Leadbeater's Possum - Reaction to the Ahern Report

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Following the publication of the Ahern report, the Forests Commission of Victoria complained about some of the content of the report and the new Minister for Forests, Rod Mackenzie. The new Minister for Conservation Evan Walker responded to the complaint. Although relations between the Forest Commission and the Fisheries and Wildlife Division has improved slightly since the departure of Dr Moulds, this exchange demonstrates the degree of lingering hostility bewteen the two organisations in 1982.

Record Citation: PROV VPRS 11559/P1/311
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Agency: VA 551
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Date: 28/7/1982
Record Type: Correspondence
Event Type:
Language: en
Copyright URL: http://www.prov.vic.gov.au/copyright
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User Tags: leadbeater's possum, leigh d. ahern]], forests commission of victoria, rod mackenzie]], evan walker]]

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Ahern comments 1.JPG Written text needs transcribing. MINISTER OF FORESTS VICTORIA





TELEPHONE (03) 617 9222


28th July 1982

The Hon. E. Walker M.L.C.,

Minister for Conservation,

240 Victoria Parade,


Dear Mr. Walker,

My attention has been drawn to a recent paper published by the Fisheries and Wildlife Division entitled "Threatend Wildlife in Victoria and issues related to its conservation".

There are some statements in the paper which are misleading and of considerable concern to both myself and the Forests Commission. For instance, on page 27, the auther states "the economic pressures upon the timber industry will not, in the foreseeable future, permit the Forests Commission to take as conservative an approach to forest utilisation as may be advocated by this Division".

The implication in this statement that the Forests Commission will, under pressure from industry, abdicate its responsibility under its Act to manage and protect State Forest in accord with Government policies is quite objectionable. I am bound to say that I am astounded that any Department would allow such a statement to be published, even allowing for the fact that it was published whilst the previous Government was in office.

I am also surprised that the paper makes no mention of the research findings of Dr. A. Smith whos work on Leadbeaters possum is well known to the Division and who is regarded as the leading authority on the animal. Dr. Smith's findings indicate that Leadbeaters possum habitat is much broader than stated in the Division's paper. Furthermore his work, plus the fact that the animal has been recorded in more that 50 places including sites within the Baw Baw National Park, the Lake Mountain State Park and other areas excepted from major disturbances, suggests it is misleading to include the animal in category 'A' alongside such other animals as the Orange-bellied parrot.

In other words, it appears the author has been neither thorough in his review of literature nor objective in his assessments. As you know, there has been a great deal of criticism levelled at some forest practices, particularly in relation to Leadbeaters possum and other rare animals. I welcome this criticism when it is constructive and based on fact. However, I am not prepared to allow unjust criticism of this Department to go unchallenged.


Page 1/2 Letter from Minister for Forests to Minister for conservation 28/7/1982

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Ahern comments 2.JPG 2/....

The paper could be regarded by others as authoritative and reflecting the views of your Ministry. I therefore strongly suggest that officers of the Division be requested to discuss it with the Forests Commission's research staff with a view to having several aspects of it amended.

Yours sincerely,


Minister of Forests

Page 2/2 Letter from Minister for Forests to Minister for Conservation 28/7/1982

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Ahern comments 3.JPG Fisheries and Wildlife Division


To: Acting Assistant Director, Resources and Planning.

From: Operations Officer, Field Management Branch.


File Ref.: LA:AG

9 August, 1982

The extent to which the "implication in the statement referred to is found to be "objectionable" depends largly upon one's interpretation of the "responsiblility" of the Forests Commission under the Act. It would surely be rather naive to assume that, with a customer group as overwhelmingly large and dynamic as the timber industry in Victoria, the Forests Commission does not bear a heavy burden to ensure that adequate present and future hardwood timber supplies are available to supply this industry. The "conservative" approach mentioned in the statement clearly refers to that extreme situation where complete cessation of logging might occur in areas known to contain Leadbeaters Possum colonies. In the light of the cited findings of Rawlinson and Brown (1980), it woul appear a fair assumption that present methods of hardwood extraction in the vicinity of Leadbeaters Possum colonies are indeed unsatisfactory with regards survival of these colonies. Nor does it seem unreasonable to hypothesise that the agency (FWD), with whom ultimate responsibility rests for the conservation of the species, might opt for total cessation of such logging activity. As the present policy of the Commission does not preclude hardwood extraction in the majority of Leadbeaters Possum localities, the statement justly reflects a fundamental difference in attitueds to the management of much of the ash forest presently known to support Leadbeaters Possum. After all, would the Commission be prepared to accept a "moratorium" on logging in, at least, the majority of localities considered to contain colonies of the possum? Yet, at the present time, such a request from the FWD might be justified given the findings published by Rawlinson and Brown (1980).

