Little was known about the endangered Southern Greater Glider (Petauroides volans) population in this season’s planned burn areas prior to the areas being selected. Only one of the burn areas, Lima East-Mt Albert, had any number of glider records and most of these records came from one small part of this large 500+ ha block. One burn area, Tallangalook-Blacks Ck had not a single Greater Glider record, nor any evidence of surveys (see report for more detail).
How can the risk posed by a planned burn be properly considered if information about species in those areas is wanting? In short, FFMV could not assess the risk to these animals, because they had inadequate data and they chose not to conduct additional surveys to improve that understanding. Risk management begins with risk assessment – it’s not rocket science.
So, it was left up to community groups to do the work (again!) – to improve the level of knowledge about the Greater Glider population in the planned burn areas. During January and February 2023 SOSF surveyed 13 transects across four of the planned burn areas. The transects were predominantly in Herb-rich Foothill Forest, but included small areas of Grassy Dry Forest, Riparian Forest Mosaic and Damp Forest.
Before outlining the survey results, here’s a short video of several of the Southern Greater Gliders we saw on the surveys. The video is low-res and most clips were taken 30 to 50 m from the subject (hence the shaky, blurry image). In the video you’ll see the black and the less common grey colour phase (including one glider that is almost totally black, even ventrally); two juveniles/sub-adults (smaller body size and noticeably shorter tails); a grey-phas glider feeding on red stringybark (Eucalyptus macrorhyncha) flowers and buds; most gliders sitting motionless (as usual), or climbing using an almost feline gait.
Importance of Strathbogie State Forest for the Greater Glider
The 24,000 ha Strathbogie State Forest in north-east Victoria was declared an Immediate Protection Area (IPA) by the Victorian Government in November 2019 on the basis of its state-wide importance as habitat for the nationally endangered Southern Greater Glider. This declaration formed part of the recommended conservation actions in the Action Statement prepared for this species under the Flora and Fauna Guarantee Act to help ensure its survival (DELWP 2019).
2023 Greater Glider surveys
Areas scheduled for burning in 2023 are known to contain critical habitat for Greater Glider (see full report below), however Greater Glider occupancy in some of these areas prior to 2023 was poorly known. We have conducted nocturnal surveys in several of the burn areas.
Results of these surveys re-emphasize the importance of this forest for the long-tern conservation of the Greater Glider and two of the burn units have glider populations at least has high as anywhere else in the Strathbogie Forest. Even the western-most unit, Strathbogie South-Ruoaks Rd, contains a glider population with detection rates far in excess of most other forest areas in Victoria (DCCEEW 2022).
Available evidence shows that the Strathbogie Forest currently contains high densities of Greater Glider and a high population overall. There is considerable evidence that planned burns in the Strathbogie Forest have an overall degrading effect on the ecological health of the forest.
Save our Strathbogie Forest and Euroa Environment conservation groups have condemned the planned burns scheduled for Strathbogie Forest this autumn for their failure to ensure protection of the nationally endangered Greater Glider possum, a species protected under state and national environment laws.
“It is ironic that in 2019 we succeeded in having these forests declared a formal protection area by the Andrews Government to help conserve the Greater Glider and other iconic species and the same government Department is now planning to burn nearly 2000 hectares of glider habitat” said Ms Shirley Saywell, spokesperson for the groups. And what we know from the Victorian conservation department’s research and our own surveys is that these burns will remove hundreds, perhaps thousands of habitat trees from these burn areas, leading to the death of more than 450 individual Greater Gliders. Is this how we are meant to care for our threatened species?”
Ms Saywell adds “Already this gliding possum has endured an estimated population decline of more than 50% in the last 21 years and 20% since the 2019-20 mega-fires. And now the Andrews Government is sinking the boots into one of the last healthy populations of this animal left in Victoria by burning its homes. We do not think that this reckless action is how the public expect our government to look after threatened species and urge the Premier and Environment Minister to halt these planned burns now.”
Local ecologist Bertram Lobert, who is also passionate about the forest adds, “The Greater Glider uses hollows in large habitat trees to den – it’s where they live and spend all their time when they’re not out feeding. When these trees catch alight and collapse from a planned burn, animals in those hollows die. We know from the government’s own research how many of these habitat trees are likely to collapse and in areas where there are large numbers of these gliding possums, it’s possible to estimate how many will be killed by the burn. 400 to 450 gliders killed is the lower end of the estimate for this year’s proposed burns. Depending on how the burns go, it could be higher. And then there’s next year and the year after etc! It’s a brutal way to ‘manage’ a forest!”