Following the 2009 bushfires in Victoria, Leadbeater's possum lost 42% of their habitat and estimates of their population in the wild is now under 1,000 individuals. The population numbers in the Yellingbo Reserve have dropped by 40% over the past 8 years and there is a possibility of them now being brought into captivity again for protection against a potential fire or other stochastic event. The last individual held in captivity died in 2006.
The species is at risk from habitat fragmentation and the decline of suitable tree hollows due to timber harvesting and naturally occurring wildfires. Timber harvesting entails the removal of large trees and the subsequent burning and reseeding of the harvested site. Regrowth from wildfires, such as the devastating 1939 ‘Black Friday’ fires, has provided abundant feeding and nesting habitat for the species during the past 40 years. However, the fire-killed hollow trees are now rapidly decaying and falling over, and the younger regenerating trees will not become suitable nest sites for another 150 years. Loss of nests sites has led to a decline in possum populations, and the fragmentation of areas of suitable habitat is leading to small non-viable populations.
The most recent threat to their survival now is the logging of their Central Highlands Mountain Ash habitat by VicForests, with the latest 2011 Timber Release Plan Amendments recently being released showing incredibly threatening logging in known Leadbeater's possum habitat and through areas being used for research by Australian National University.
Approximately one-third of the known distribution of the species comprises protected areas. Management strategies have been implemented to protect the current habitat and provide for the development of new habitat in the future. The strategies should ensure that timber production is managed more effectively in retaining sufficient hollow-bearing trees. A permanent reserve system for the species is being developed, although this process has experienced lengthy delays. Research has been conducted on the biology, ecology and habitat requirements of the species, which has enabled a Recovery Plan to be produced. Experiments with the provision of nest boxes have been extremely successful in some areas and disappointing in others.
It seems that to prevent extinction of this relatively rare creature involves the re-establishment and protection of native forests with enough old trees to support the possum’s habitat needs. The Friends of Leadbeater’s Possum undertake volunteer works with rangers in Victoria’s national and state forests to put up nestboxes in the possums’ habitat to provide homes if there is a shortage of hollows in old trees, and the public are being encouraged to 'adopt' one of these nest boxes. As of february 2011, over 190 Leadbeater’s Possum (LBP) nestboxes with 99 installed in LBP habitat and regularly monitored. They have placed nestboxes at the sites of the most severely damaged forests, such as Mount Bullfight and Lake Mountain, as well as undertaking yearly revegetation works at Yellingbo National Park.
Habitat protection is the main management action required. The recovery plan recommends that all areas of optimum and potentially optimum habitats are protected and that a reserve system is established across the range of the species. The establishment of the latter has experienced lengthy delays and is yet to be finalised. Further research and monitoring of the species throughout its known range is also needed to ensure that the recovery programme is effective. The current Leadbeater’s Possum Recovery Plan is out of date and due for revision. The establishment of an active recovery team will be an important step in efforts to conserve the possums.
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