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A dead koala has been found between fallen trees in a logged forest that the Andrews government could have protected – had it not ignored advice from its own scientific committee.
The Sunday Age has obtained graphic images of the lifeless animal slumped over branches in the Acheron Valley north of Warburton, in a confronting example of the potential impact of logging in Victoria.
A department investigation is now under way, as Premier Daniel Andrews faces renewed calls to create a Great Forest National Park, to curb what some claim is the "senseless slaughter" of native animals and the environment.
VicForests has also vowed to conduct a review once it has the full details, with acting chief executive Nathan Trushell saying on Saturday: "If this is one of our operations, we deeply regret that this occurred."
The rare discovery was made week by Andrew Lincoln, a researcher with the Flora and Fauna Research Collective, who had been conducting surveys of VicForest logging coupes in the central highlands.
Conservationists are outraged, because the forest where the koala died was also home to a large population of the Greater Glider, a native possum that Environment Minister Lily D'Ambrosio listed in May as a threatened species on the path to extinction.
Despite being warned by the collective on June 8 that 19 Greater Gliders had been found in the "White Hills" coupe, the government did not intervene to stop VicForests from logging the area earlier this month.
The logging was also allowed to continue even though the government's own scientific advisory committee recommended greater protections for the Glider in November, such as a conservation order that could have thwarted the clearing of its habitat.
However, this advice, seen by Fairfax Media, was rejected by the Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning – and logging has continued since.
Friends of the Earth campaigner Ed Hill said even though the Glider was formally listed as a threatened species, no protections had been implemented, the scientific advice had not been acted on, and quality habitat was still under threat.
He said Mr Andrews could avoid future problems by creating the long-awaited Great Forest National Park, which would establish 355,000 hectares of newly protected forest stretching from Kinglake to Mount Baw Baw and back to Eildon. (The koala was found within the proposed park's boundaries).
"Victorians would expect that a socially progressive Premier would not allow the senseless slaughter of our iconic wildlife," Mr Hill said.
"Yet the government lacks the guts to stand up to their logging agency while Victoria's threatened wildlife is being logged to extinction against the advice of the government's own scientists."
Ms D'Ambrosio said the government would investigate the reasons for the Glider's decline and identify ways to protect it, pointing out that factors other than timber harvesting could be contributing to its demise. Asked about the koala's death, she replied: "[The department] will look into the incident to determine exactly what has occurred."
Mr Trushell said: "VicForests takes all claims against us very seriously, particularly in relation to the protection of threatened species. VicForests investigates all claims made regarding the conduct of our operations. When the details of these claims are provided VicForests will undertake a thorough investigation."