A greater glider photographed in Tallarook State Forest is one species native to the Mitchell Shire that is under threat.

By Aleksandra Bliszczyk

Planned burns by the Department of Land, Water and Planning in Tallarook State Forest in April have drawn concerns over potentially ‘catastrophic’ impact on the native greater glider.

Environmental advocate Norm Stimson, who grew up in Kilmore and worked as a land assessment officer and land use planner at DELWP for more than 30 years, said the presence or habitat of the gliders were not taken into consideration by DELWP before the area was lit.

“[Gliders] require hollow trees to survive. If the hollow trees are taken out, it takes out the greater gliders as well,” Mr Stimson said.

The greater glider is listed as vulnerable nationally, and threatened with extinction in Victoria. The national population has plummeted 80 per cent during the past 20 years due to logging and fires exacerbated by climate change, particularly in Gippsland in recent years.

Forest Fire Management Victoria Murrundindi district manager Lucas Russell told the Review that potential impacts on the species were considered and planned for prior to the burns, which aimed to reduce bushfire risk and protect a communications tower on Mount Hickey.

“Biodiversity and fire ecology specialists assess burn areas for potential impacts on native flora and fauna and provide mitigations before burns are carried out,” he said.

Forest Fire Management Victoria and Country Fire Authority staff have developed the Joint Fuel Management Program, a state-wide program of works to manage fuel on public and private land.

“The Joint Fuel Management Program is developed by talking with communities, using local knowledge of the landscape and sophisticated bushfire simulation technology that helps us understand the potential impact of bushfires, and the effect of fuel reduction in reducing the impact of bushfires on the things communities value,” Mr Russell said.

Mr Stimson became concerned about the gliders’ shrinking habitat through the BEAM Mitchell Environment Group, who were protesting VicForest’s logging in the forest.

Agreeing to donate his time to conduct surveys of the land and the presence of gliders, he discovered a dense glider population using the many hollow trees. But when he came across DELWP officers on site, he said they were unaware of the species.

“I just had a chat with them, and I found out that they didn’t even know the greater glider was there, number one, and number two, they weren’t protecting any of the large old habitat trees,” he said.

“How they normally protect those trees is to [leave] a boundary around the base of the tree so the planned burn doesn’t burn the tree, [otherwise] the result is catastrophic.”

Mr Stimson said Indigenous burning practices, which have lower intensity, might have better protected the trees.

He sent his findings from two surveys of great glider habitats in the area to DELWP, which he said were ignored.

DELWP and the Conservation Regulator said they had been in contact with Mr Stimson and advised him there were no alleged breaches of legislation or regulations in the Tallarook State Forest, including any responsibilities to vulnerable species’ habitats under the Environmental Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act.

“In preparation for the Gravel Pit planned burn in the Tallarook State Forest, which was successfully delivered, staff identified hollow-bearing trees and removed heavy fuels from the base of the trees to minimise impacts,” Mr Russell said.

“The 62-hectare fuel reduction burn aimed to reduce the spread and intensity of future bushfires near townships surrounding the Tallarook State Forest while also assisting with the protection of critical telecommunications infrastructure at Mount Hickey.”

But a survey of the area that Mr Stimson conducted after the burns found many fallen hollow trees.

“I went out and did another survey to actually provide the evidence of all the burnt trees and there were something like 170 large old hollow trees that were burned. It’s an absolute disaster,” he said.

“You are putting extreme pressure on the population disproportionately; it won’t be able to sustain it.”

Mr Stimson has referred a formal complaint to the federal Department of Environment, but said ‘the damage is done’.

He hopes greater awareness among the public will lead to more interest and protection of a marsupial whose habitat is shrinking.

“VicForests plans to log within great glider habitat as well so that’s another potentially impacting issue that’s sitting beside this one … and the poor old greater glider is being pounded left, right and centre,” he said.