The state-owned New South Wales forestry agency has been ordered to immediately stop logging in parts of a state forest after the Environment Protection Authority found a dead greater glider – an endangered species – nearby.
Conservation groups had written to the state government and EPA to investigate Forestry Corporation logging in the Tallaganda state forest, east of Canberra, as it was one of the last known strongholds of the southern greater glider.
The EPA said it inspected several active logging areas in the forest on Tuesday after receiving a complaint and found a dead glider about 50m from where Forestry Corporation was working.
It ordered all logging, haulage and road and track construction work in the area to stop for at least 40 days while the death was investigated.
The EPA’s acting executive director operations, Steve Orr, said the cause of the glider’s death was not known, but it was “extremely concerning”. The species has been increasingly reliant on unburnt forest areas after its habitat was severely damaged in the black summer bushfires nearly four years ago, he said.
The greater glider is Australia’s largest gliding marsupial, with bodies up to 45cm long and furry, prehensile tails that extend another 60cm. It was listed as endangered in 2022 after losing significant parts of its habitat to bushfire, drought, land-clearing and logging. Scientists estimate its population has fallen by about 80% in 20 years in some areas.
Orr said the Forestry Corporation was required to protect and implement 50m logging exclusion zones around large “den trees” that gliders relied on for food and shelter.
“While community reports suggest around 400 southern greater gliders may be living in the Tallaganda State Forest, [Forestry Corporation] has identified only one den tree,” he said. “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.”
Environment groups praised the EPA and state environment minister Penny Sharpe for acting swiftly, and called for it to make the native forest logging ban permanent.
Rachel Lowry, the chief conservation officer with World Wide Fund for Nature Australia, said it showed that promised environmental law reform needed to be accelerated “if Australia wants to live by our nation’s commitment to zero extinctions”.
“We applaud all our supporters and the many community groups who have mobilised to expose this destruction,” Lowry said. “The fact that it had to come to this, an actual sighting of a deceased, endangered animal, is beyond sad.”
Bob Debus, the chair of the group Wilderness Australia and a former Labor state environment minister, said the group had “long been concerned at the apparent efforts of the Forestry Corporation to undermine environmental policy in NSW”.
“As a publicly owned body, the Forestry Corporation should be attempting to miminise environmental damage during logging operations. Instead, they appear to be deliberately targeting the areas of highest conservation value within the state forest estate for destruction,” Debus said.
Forestry Corporation was asked for its response. Earlier this week it said the forestry operation in the forest had been carefully planned under the rules that govern it.
The state Greens MP Sue Higginson said she had also raised concerns about the logging with the EPA. “This should serve as a warning to the Forestry Corporation that their reckless logging practices are unacceptable,” she said. “These forests are worth so much more to NSW when they’re standing.”