Endangered marsupials have been discovered inside a forest that was being chopped down by the NSW government, prompting calls for its operations to be suspended across dozens of sites across the state.
While the greater gliders had not been noticed by workers, a small group of activists recorded nine sightings of the animals at the logging coup.
After the Environmental Protection Agency was asked to intervene this week, NSW Forestry Corporation voluntarily asked its contractors to cease operations at the Styx River State Forest which borders the Cathedral Rock National Park, west of Coffs Harbour. It’s the second time since August the state-owned agency has been forced to down chainsaws because of the discovery of greater gliders.
Should loggers be forced to search for nocturnal animals at night?
Environment groups have accused loggers of failing to adequately search for the fluffy koala-sized marsupials which sleep inside tree hollows during the day.
Nature Conservation Council has called on the Minns Government to force Forestry Corporation to survey for the nocturnal animals during the times they are active.
“Forestry Corporation admitted that they don’t do surveys for the nocturnal greater gliders at night! No wonder they aren’t finding any — they don’t want to find them, as it would seriously restrict their operations,” the council's CEO Jacqui Mumford claimed.
Before work was stopped, local activists built a tree-sit in the high branches of a eucalyptus tree to protect the greater gliders.
The Bellingen Activist Network warned the species is on a “trajectory to extinction” because their habitat is being wiped out by what it described as “destructive logging practices”.
Loggers maintain they are committed to protecting greater glider habitat
Responding to allegations from conservationists, Forestry Corporation said it is “committed to protecting the habitat of greater gliders”.
It believes it is implementing its requirements under the Coastal Integrated Forestry Operations Approval (CIFOA), a set of enforceable forestry regulations created by the EPA.
“Forestry Corporation has put in place the measures outlined in the CIFOA to protect Greater Glider habitat by limiting operations to a proportion of the forested area and retaining large numbers of trees for glider habitat and food sources,” it said.
“Forestry Corporation is undertaking harvesting with the same approach it has implemented for the past 5 years and has been seeking clarification on this issue from EPA.”
The EPA confirmed with Yahoo it is in discussions with Forestry Corporation to “tighten protocols” relating to its pre-harvest surveys required under CIFOA.
Concern for greater gliders across NSW
Investigators from the Nature Conservation Council have alleged regions with the state’s highest numbers of greater gliders are being logged and they are concerned about their welfare. It has created a map of the state highlighting several areas where it believes the marsupials are under threat from timber operations.
The group has also collected evidence of logging inside Moonpar State Forest over the last nine days. That forest has been identified as providing habitat for greater gliders, yellow-bellied gliders, koalas and powerful owls.
Why the federal government can't intervene
When greater gliders were listed as endangered by Tanya Plibersek in 2022, she said the decision would mean the species “now have greater protections under environmental law”. However over a year on, the Commonwealth is unable to intervene to protect endangered species when they are threatened by state logging operations, due to decades-old bilateral accords reached between it and four states called Regional Forest Agreements.
Changes to these laws are undergoing consultation, the minister’s office confirmed this year. “For the first time in Australian history Regional Forest Agreements will have to comply with our strong new environment laws,” a spokesperson said.
Labor governments in Victoria and Western Australia announced they would cease logging state forests at the end of the year. The Supreme Court ruled last year state-owned logging company VicForests had failed to protect greater gliders and its survey methods were inadequate.
Along with the state Liberals in Tasmania, the NSW Minns government remains one of the two most high profile jurisdictions to continue to allow logging of wildlife habitat in Australia. In June, NSW environment minister Penny Sharpe's office told Yahoo it had no plan to end the practice.
While the Minns Government has promised to create a Great Koala National Park in the north to try and prevent the likely extinction of koalas in the state, conservationists have warned large portions of the proposed forest will be harvested before they are considered for protection.
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