Since 1971 the Leadbeater's possum has been a faunal emblem of Victoria. This possum is now critically endangered due to loss of habitat from decades of clearfell logging and bushfires.
The Leadbeater's possum is restricted to small pockets of remnant old growth mountain ash forests in the Central Highlands of Victoria, north-east of Melbourne.
Named after John Leadbeater, the Victorian Museum's first taxidermist, they also go by the popular name of fairy possum. Leadbeater's possums are rarely seen. They are nocturnal, fast-moving and dwell in the upper story of some of the tallest forest trees in the world.
Before the 2009 Black Saturday bushfires, which burnt 42% of their prime habitat, their population was estimated to be 2500. After the fire the estimates are as few as 1000 individuals left in the wild, with only a handful of animals in captivity.
Logging continues to pose a critical threat to Leadbeater's possums because they occupy a restricted area. Habitat was destroyed in 2007 when the state government bulldozed extensive firebreaks through the forest after the Christmas fires. Firebreaks and cleared land stop the possums from being able to travel and breed with other groups.
The Victorian government seems intent on destroying what is left of the possum’s habitat and thereby finishing it off.
The state government has developed an action statement to supposedly support recovery of the possum. It is based on recommendations developed by an advisory group, consisting of government employees and representatives of the logging industry but not a single specialist.
Environmental groups have slammed the state government, the recommendations and the action statement, saying that this marks a new low in policy development because, while giving strong influence to the logging industry which is one of the greatest threats to the species, no input from specialist conservation ecologists was sought.
Of the 35 proposed actions, only four appear to be mandatory. The advisory group assessed that these four recommendations are likely to make little, if any, difference to the conservation of the possum.
Forest Campaigner for Friends of the Leadbeater’s Possum group Steve Meacher said: “Taken as a whole this so-called “action statement” cannot be considered a serious contribution to the protection of our state’s faunal emblem.
“It is little more than a thinly disguised restatement of the present government’s declared policy to permit and support the continued industrial logging of our Mountain Ash forests that provide the Leadbeater’s Possum with its primary and most critical habitat.
“In July, CSIRO published an assessment declaring Leadbeater’s possum to be ‘Critically Endangered’, the last category before ‘Extinct’. This action statement deliberately permits habitat destruction that will push the animal inexorably towards oblivion. It is a dishonest and misleading document that deserves only to be treated with contempt. If it is allowed to stand, the anonymous authors, the secretary, the department, the minister and the Napthine government all deserve to be thoroughly ashamed.”