By Casey Neill
A rare lily is growing within an active logging coupe in Powelltown, citizen scientists say.
The tall astelia lily (astelia australiana) was only known to have 12 populations in the world.
Two community groups claim to have just found the 13th population – within an active clear-fell logging coupe south of Powelltown.
Wildlife of the Central Highlands and Fauna and Flora Research Collective undertook a nocturnal survey within the logging coupe on Monday 21 January.
They did not expect to come across the rare plant.
“We knew they were not far from here, but in different water catchments,” citizen scientist Jake Mckenzie said.
“To find them outside of their current known range is incredibly significant for the ongoing survival of the species, but not if clear-fell logging is due to continue within the coupe.”
Mr Mckenzie said that the law required a 100 metre timber harvesting protective buffer around the habitat.
But he said that government-owned VicForests, which was logging within the coupe, didn’t know the population existed.
“During the survey we discovered VicForests’ flagging tape they use to mark out the boundary of the logging coupe was within just 50m of where some of the specimens had been recorded,” Mr Mckenzie said.
Conservationist Hayley Forster called for logging operations to stop immediately.
“It’s clear that current logging operations are jeopardising the ongoing survival of this tall astelia population through the elevated fuel load and, subsequently, the fire risk,” she said.
Mr Mckenzie said the nocturnal survey also recorded a number of other threatened species including the state’s faunal emblem the Leadbeater’s possum, the greater glider and a rare plant known as the tree geebung.
A spokesperson for VicForests confirmed the authority received a report of tall astelia lily within a coupe near Powelltown from a third-party source.
“When that report was received, VicForests acted to cease harvesting until preliminary buffer zones could be put in place around the sighting of the astelia lily,” they said.
“Presence of Leaderbeater’s possum has also been reported – verification of the sightings will now be undertaken.”
The spokesperson said a 100m precautionary buffer zone is in place around the area the lily was detected.
“Importantly, the lily was detected in an area of the coupe which was not planned for harvest,” they said.
They said a 200m precautionary buffer zone is in place around the area of the detected Leadbeater’s possum.
VicForests is now working with the Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning (DELWP) to protect these important findings and will carry out additional surveys to identify further sightings in the area.
The tall astelia is endemic to Victoria, with populations mostly found in cool temperate rainforest of the Central Highlands and the Otway Ranges.
The species is listed as vulnerable under the national Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act and major threats include wildfire, weed invasion and altered hydrology leading to drying out of sites.
The national recovery plan for the species outlines fire as being ‘probably the single greatest threat to the survival of the species’ and goes on to state ‘the proximity of regrowth forest to tall astelia populations occurring in cool temperate rainforest may affect the chances of the species remaining unburnt during wildfires’.