News | 12th Sep, 2012

Making himself extinct: ‘absolute disgrace’ prompts Leadbeater’s possum scientist to quit

Wednesday, 12 September 2012
Bridie Smith, The Age

The top scientific authority on the endangered Leadbeater's possum has quit from a team trying to save it, in protest over policies he argues will ''lock in'' the animal's extinction.

David Lindenmayer, who has studied the possum for 30 years, said he could no longer work with ''the most environmentally bankrupt administration'' and would resign from the recovery team after more than a decade.

In a resignation letter to Environment Minister Ryan Smith, Professor Lindenmayer described current policies as ''unable to appropriately protect'' the animal. As a result, he could no longer be part of ''such a highly ineffective body''.

A respected ecologist at the Australian National University, Professor Lindenmayer said the past decade had failed to improve management of the species, the state's faunal emblem.

One of the country's rarest mammals, Leadbeater's possum numbers fewer than 2000 in the wild. The precarious predicament of the animal worsened following the 2009 Black Saturday fires, which destroyed more than 70,000 hectares of ash forest – about half the possum's habitat.

Despite the recovery team agreeing to make the protection of remaining habitat a priority, Professor Lindenmayer said the three years since had failed to produce as much as an ''action statement''.

Further, his research presented to the Department of Sustainability and Environment, Parks Victoria and VicForests last September outlining the importance of protecting the remaining forest for Leadbeater's possum had not prompted activity in any government department.

''We know that almost half of Leadbeater's possum's habitat was fried in 2009 yet there's been absolutely no change to the amount of logging that is going on in those forests,'' he said. ''Locking in 20-year contracts for the forests in Victoria will lock in the extinction of Leadbeater's possum and I can't be involved in a recovery team that has no effect on environmentally bankrupt policy.''

Professor Lindenmayer estimated that unless major changes were implemented soon, the possum could be extinct in 20 years. ''We are going to monitor Leadbeater's possum to extinction,'' he said. ''And that's an absolute environmental disgrace.'' 

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