A Leadbeater's possum. Photo: Ken Irwin
A taskforce trying to protect Leadbeater's possum from extinction has begun battling the complex challenge of determining how to balance logging and conservation in Victorian forests.
The possum, Victoria's endangered faunal emblem, lost almost half its habitat during the Black Saturday bushfires of 2009, and scientists say the timber industry is putting the rest at risk.
A government-appointed taskforce led by Zoos Victoria and logging leaders is holding meetings on Monday and Tuesday. It will then draft its recommendations on how to support the recovery of the possum while sustaining the financially troubled timber industry.
This giant mountain ash has Leadbeater's possum nesting hollows. Photo: Ken Irwin
But critics fear reforms will not go far enough after studies showed the possum has insufficient habitat for long-term survival. Many want a new highlands national park that would protect habitats from further logging.
Forests in the central highlands are the last main home for Leadbeater's possums, but also a primary logging area. Exact numbers of the possums in the highlands are unknown, but are likely to be fewer than 2000.
Australian National University ecology expert David Lindenmayer said logging was the main threat to the species' survival because it reduced habitats and made forests more flammable.
He said 30 years of forest research showed the only way to stall the species' extinction trajectory was to declare a national park.
Victoria's state-owned timber company VicForests said it would strengthen its conservation codes, but locking up the central highlands would be a ''simplistic notion to what is ultimately a complex problem''.
''There are long-term challenges for the possum which would exist if we harvested timber or not,'' spokesman Nathan Trushell said.