Although I have been aware of the work and findings of Andrew Smith on the diet and ecology of Leadbeaters Possum, and I acknowledge the importance of the work, as yet this work has not provided such management-oriented recommendations as would assure the survival of the species in forest which may be subjected to short-term rotation treatment as planned for by the Commission. Futhermore, the enigmatic fluctuations in the range of the possum over a relatively short span of time (since the turn of the century) casts doubts as to the long-term survival of the species if this were dependant upon populations occuring in a limited number of localities "excepted from major disturbances". With regards the recording of the species at more than 50 localities, I point out that not only was this mentioned by Andrew Smith but it was also noted by Rawlinson and Brown, in the publication referred to (1980). Note Smith's comments in

Page 1/2 Memo by Ahern dated 9/8/1982 discussing Letter

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Ahern comments 4.JPG - 2 -

Section 2.4.4., based on the nest tree decline at Cambarville: "Dead stags are already very low in density or absent from many 1939 regrowth forests and continued stag fall over the next 60 years could be expected to cause a severe reduction in the distribution of G. leadbeateri. This phenomenon will throw great importance upon the limited existing regrowth E. regnans forests that have an overstorey of living, rather than dead, mature trees, as conservation areas for G. leadbeateri". Yet the planned rotation age for E. regnans is sixty years (Kennedy et al, 1978).

Considering the taxonomic significance and high endemicity of the species, the findings of Rawlinson and Brown (1980), Andrew Smith's reference to a possible sever reduction in the distribution of Leadbeaters Possum, and the very limited progress thus far reached in determining co-operative management which might protect known colonies, I do not consider the inclusion of this species as "endangered" to be inappropriate.

I would comment on several other points:-

a) Re the alleged risk that the paper might be viewed as "authoratative", I state in the report:

"Assessment of future prospects for a species requires deliberation upon casual factors, many of which are not quantitatively definable. Interpretations of the validity and significance of possible casual factorsmay very greatly from one consultant to the next and, not surprisingly, suggestions for appropriate management procedures may also be diverse .... This report is intended as a first step towards listing those wildlife species and environmental issues warranting priority consideration". (p.1).

b) Limited copies were produced, and supplies are now exhausted. Further printings would entail prior revision, in the spirit of the original aim of the report (see concluding remarks, p.31) and officers of the Commission would be welcome to submit comments, through the A/D Resources and Planning Branch.


Operations Officer

Field Management Branch

Page 2/2 Memo by Ahern dated 9/8/1982 discussing letter

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Ahern comments 5.JPG The Hon. R.A. Mackenzie MLC

Minister of Forests

Forestry House

601 Bourke Street


Dear Rod,

I refer to your recent letter relating to a publication of the Fisheries and Wildlife Division entitled "Threatend Wildlife in Victoria and Issues relating to its conservation".

I am surprised that you and the Commission find the statement on page 27 commencing "the economic preassures ..." unacceptable. I feel the statement merely recognizes the different priorities of the two Government agencies, one charged primarily with timber production, and one with the conservation of fish and wildlife.

In such a situation it is understandable that the two agencies, having different priorities, would advocate different degrees of forest utilisation. It is one of the functions of the Government system to bring such divergent views together and search for the mutually acceptable compromise.

In regard to the situation surrounding the Leadbeater's possum, I can assure you that the work of Dr. A. Smith was taken into account in preparation of the review, and unfortunately the situation is much as Mr. Ahern describes it. While the periphery of its known range touches Lake Mountain State Park, and the species does occur within the Baw Baw National Park, the major part of that range lies within forest where extraction of mountain ash is permitted. Furthermore, I understand that such information as there is relating to the variations in distribution of this species since the turn of the century suggest that a dependance on one or two small reserves may not be sufficient to ensure its survival.

I am particularly concerned that Mr. Ahern's comments are seen as a direct criticism of the Forests Commission. That was certainly neither his intention nor that of the Fisheries and Wildlife Division.

In my view the report is an extremely valuable statement on the status quo at the time it was written. It is a valuable basis for discissions to improve the survival of the species listed as thereatened, and I would hope that it was seen by other Government agencies such as the Commission as a turning point in the conservation of wildlife for whose habitat they may be responsible.

Yours sincerely,


Minister for Conservation

Copy of letter sent from Minister for Conservation to Minister for Forests, probably on 16/8/1982

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Ahern comments 6.JPG Minister

Mr Mackenzie's letter suggests that some statements in Mr Ahern's report are offensive to the FCV. I have read the report and believe that his statements reflect what might be expected to be differences in policy on forest management between authorities responsible for timber production on the one hand and wildlife protection on the other. I do not think that there should be constraints on F&W expressing views on the need to manage forests in a particular way to ensure survival of wildlife. I am sure FCV would not like constraints on their ability to express views on NPS role in fire protection. I recommend signature of the attached letter.

File note dated 16/8/1982 recommending the Minister sign the letter to the Minister for Forests
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