Mountain Ash forests and the Leadbeater's possum have existed for tens of millions of years, but in the last few decades, fire and logging have caused the forest ecosystem to be at risk and the possum critically endangered [1, 2]. Conflict has arisen between people wanting to protect the forest for a range of reasons including conservation, ecological services and tourism, and those who want to extract forest resources, in particular, the state's forestry industry.See more...
VicForests is owned by the Victorian state government and responsible for harvesting, regrowing and selling timber from public forests . Logging by VicForests is primarily for pulp (77%) and the remaining saw logs are Low Value (14%) for products such as pallets, and High Value (9%) for joinery and flooring . If waste is discounted from the figures, it has been estimated that only 4% is actually used in the building and furniture industries . The native forestry industry in Victoria is reported to employ around 2,300 people  and VicForests employs 100 people . In 2013/14 Financial Year, VicForests reported that it delivered a profit of $3.4 million . VicForests lost its Forestry Stewardship Certification (FSC) in 2011 and was seeking re-certification until the Leadbeater's Possum was declared critically endangered by the Federal Government in April 2015 . The largest domestic purchaser of pulp from Victoria's native forests is Australian Paper, which makes Reflex paper , and is owned by Nippon Paper Industries Co. Ltd. VicForests is undertaking widespread, recurrent, clearfell logging in Toolangi State Forest .
Toolangi State Forest has unique biodiversity attributes including Mountain Ash trees, which are the tallest flowering trees in the world growing from 80 to 100 meters tall; it's home to the critically endangered Leadbeater's possum, which is endemic to Victoria, among other endangered animals including the Masked Owl, Barred Galaxia fish and Baw Baw frog; and it's the most carbon dense forest in the world [1, 10, 11].
Toolangi is the traditional land of the Taungurong and Woiworung (known as Wurrundjeri) peoples and Toolangi means 'place of tall trees' [12, 13].
The forest is close to Melbourne, Victoria's capital city, and plays a part in providing the quality and quantity of Melbourne's water supply, and is promoted as a tourist destination. It has also been the subject of over 30 years of research, with a specific focus on the Leadbeater's possum, by prominent scientists including Professor David Lindenmayer .
The forest ecosystem, flora and fauna are at high risk due to logging and fire. The effects of logging are well documented and in this forest specific risks are that it kills animals; it removes hollow bearing trees thereby making the area uninhabitable to animals that depend on hollows; logging rotations occur before trees can develop hollows again, which generally begins from 100 years of age, so the area remains uninhabitable for these species; and it depletes tree fern populations and thickets of fire-resistant understory, which are foraging and nesting sites [1, 14].
The area experienced devastating fires in 1939 and 2009, the latter destroying around 50% of the Leadbeater's possums habitat, and logging has been found to make the forest even more fire prone and the regrowth increases the risk of higher severity fires .
There is significant conflict between conservationists, primarily from the local town of Toolangi, and nearest city, Healvesville, and loggers and activism on either side. Forms of activism have included education through websites, leaflets, videos, forest tours and other events; protests on logging sites and in cities; political lobbying through petitions, meetings, phone calls and letters; a market-based Ethical Paper campaign including a petition and boycotts of Reflex paper and companies stocking it; stunts such as banner drops; a court case to stop logging in Sylvia Creek Coupe; media including interviews, letters to newspapers; scientific research and monitoring; fundraising; and a proposal to establish a Great Forest National Park, including the Toolangi State Forest [15, 16] .
Key groups include My Environment, Friends of the Leadbeater's Possum, Central Highlands Action Group, The Wilderness Society, Knitting Nannas of Toolangi, and Friends of Forestry. There is also the recently formed Great Forest National Park and its supporters  and The Greens political party.
There was significant conflict over Sylvia Creek Forest in July and August 2011 where conservationists held up logging operations for almost a month by chaining themselves to bulldozers, climbing trees and walking into the coupe . 140 community members also attended a public meeting in Toolangi where locals verbally clashed [18, 19]. In August 2011, local conservation group My Environment sought a Supreme Court injunction against VicForests to prevent logging in three coupes, Sylvia Creek, South Col and Freddo, as there was evidence that it was habitat for the Leadbeater's possum and VicForests hadn't done adequate surveys to identify the possum and its habitat, therefore logging was illegal under the Flora and Fauna Guarantee Act and the Sustainable Forests Act; the injunction was upheld on 25 August 2011 until 4:15pm [20, 21, 22, 23, 24]. VicForests complied, and the injunction was extended until February 2012 when the case would be tested in court .
My Environment lost the court case on 14 March 2012 as Supreme Court Judge Robert Osborn ruled there was no breach within the three logging coupes however Justice Osborn affirmed the legitimacy of the case in stating "the evidence called by MyEnvironment demonstrates a strong case for the overall review of the adequacy of the reserve system intended to protect [Possum] habitat within the Central Highlands Forest Management Area. The 2009 bushfires have materially changed the circumstances in which the existing system was planned and implemented and there is, on the evidence, an urgent need to review it” . My Environment appealed the decision and the case was heard in June 2013. The court upheld the original finding in December 2013 that logging complied with Victoria's regulatory framework. Logging and conflicts continue in the Toolangi State Forest.
Plantation forest could provide an alternative to logging native forest. In Victoria, there is enough existing plantation wood in Western Victoria for Australian Paper to make a complete transition . The impacts on the forestry industry would be in an increase in costs, particularly for transport as the Maryvale Mill is in Eastern Victoria, the transport cost has been estimated at AU$31m per year, and potentially for the wood, which has been forested for export so domestic uses would provide competition . In addition, there is a lack of certainty within the forestry industry that the plantations could supply sufficient sawlogs . Plantations also have several environmental drawbacks, including: as mono-crops they fail to develop rich ecologies, they can be treated with fertiliser and pesticides, and they highly vulnerable to fire.
The proposal to create a Great Forest National Park may be a potential solution. Neither major party supported the proposal prior to the State election in November 2014. Since the election, the Environment Minister, Lisa Neville, of the new Labor government has made the most positive statement in relation to the proposal to date such that "The national park is the long-term solution here. That's where we hope this process gets to" (27). The process will include a task force with key stakeholders including environment groups and the CFMEU (construction, forestry, mining and energy union) who is reported to have opposed the proposal prior to the election (27).