Greater glider death in the Yarra Ranges National Park prompts more concerns about fire-risk reduction works

Conservationists discovered a greater glider killed in an area where fire reduction works were undertaken. Picture: FOREST CONSERVATION VICTORIA

By Callum Ludwig

The death of an endangered Greater Glider in the Yarra Ranges National Park at the site of tree removal has prompted further calls from environmental groups to better protect native species during fire-reduction works.

Found early in the morning of Wednesday 15 May, the greater glider is believed to have been living in a large tree that was felled by Forest Fire Management Victoria (FFMVic) for bushfire mitigation works, which can include cutting down trees that present a risk to firefighter safety.

Wildlife of the Central Highlands (WOTCH) spokesperson Blake Nisbet said this was endangered wildlife culling.

“We specifically told the government that Greater Gliders were nesting in this tree. Instead of stepping in, they chose to knowingly kill endangered wildlife,” he said

“This is disgraceful, and has to stop. Even when notified of the presence of a federally listed threatened wildlife, the information was ignored – with deadly consequences.”

WOTCH and the Victorian National Parks Association (VNPA) had each expressed concerns that the removal of hollow-bearing trees across the Yarra Ranges National Park would destroy critical habitat for endangered wildlife such as Leadbeater’s Possums, Gang-gang Cockatoos, Swift Parrots, and Greater Gliders and was already when furious when trees had been logged near the intersection of Road 12 and Forty Mile Break in the Yarra Ranges National Park in recent weeks.

VNPA Executive Director Matt Ruchel said this is out of control.

“We are furious at this deadly failure to take the survival of threatened wildlife seriously,” he said.

“State and federal environment ministers need to fulfil their responsibilities and stop these works immediately. The situation urgently requires a full and proper ecological assessment.”

Staff from the Department of Energy, Environment and Climate Action (DEECA) will be visiting the site to determine the cause of death for the Greater Glider.

FFMVic Chief Fire Officer Chris Hardman said they make every effort to minimise impacts on flora and fauna and follow a rigorous planning and approvals process to ensure they’re consistent with the Forests Act, Flora and Fauna Guarantee Act and Wildlife Act.

“We are working within the footprint of existing fuel breaks and crews are only treating dangerous trees and clearing encroaching vegetation,” he said.

“These fuel breaks are critical to enable firefighters to carry out backburning in the event of a major bushfire, protect Melbourne’s main water supply and prevent or lessen the impact of large scale bushfires that can lead to mass wildlife deaths.”

FFMVic determines that trees that are structurally compromised and a threat to firefighter safety are marked as hazardous and removed or treated during bushfire mitigation works.

WOTCH and the VNPA have already engaged lawyers from Environmental Justice Australia (EJA) who have written to the Federal Environment Minister Tanya Plibersek and State Environment Minister Steve Dimopoulos detailing allegations that claim the FFMVic operations contravene the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (EPBC), which legislates the referral, assessment and approval of any works likely to have significant impacts on listed threatened species.

Currently, bushfire mitigation works do not require an EPBC Act referral.

EJA Special Counsel Danya Jacobs said destroying scores of ancient hollow-bearing trees home to critically endangered Leadbeater’s Possums and endangered Greater Gliders, and killing those species in the process, is plainly illegal under Federal environment law and it has to stop.

“Killing endangered species is also obviously illegal under Victorian law – Forest Fire Management is acting with impunity and must be reigned in by the regulators,” she said.

“This destruction of critical habitat of endangered species is clearly breaking federal environment laws designed to protect Greater Gliders and Leadbeater’s Possums, and this is a real test of whether Minister Plibersek will match her words with action and get serious about enforcing the law.”

Leader of the Victorian Greens Ellen Sandall has also denounced the incident and announced the Greens plan to refer the incident to both the Victorian Auditor-General’s Office (VAGO) and Victorian Ombudsman.

“The department is making enquiries to determine whether national environment law is being complied with. As enquiries are ongoing the department will not provide comment at this time,” a DCCEEW spokesperson said.