fairy possum

Great news from Western Australia.

A risky iron ore mine proposed in the breathtaking Helena Aurora Ranges has been scrapped! The mine was deemed by the EPA as ‘environmentally destructive’.

Located about five hours drive from Perth, the dramatic red escarpments of the spectacular Helena Aurora Ranges are considered the jewel of the Great Western Woodlands. They are also home to the endangered Western Pygmy Possum – a cousin to Victoria’s Fairy Possum!

The decision today not only vindicates the hard work of many people in Western Australia who have come together to oppose the mining decision, but lays the groundwork to further protect the woodlands in the days to come. 

Today we attended a community picnic on the outskirts of Toolangi State Forest, an area largely unheard of about an hour and a half out of Melbourne. Despite the forest’s beauty and close proximity, few Melbournians are actually aware of the forest’s existence. For many of the residents of Toolangi and Healesville, however, it is the battleground of a protracted war against the encroaching presence of VicForest loggers.

In 2009, these community members stayed to fight for the forest and its endangered inhabitants of fairy Leadbeaters’ possums – Victoria’s faunal emblem – against the onslaught of Black Saturday bushfires. Now, the third of the forest remaining faces a seemingly more mundane but in fact greater threat – that of publicly subsidised logging.

As an activist, when you ask Melbournians what percentage they imagine remains of pre-European settlement forest coverage in Victoria, people spout some incredibly positive, yet unimaginably ignorant, figures. We have heard “30%”, “50%”, even “70%”. In fact, the true numbers lean closer towards a meagre seven percent. And by the end of next year, VicForests estimates that all remaining old growth forests will be lost either through logging or collateral damage in the form of bushfires.

Rejecting this outrageous prospect, you are often shouted down as a dole bludger hippy blindsided by mindless and uneconomical love of trees. In fact, however, real accounts revealed recently by VicForests belie the image of a lucrative trade in our old growth. The company has, in fact, racked up a $22 million debt since its inception. Taxpayers’ money is funding the destruction of these forests, which besides being the most carbon dense in the world also host the tallest flowering plant and the Leadbeaters’ possum, the population of which now numbers less than 1,500 in the wild. 5,500 hectares of Victorian forests are logged annually; pieces of land eight times the size of the Melbourne Cricket Ground every day.

If this money was going towards employing a large employee base, with profits remaining onshore, it would go some way to understanding the economics argument. In fact, however, VicForests’ primary buyer is Australian Paper, manufacturer of Reflex Paper, and ultimately owned by Nippon, a Japanese company. Moreover, the industry in Victoria employs barely a thousand people, a figure dwarfed by the potential for already existing plantations that could service all pulp and almost all saw mill timber needs.

Even if you cannot spare a Sunday afternoon visiting Toolangi State Forest (although it is a short drive or train and bus trip away), it is possible to use consumer power to influence policy. Simply by boycotting Reflex paper in favour of 100% post-consumer recycled, you can effect a tangible change, as it is primarily towards paper pulp that these majestic trees are relegated. Having stood proudly for more than a hundred years, they become a product with an average shelf life of three months. If this makes you as enraged as it makes us – please write to your local representative and tell them that you will not accept the gross protectionist subsidising of our forests’ logging and that a transition to plantations is not only financially viable but the moral course of action.