NSW environment movement “losing confidence in the EPA” over greater gliders

Nature Conservation Council

May 27, 2024

The environment movement is losing confidence in the NSW Environment Protection Authority after a dramatic backflip on greater glider protection, described as “a roadmap to extinction for the greater glider”.

Trees with hollows occupied by the endangered species are supposed to be protected from logging by 50 metre exclusion zones.

These trees are identified by sightings of a glider entering or leaving a hollow. Gliders typically leave their hollows in the first hour after sunset. For a search to be effective it must be conducted during that window of time.

The EPA introduced a rule that searches must commence in the first hour after sunset. These searches are restricted to tracks and only cover a small fraction of the logging area. Now the EPA has backflipped and stipulated that only the first search of the night must start within 30 minutes of sunset.

Trees where a greater glider is seen on a branch but not entering or leaving a hollow will be protected with temporary 25 metre exclusion zones. A 25 metre exclusion zone is not effective protection and the wording of this new rule appears to exclude acceptance of greater glider sightings by community members.

South East Forest Rescue (SEFR) spokesperson Scott Daines said:

“This backflip smells like a dodgy deal between the EPA and Forestry Corp. How many other dodgy deals are there at the expense of our environment and threatened species. The EPA weakens the rules until the loggers are happy. We have zero confidence in Forestry Corp finding and protecting greater gliders.

World Wide Fund for Nature-Australia conservation scientist Dr Kita Ashman said:

The EPA is choosing to protect the logging industry over protecting an endangered species. There was no ambiguity about the previous protocols, they clearly stated all surveys needed to start at a time that would allow for identifying den trees – which didn’t suit Forestry Corp. Now what we have is the removal of that requirement, which means only the first survey will be of any use for identifying dens.

The research is clear that gliders typically have home ranges of 1 – 5 hectares, with the average home range about 2 to 3 hectares. If the purpose of the new 25m buffers is to protect gliders and their habitat it falls incredibly short. It provides 0.2 hectares of protection for a species that needs 2 to 3 hectares.

The buffers around gliders could have been a significant step forward if they were informed by science which suggests they need to be closer to 100m.

On one hand we have an industry that relies on cutting down trees, on the other, an endangered species whose sole requirement is trees. The EPA has updated their protocols so that the industry is not impacted – in effect giving their blessing for a fast-tracked extinction of greater gliders.

Wilderness Australia Operations Manager Andrew Wong said:

“Every time we pressure the EPA on why they’re making the choices they are, they tell us they can’t do any more than they are without a Ministerial directive. Yet when the Minister for the Environment Penny Sharpe comments, she says she can’t give the EPA a directive. So who is taking responsibility for stopping the Greater Glider from going extinct? Absolutely no one in the NSW government is stepping up.

“This outcome is in effect a roadmap to extinction for the greater glider.”

“Only the community is taking responsibility, conducting our own surveys to identify greater glider habitat that must be protected under logging rules. The changes today do not acknowledge the community’s leadership role in protecting the greater glider. The EPA must clarify that community records for greater glider sightings will be accepted along with records from Forestry Corporation, and that those community records will result in the same logging exclusion zones being applied.”

Nature Conservation Council NSW Chief Executive Officer Jacqui Mumford said:

“If the EPA continues to prioritise the timber industry over protecting threatened and endangered species, then the greater glider’s fate is sealed. The EPA needs to stop capitulating to Forestry Corporation NSW and do what’s needed to protect species like the greater glider that have been pushed to the brink of extinction.

“Forestry Corporation have proven time and again that they have no interest in undertaking ecological surveys that protect threatened species and their habitat.

“Forestry Corporation will always prioritise cutting down trees, so it’s essential that the EPA plays their role as the environmental watchdog and enforces effective survey rules. Again the EPA is falling short of what the greater gliders of NSW’s state forests need for their survival.”

Forest Alliance NSW spokesperson Justin Field said:

“These changes weaken protections for greater gliders pushing the species closer to extinction by undermining the likelihood that their homes will be found before logging commences. “If these new rules are to have any basis in science, the EPA should clarify that community sightings of greater gliders will be given the same weighting as forestry corporation records to provide at least some additional protection to Greater Glider habitat.

“If the EPA are not willing to do that, neither the community or the Minns Government can have confidence that the EPA can effectively regulate logging in the public interest or do its core job to protect the environment and threatened species.

“The EPA’s clearly admitted in its media release that it weakened protections because Forestry Corporation claimed existing greater glider protections were undermining the state’s wood supply”

“This is an admission by Forestry Corporation that it cannot deliver against its wood contracts without pushing an endangered species closer to extinction. That’s an untenable long-term position which demonstrates the need for the Minns Government to move toward ending native forest logging in NSW,” Justin Field said.

North East Forest Alliance spokesperson Dailan Pugh said:

“This outcome has been specifically designed to have no “material impact” on the amount of trees they cut down, though it will have a major impact on greater gliders’ homes and this species survival. The reality is that this will result in at best the protection of 5% of the home ranges of 5% of the greater gliders within a logging area.

North Coast Environment Council spokesperson Susie Russell said:

“We are devastated that once again the EPA has rolled over and allowed the Forestry Corporation to continue destroying the homes of an endangered species, the greater glider. We had hoped they might force compliance of their February rules, but no, logging is the real protected species in NSW.

National Parks Association of NSW Chief Executive Officer Gary Dunnett said:

“The NSW Government repeatedly claims that the EPA is the independent ‘cop on the beat’ responsible for holding Forestry Corporation to account. Yet today’s announcement makes it clear that, rather than get the survey methods for greater gliders right, all that they are protecting is Forestry Corporation’s wood supply quotas. If the regulator can’t get it right Environment Ministers Sharpe and Plibersek need to step in and give gliders a chance.

/Public Release. View in full here.