Sooty Owl nesting site under threat at Murrindindi logging coupe

Old Growth Mountain Ash forest within the Murrindindi logging coupe

Old Growth Mountain Ash forest within the Murrindindi logging coupe

Among the slopes surrounding the Murrindindi River in the Toolangi State Forest, there are hidden pockets of old growth Mountain Ash that have survived through a history of damaging bushfires. These remnant patches of old growth Mountain Ash are extremely significant as there is now less then 2% of this ecosystem remaining within Victoria’s forests. Unfortunately, much of what remains within State Forest is under imminent threat of being demolished by the Victorian Government owned logging agency, VicForests, most of which will be pulped for the production of paper. 

Recently, the WOTCH team discovered one of these ecologically important patches of old growth Mountain Ash containing multiple levels of high-conservation-value forest within a VicForests logging coupe.

The team has undertaken multiple surveys within this logging coupe and have documented and reported on; the presence of a juvenile Sooty Owl, its nesting site and pellets, the presence of a population of threatened Greater Gliders and a density of large hollow-bearing trees that qualify for Leadbeater’s Possum Zone 1A habitat.  

These reports can be found here: 

Sooty Owl, photograph by Tim Bawden.

Sooty Owl, photograph by Tim Bawden.

An extremely rare sighting of a juvenile Sooty Owl emerging from its nest in a tree hollow was recorded by our survey team. This sighting, which took place within 100 metres of the logging coupe, along with multiple findings of owl pellets (identified by an owl expert as Sooty Owl pellets) and another occupied nest site, within the coupe, have all been documented in a report submitted to the Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning (DELWP).

Within the Sooty Owl report we stated the following:

The discovery of an active Sooty Owl nest in a live Mountain Ash tree confirmed the presence of a Sooty Owl breeding pair in the area, and the breeding pair has successfully fledged an owl within the last few months. The action statement for the Sooty Owl stated that eastern Victoria had an estimated population of 400-900 breeding pairs, and as the species was in decline at that stage the estimation now could be even lower. One of the main intended management actions from the action statement was to identify 500 Sooty Owl Management Areas (SOMA’s) across the Victorian range and protect foraging/breeding habitat within these SOMA’s. In areas of state forest, such as that found in the Central Highlands FMA’s, a SOMA should consist of 3800 hectares (3.5km buffer) around a recorded breeding pair of Sooty Owls, in which 500 hectares of forest within the SOMA should be reserved as Special Protection Zone.  

Greater Glider detected within the Murrindindi logging coupe

Greater Glider detected within the Murrindindi logging coupe

Five Greater Gliders were recorded within this logging coupe that are now facing the inevitable loss of their habitat. Where individuals may occasionally survive through the initial impact of logging, previous studies have suggested they will perish shortly after due to lack of available food trees and inability to disperse. As a threatened species that has seen a decline of over 80% of the population in Victoria within the past 20 years, every remaining population is extremely significant and must be protected. However, with no existing Action Statement or legislative protection specific for the species, the Victorian Government continues to ignore the advice coming from the best science available and chooses not to take any action to prevent further loss of the species.  

 A habitat assessment survey within the coupe described 30 large, mature, hollow-bearing trees within an area of 7.9 hectares, resulting in an average of 3.8 hollow-bearing trees per hectare. These figures equate to that of the requirements of the Leadbeater’s Possum Zone 1A habitat prescription described in the ‘Planning Standards’. The purpose of this prescription is to ensure the protection of crucial habitat that will be suitable for the Leadbeater’s Possum now, and into the future. Detailed evidence of each tree recorded were submitted in a report to DELWP including a comprehensive map outlining the positioning of the hollow-bearing trees. DELWP have responded denying the presence of Zone 1A habitat, refusing to intervene logging operations and neglecting to undertake further surveys to assess the habitat for approval of Zone 1A.

Hollow-bearing Mountain Ash tree within the Murrindindi logging coupe

Hollow-bearing Mountain Ash tree within the Murrindindi logging coupe

The inaction of the government and DELWP has allowed logging to commence within this high-conservation-value, old growth Mountain Ash forest and will undoubtedly include the destruction of Sooty Owl, Greater Glider and Leadbeater’s Possum habitat. 

If you wish to speak up for these unique animals that are being so poorly managed by the State Government, sign our email petition to Dan Andrews by following the link below.

Email Dan Andrews here

Or contact:

The Minister for Energy, Environment and Climate Change,

Lily D’Ambrosio on - 9637 9504 or lily.d’ambrosio@parliament.vic.gov.au

The Minister for Agriculture,

Jacylyn Symes on - 8392 2261 or Jaclyn.Symes@parliament.vic.gov.au

For more detailed information including; legislative prescriptions, maps, scientific references and the recommended actions to ensure adequate protection, follow the links above to the three reports submitted to the environment department.

Blake Nisbet