protected and excluded from any harvesting operations.
Zone 1A and Zone 1B Habitat
All areas are surveyed prior to harvest by trained foresters to identify Leadbeater's Possum habitat which must be excluded. When this potential habitat is found, it is protected.
Zone 1A habitat
Conservation is the major priority in any area which meets the criteria as Zone 1A Leadbeater's Possum habitat and the areas are completely excluded from timber harvesting. The characteristics of Zone 1A habitat forest include:
- mature Ash forest (>120 years old) and mixed aged Ash forest where the oldest age class is mature (>120 years old)
- regrowth Ash forests with at least 10 live hollow bearing trees per three hectares
- the minimum area for assessment and establishment of Zone 1A Leadbeater's Possum habitat type forest shall be three hectares
Zone 1B Habitat
The management of forest which meets the criteria as Zone 1B Leadbeater's Possum habitat is designed to balance conservation and timber production as joint priorities. The characteristics which make up Zone 1B habitat include:
- regrowth Ash forest with more than 12 live or dead hollow bearing trees per three hectares along with a Wattle (Acacia) understorey of at least 5m2/ha
- the minimum area for assessment and establishment of Zone 1B Leadbeater's Possum habitat type forest shall be ten hectares
Regrowth Retention Harvesting
Regrowth Retention Harvesting is a method of harvesting that increases the amount of forest retained within the area being harvested.
This means additional areas for a range of values such as the protection of habitat for species like the Leadbeater's Possum, promoting the development of older forest structures within the harvested landscape and improving connectivity.
Regrowth Retention Harvesting is the newest harvesting method to be adopted by VicForests for ash forest types and is currently being used in up to 50 per cent of the harvesting operations in ash forest within the Leadbeater's Possum range.