The discovery of a dead greater glider in Tallaganda State Forest south-east of Canberra has prompted the New South Wales’ Environmental Protection Authority to issue a stop-work notice to loggers.
The endangered southern greater glider (Petauroides volans) is Australia’s largest gliding marsupial. It’s known to inhabit forests throughout Australia’s eastern states, many of which were affected during the Black Summer bushfires of 2019/20.
In a statement, the EPA said the state-owned Forestry Corporation (FCNSW) had identified a single ‘den tree’ in Tallaganda, despite community concerns that potentially 400 gliders lived in the forest.
That would suggest there are more dens – tree hollows which provide habitat and shelter for gliding marsupials across Australia.
“Den trees are critical for the food, shelter and movement of gliders and FCNSW is required to protect them and implement 50 metre exclusion zones around identified den trees,” says Steve Orr, the EPA’s acting executive director of operations.
“While community reports suggest around 400 Southern Greater Gliders may be living in the Tallaganda State Forest, FCNSW has identified only one den tree and we are not confident that habitat surveys have been adequately conducted to ensure all den trees are identified.
“The EPA has a strong compliance and enforcement program for native forestry, and we will take immediate action where warranted, including issuing stop work orders for alleged non-compliance.”
As a result of the stop-work order, the Forestry Corporation must immediately cease harvesting, haulage and construction work in areas of concern identified by the EPA for 40 days, with possible extension. The EPA’s investigation is ongoing.
“Unless all 400 gliders are doing timesharing, then one den tree doesn’t add up”
Dr Kita Ashman, a threatened species and climate adaptation ecologist with WWF-Australia, dismissed the likelihood of a single den tree in Tallaganda State Forest.
While researchers are still coming to understand the social behaviour of greater gliders, certain important patterns vital for conservation considerations are known.
Gliders tend to use several den trees in their lifetime. That means a glider living in the single den tree identified by Forestry Corporation would be likely to jump to others.
And it’s probable that gliders share dens with only a few others, so Ashman takes a dim view of Forestry Corporation’s data.
“Based on my experience, a single den tree would just be one glider, or it could be two or three … but it’s pretty unlikely to be many more,” Ashman says.
“A single greater glider can use up to 20 den trees. They’re one of those quite highly mobile species that maintains a number of hollows, not just a single hollow.”
On top of this, greater gliders are ‘flagship’ species, a “canary in the coal mine” as Ashman puts it, where the growth or decline of a particular species can be used as a proxy for others.
That means the loss of greater glider habitat – particularly native forests – could have major impacts on other less-known or unseen plant and animal groups.
“If you’ve got greater gliders in forests, they’re usually pretty amazing, healthy, older kind of forests that have hollows, that provides habitat for a number of other species.
“We’ve had a look at how many different listed threatened species overlap with greater gliders in terms of their federally matched distribution, and it’s over 800 other species.”
Underlying WWF’s Tallaganda concerns is a broader public debate on the future of native forestry industries.
Victoria has committed to ending native timber harvesting by the New Year, joining WA in ending the practice. They join South Australia and the Australian Capital Territory which already prohibit commercial logging of native forests.
NSW and Queensland are Australia’s largest land clearers – respectively removing 264,170 and 799,668 hectares of primary and regrowth forest from FY18-21. For context, the land area of the Australian Capital Territory is 235,800ha.
Queensland has committed to returning about 20,000ha of forests south of Noosa to state protection by the end of the year, but is yet to commit to more comprehensive exit strategy. NSW has no current exit strategy, but a report by the former Perrottet government last year suggested such a move would have little economic impact.