Australian loggers, conservationists engage in battle over endangered possum

MELBOURNE, June 20 (Xinhua) -- A battle has emerged on Tuesday between Australian conservationists and loggers over the status of the iconic Leadbeater's possum.

The possum, which is the Victorian state faunal emblem, is currently considered critically endangered but loggers say exclusion zones which were implemented to protect the marsupial are harming the forestry industry.

The forestry industry has gone as far as to hire surveyors to scour the exclusion zones near Maysville, north-east of Melbourne, in order to present a case that the possum is not critically endangered.

Shane Phillips, who is set to lose his job when Australia's largest timber mill at Heyfield closes down in 2017, said he believes the protection zones are responsible for timber shortfalls which have caused the Heyfield closure.

Along with 30 of his peers from Heyfield, Phillips has been scouring the forests near Marysville for Leadbeater's possums using survey kits identical to those used by conservation group Wildlife of the Central Highlands (WOTCH).

He said they quickly found half a dozen possums and that although it was too late to save Heyfield "what we're trying to do is save the industry."

"What I think it proves is the Leadbeater's possum isn't as bad off as people say," Phillips told Australian media on Tuesday.

The forestry industry's stance has been supported by the Australian Government with Barnaby Joyce, Australia's Deputy Prime Minister (PM), calling for a review of the possum's status.

In a letter to Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews in March, Joyce implored Andrew to "reconsider" the possum's status in order to save Heyfield.

But Samantha Dunn, a member of Victorian parliament representing the Greens Party, dismissed the suggestion that the possum was to blame for the state of the forestry industry.

"We can't continue on this trajectory. We know that the timber is running out in our forests, there's not enough supply," Dunn said.

"The answer is transitioning to plantation timber. Sadly that's going to take a while."

[ Editor: Xueying ]


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