News - 09 May 2019
Leadbeater’s Possum (Vic)
wollert or Gymnobelideus leadbeateri
Conservation status: CRITICALLY ENDANGERED (EPBC Act)
Uplisted since RFAs commenced? YES; in 2015
EPBC Act recovery plan? YES; in March 2019 a revised plan awaits release
- Number 7 on the list of 20 Australian mammals most likely to become extinct in the next 20 years (National Threatened Species Recovery Hub, 2018)
Logging “reduces habitat suitability, extent and connectivity in Leadbeater’s Possums’ montane ash forest environments… Leadbeater's Possums do not occur in recently clear-felled areas… On average approximately 800ha of ash forest is currently harvested per year within the range of Leadbeater's Possum.” (EPBC Draft recovery plan, 2016)
In 2015, then-Federal Environment Minister Hunt listed the Leadbeater’s Possum as Critically Endangered. The advice of the Threatened Species Scientific Committee, approved by Minister Hunt, concluded that:“The most effective way to prevent further decline and rebuild the population of Leadbeater’s Possum is to cease timber harvesting [logging] within montane ash forests of the Central Highlands.”
Minister Hunt prioritised the species for ‘emergency intervention’, and promised a revised recovery plan for the species within twelve months.
In 2009 “severe bushfires in large parts of the Central Highlands […] substantially reduced the overall population and the available habitat for Leadbeater’s Possum.” (Leadbeater’s recovery plan review 2016)
An increased survey effort arising from policies implemented out of the Victorian Government Leadbeater’s Possum Advisory Group (LPAG) recommendations resulted in a higher number of sightings of the species. A 2017 review of the effectiveness of the LPAG settings confirmed that despite the increased sightings, uncertainty continued for the species: “The Leadbeater’s Possum remains at a high risk of extinction until 2050-70”, because “[f]orest management activities including timber harvesting [logging], regeneration burning and the construction and maintenance of roads result in the loss and fragmentation of habitat with flow-on effects to resident colonies of Leadbeater’s Possum.”
Meanwhile, also in 2017, application was made to downlist the species, with then Agriculture Minister Joyce writing to the then Environment Minister Frydenberg requesting that data collected by the Victorian State Government logging agency be used to review the status of the Leadbeater’s Possum. Minister Frydenberg agreed to reassess the conservation status of the Leadbeater’s Possum; the review was initially fast-tracked, but has since been delayed a number of times.
In July 2018, a draft consultation document was released by the Commonwealth, noting that current and future predicted declines in the Leadbeater’s Possum population meet the threshold for a critically endangered listing. The advice was that, based on the data received by the Threatened Species Scientific Committee at that stage, “Leadbeater’s Possum appears to have met sufficient elements of criterion 1A4(b) to be eligible for the Critically Endangered category.”
A final decision as to the species’ conservation status was announced by Federal Environment Minister Sussan Ley in June 2019: “Retained as Critically Endangered”.
Meanwhile, logging of the Leadbeater’s habitat continues regardless of independent expert scientific advice.