ENVIRONMENTAL GROUPS have urged the government to protect the Wombat State Forest as important habitat for the Greater Glider.
In a new report titled, Wombat Forest, a Greater Refuge for Gliders , it is outlinedthat with its highly specialised diet, low reproduction rate and very specific habitat requirements, the numbers of the fluffy creature have steeply declined throughout the past three decades.
Coupled with the significant habitat destruction as a result of recent fires across the state, the report - collated by the Victorian National Parks Association and Wombat Forestcare Inc - indicates that preserving key habitat in the Wombat State Forest is vital to ensuring the species does not become extinct.
With the Victorian Government expected to provide a response to the recommendations presented as part of the Victorian Environmental Assessment Council's (VEAC) Central West Investigation Report any time now, the report aims to highlight the significance of the forest as habitat for Australia's largest flying mammal.
The VEAC report - based on two years of investigation and community consultation - recommends that almost 60,000 hectares of national park and conservation reserves be created in the investigation area, comprising the Wombat, Wellsford Forest, Pyrenees Ranges Forest and Mount Cole Forest.
This would include a Wombat-Lerderderg National Park, which would be formed from 28,629 hectares of the Wombat State Forest and approximately 24,000 hectares of the existing Lerderderg State Park.
Regional parks would also be formed, to allow for a swathe of activities including four wheel driving, trail, mountain bike and horse riding.
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According to records from Wombat Forestcare surveys in the forest and data from the Victorian Biodiversity Atlas, almost 278 gliders have been recorded in the forest since 2010.
The report states that the Wombat is home to the only recorded population of Greater Gliders west of Melbourne, with the closest being in the Central Highlands - approximately 80-kilometres away.
Gleaned from the data collected by citizen scientists, it is understood the population of Gliders in the Wombat is large and significant, with similar population density to what has been recorded in East Gippsland and the Strathbogie Ranges - where the government has taken steps for the long-term protection of populations.
Key threats to the species are fires, logging and subsequent habitat loss. The report estimates that at least a quarter of the species' habitat has been impacted by the fires in the east, so protecting the habitat in the Wombat is as important as ever.
Executive Director of the VNPA, Matt Ruchel, said that the number of species recorded in East Gippsland and the Strathbogie Ranges had led to the areas being protected under the Immediate Protection Areas plan late last year, however, much of these areas had since been ravaged by fire.
"On the back of already declining Greater Glider populations, more than 80 per cent of the areas set aside for their "immediate protection" in East Gippsland are now burnt or severely impacted by the fires," he said.
"Unburnt habitat like in Wombat Forest is more important than ever.
"We owe it to the Greater Gliders and the almost 400 threatened species that reside in the forest and woodlands of the state's central west to have permanent protection in parks."
Gayle Osborne, convenor of Wombat Forestcare, said the gliders were listed on the Victorian Flora and Fauna Guarantee Act and the Commonwealth EPBC act as vulnerable to extinction.
"We are lucky to have a significant population of these iconic creatures in the Wombat Forest, and now more than ever, the protection of their habitat is critical," she said.
"The Minister for the Environment, the Hon. Lily D'Ambrosio has a perfect opportunity to help safeguard the future of Greater Gliders by implementing the VEAC recommendations for the Central West investigation."
A state government spokesperson said: "We're carefully considering VEAC's report and their recommendations and will respond in due course."
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