Accounting to help protect Leadbeater’s Possum.

Edwina Robinson, 3 November 2016

Possum in persons hand

Image: Flickr

Habitat threatened by logging

The Leadbeater’s possum is critically endangered and lives in Mountain Ash forest around 100km north-east of Melbourne. It occurs in an area known as the Central Highlands.

It is threatened by the logging of its home - Mountain Ash forest. Most of the timber from the trees is used to make paper.

Logging removes tree hollows, which the possum use, and takes more than a hundred years to reform.

Experts, like Professor David Lindenmeyer from the ANU believe the best way to protect the possum is to protect its habitat. This can be achieved by including this area of Mountain Ash Forest into the Great Forest National Park.

However, this proposal has led to opposition from timber industry advocates.

The Australian Forests Products Association pose a simple economic argument - that the formation of a National Park to protect Leadbeater’s possum will lead to the loss of 21,000 jobs in Victoria.


Mountain ash forest, tree ferns and wattles provide habitat for Leadbeater's possum. Image: Flickr. 

Environmental-Economic Accounting

The saying goes you need to fight fire with fire, or in this case, economics with economics. So the ANU experts turned to the System of Environmental-Economic Accounting (SEEA).

This is an internationally recognised accounting method and is used by the Australian Bureau of Statistics, the Victorian Government and the Bureau of Meteorology.

The SEEA method puts an economic value on habitat like the Mountain Ash forest and can be then used in decision making. For example, the value of logging the area can be compared to the value of keeping the area.

The ANU produced a set of trial accounts including land cover and use, water, carbon and timber; and information for biodiversity, agricultural production and tourism.

Main findings of the trial accounts

The main findings are:

  • The total area of forest is mostly stable but the condition of the forest is declining. There were significant losses of older trees in recent years due to logging and fire (especially due to the 2009 fires).
  • In 2013-14, the most valuable industries in the region were:

tourism ($260 million)

agriculture ($257 million)

water supply ($233 million)

forestry ($9 million).

pie chart

Pie chart showing that the Forestry industry represented by the blue sliver only contributes a small amount economically to the Central Highland region of Victoria. Tourism, water supply and agriculture were much more important industries. 

  • In 2013-14, the most valuable ecosystem services in the region were

food provisioning ($121 million)

water provisioning ($101 million)

cultural and recreation services ($42 million).

  • At a carbon price of $12.25 per ton in 2013-14 the potential ecosystem service of:

carbon sequestration ($20 million) was more valuable than the service of

timber provisioning ($15 million).

  • The number of threatened species under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act increased from 28 in 2000 to 38 in 2015.
A new National Park

This accounting method shows us that the benefits from tourism, agriculture and water supply ($750 million) far outstrip, the benefits from forestry ($9 million). The ANU experts indicate that  tourism, agricultural and water supply industries are compatible with the formation of a National Park.

euc regnans forest

David Lindenmeyer says 

“… a Great Forest National Park, on the doorstep of Melbourne, has enormous potential value for the state of Victoria as a major new tourism, revenue-raising and employment asset. It would cost a fraction of the subsidised funding received by the native forest logging industry and avoid the large number of negative environmental impacts.”

Article by David Lindenmeyer

3 page summary from the ANU

Full report from ANU

living sustainably

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