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!”
It is beyond question that the Strathbogie Forest and the broader ranges have been an existential (material and spiritual) part of indigenous human culture for several tens-of thousands of years. Dispossession and alienation of the landscape inflicted on Traditional Owners, are wounds that may take generations to heal. Giving Traditional Owners a leading role in public land management, policy development and operational decision-making will go a long way toward healing country.
The Strathbogie Forest is at a turning point. In 2019 the Victorian government recognized the significant natural values of the forest, ceased all native forest logging, created an Immediate Protection Area and committed to creating a ‘conservation reserve’ across the entire 24,000 ha IPA. Whilst nature conservation is a priority for the forest, and we must ensure that it remains as such, empowering Traditional Owners to heal country and pursue self determination is no less important. This forest should become a place where indigenous cultural values and practices underpin a flourishing forest ecosystem, one that becomes and remains part of the National Reserve System to the benefit of all Victorians.
We call on the Victorian government to recognize the Taungurung people as custodians of the Strathbogie Forest.
This story was initially produced as a photobook for personal use, to document the journey and enormous community effort that went into gaining protection for the Strathbogie Forest. But now that it’s done (the book), it seems a shame not to share it.
Below is the image on the back cover of the book. It was taken by J. R. Donald at the very beginning of the 20thC. from a low peak near the Strathbogie township, called Majors Hill. Looking east, Mt Strathbogie, 1044 m asl, is the peak on the horizon, 20 km distant. In the foreground the early Strathbogie township is making its claim, surrounded by a panorama of tall, ring-barked eucalypts – a testament to what was once a forest extending from horizon to horizon. This image reminds me how rapidly we newcomers have changed this landscape, of what has been lost and the importance of protecting what remains of our natural world.
Strathbogie Forest – Media release, 11
Victorian Government Announces Permanent Protection
for the Strathbogie Forest
The Save Our
Strathbogie Forest (SOSF) community campaign, with it’s hundreds of members and
thousands of supporters, applauds the Andrews Government’s announcement last
week to remove all logging and immediately protect the Strathbogie Forest.
spokesperson for SOSF, said “By taking this step
the Andrews Government is showing far-sighted leadership with regards to
Victoria’s natural environment and climate-change action – recognizing the
over-arching value of these forests for biodiversity, carbon sequestration,
water yields, recreation and ecotourism, over and above their short-term value
for low-grade timber products. This is a
great day for our forest, and for many other significant areas of native forest
to be protected forever as a part of this package announced by the Government
last week. What we now need to ensure is
that these commitments are followed through, and that the Government keeps
working to protect other, irreplaceable native forests in Victoria.”
“SOSF has campaigned tirelessly for increased protections for the
Strathbogie Forest since 2013, and we are delighted that this Government has
listened to regional Victorians and responded with such far-reaching, positive
outcomes for the natural environment and for all Victorians.”
the Strathbogie Forest will:
Expand nature-based tourism and
build the tourism economy in surrounding local government areas.
Protect one of the healthiest
populations of the nationally threatened Greater Glider possum in all Victoria,
along with 36 other threatened and iconic native species.
Create opportunity for an
expanded hardwood plantations sector and remove loss-making native forest
Provide opportunity for
Traditional Owners to manage country.
Protect the highest
conservation value forests in the entire Strathbogie Ranges, along with the
host of native species that have already disappeared from elsewhere in the
Improve water yields from these
forests into Murray-Darling Basin, and
Achieve the annual sequestration
of significant amounts of carbon-dioxide-equivalents.
The Victorian Government has halted all logging in the Strathbogie Forest, according to a recent announcement by the Minister for Agriculture, the Hon. Jaclyn Symes.
The government’s new Timber Release Plan (TRP) shows the removal of all logging coupes, covering 370 ha, from the Strathbogie Forest.
Without a doubt, this is fantastic news! With 74% of the Strathbogie Ranges’ original forests completely gone, we need to protect and carefully manage what we have left. With climate change on our doorstep, the 24,000 ha Strathbogie State Forest will become increasingly important to the health and well-being of regional towns and communities and catchment health. This announcement is a significant acknowledgement of the importance of the forest and validates the community’s five-year campaign to improve forest management and protect it’s important values. We applaud the Minister’s decision.
The Strathbogie coupes on the previous TRP.
The only coupes remaining on the TRP are those undergoing regeneration.
[click an image to enlarge]
In 2017, research conducted by Victorian Government scientists found that the Strathbogie Forest was a state-wide stronghold for the Greater Glider possum, a recently listed threatened species. The forest is also important for the survival of many other native plants, animals and vegetation communities (which have disappeared elsewhere in the ranges). The forest is acknowledged by government and experts as a critical climate refuge for the region’s flora and fauna.
We now encourage the government to take the next step and deliver permanent protection for the entire Strathbogie Forest.
Golden Mount, Strathbogie Forest.
Giant Messmate Stringybark – centuries old and surrounded by frineds.
The government and DELWP have embarked on a RFA Modernization Program that includes consultation with partners and stakeholder groups. The SOSF believes that the North East Regional Forest Agreement has systematically failed the effective management and protection of natural values in the Strathbogie Forest and we have made that case to government. Perhaps the clearest example of this failure is the case of the Greater Glider possum (Petauroides volans). This species is listed as threatened with extinction under both Australian and Victorian government legislation, yet it has no formal protection under the North East RFA, nor the Central Highlands RFA. This has occurred because the RFA process has no mechanism to update the list of threatened species the agreement is meant to protect. The species protected by RFAs now, in 2019 are exactly the same as the species that were listed as threatened when the RFAs were created 20 years ago. This is but one example of how the current RFAs have failed.
For a broader understanding of why many Victorian communities oppose renewal of the RFAs, here are examples of the arguments:
A few weeks ago DELWP staff from the Hume Region met with SOSF representatives to hear our concerns about the North East RFA, how it impacts on the Strathbogie Forest. We were grateful for the opportunity to be consulted on specific forest issues and describe the future we see for the Strathbogie Forest.
As part of the consultation we presented a slide show –
The slide show was accompanied by a spoken presentation and concluded with more detailed discussion of the issues raised. Much of the information in the slide show is drawn from the report Protecting the Strathbogie Forest.