Devastating find at bottom of tree despite repeated warnings: ‘This has to stop’

UPDATED: Conservationists have called the find 'disgraceful' and called on the state government's loggers to cease their operations.

Blake Nisbet (right) with his head in his hand. Another man looks over him. They are in the Yarra Rangers National Park next to a felled tree.
Blake Nisbet (right) was left devastated after finding an endangered greater glider at the base of a tree felled by the Victorian government. Source: Forest Conservation Victoria

A grim prediction by conservationists has been realised inside an Australian national park this morning.

For over a month, conservationists had warned a Victorian government plan to fell ancient hollow-bearing trees in the state's east to create fire breaks would kill endangered wildlife.

Yahoo News has seen letters sent to the Federal and Victorian environment departments and their ministers, raising concerns about the welfare of over 20 threatened species living in the Yarra Ranges National Park. At the top of the list were southern greater gliders — a species listed as endangered due to habitat loss.

Worryingly greater gliders had been documented using hollows in trees earmarked for removal by Forest Fire Management Victoria, an arm of the Department of Environment. On Wednesday, conservation group Wildlife of the Central Highlands (WOTCH) found one squashed flat next to a tree they had documented them living inside.

Related: Logging company responds after 'botching' simple greater glider rule 188 times

A dead greater glider on the ground in close up in the Yarra Ranges National Park.
The greater glider was found by investigators on Wednesday morning. Source: Forest Conservation Victoria

Reception is poor inside parts of Yarra Ranges and the video uploaded after the greater glider was discovered is grainy. But the heartbreak in the voice of the man who found it, WOTCH’s Blake Nesbit, is clear.

“They are removing large hollow bearing trees including trees where community groups have reported endangered animals are living inside them. And regardless of those [reports] they’ve come through and cut down the trees,” he says while squatting beside the flattened glider," Blake says.

"We specifically told the government that greater gliders were nesting in this tree... 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," he later added in a statement.

Working together with WOTCH, the Victorian National Parks Association (VNPA) identified two greater gliders utilising the tree before it was felled by Forest Fire Management Victoria (FFMV) – an arm of Victoria’s environment department (DEECA).

VNPA's executive director Matt Ruchel declared the situation is now “out of control” and called for an immediate intervention by authorities to force FFMV to stop work. “We are furious at this deadly failure to take the survival of threatened wildlife seriously,” he said.

Reads 'What on Earth? Tree hollows used by endangered greater gliders only start to form after a tree reaches 100 years of age.'  A collage of foliage and a greater glider
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Environmental Justice Australia which sent letters to government on behalf of the conservationists responded to the greater glider's death, noting that killing an endangered species is illegal under federal and state laws.

“Forest Fire Management is acting with impunity and must be reigned in by the regulators,” Special Counsel Danya Jacobs said.

"This destruction of critical habitat of endangered species is clearly breaking federal environment laws designed to protect Greater Gliders and Leadbeater’s Possums."

Australia's national environment protection laws are generally not able to regulate state bushfire prevention works, even if they impact species it lists as threatened with extinction. During a 2020 independent review commissioned by the Morrison Government the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation (EPBC) Act was described as “Ineffective”, “weak” and “tokenistic”.

Labor was elected in 2022 promising to reform the EPBC, but this process is yet to be completed. That year Environment Minister Tanya Plibersek said the Commonwealth's “current approach” to combatting the crisis “has not been working”.

“If we keep doing what we've been doing, we'll keep getting the same results. Australia is the mammal extinction capital of the world,” she said. “The need for action has never been greater.”

Since then, reforms of the EPBC have been methodically rolled out in stages, frustrating conservationists who say the promised urgency to reform the Act has not eventuated. They are particularly concerned about state exemptions that do not prevent the destruction of species the Commonwealth has committed to protect.

A logging truck leaving the Yarra Ranges National Park.
Conservationists have urged the Victorian government to cease its operations in the national park. Source: Forest Conservation Victoria

While the glider was found dead next to a felled tree, a necropsy is yet to be performed, so the cause of its death has not yet been determined. Yahoo understands DEECA staff are scheduled to attend the scene and an update will be sought once the body has been assessed.

Responding to the greater glider's death, FFMV's chief fire officer Chris Hardman claimed his organisation makes "every effort to minimise impacts on flora and fauna" and that it follows "a rigorous planning and approvals process".

"We are working within the footprint of existing fuel breaks and crews are only treating dangerous trees and clearing encroaching vegetation," he continued in a statement.

"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."

Updated: Yahoo understands that as of May 16, the federal department of environment is continuing to investigate Victoria's tree clearing in Yarra Ranges National Park.

This was first confirmed on April 23 when it told Yahoo, "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".

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