Introduction

The purpose of the FPSP is to detect high conservation value and threatened species where they occur in coupes planned to be harvested. The surveys also look for other species and vegetation communities that have prescriptions. Together, the Forest Protection surveys and other threatened species surveys are building a knowledge bank to inform broader forest and threatened species management. This survey work is taking place in State forests in eastern Victoria in Gippsland, the Central Highlands and North-East regions.

Since the FPSP was established in July 2018, surveys have been carried out in many coupes, with the ultimate aim to survey at least 80% of coupes planned for harvest each year. The data gathered from these survey programs helps build a better understanding of the habitats of threatened species, and where they are located. The detections may trigger a management action or Forest Management Zone changes as required under the Code of Practice for Timber Production 2014 (the Code), the Management Standards and Procedures for timber harvesting operations in Victoria’s State Forests 2014 (MSP) and/or Planning Standards for timber harvesting operations in Victoria’s State Forests 2014 (PS). 

The Forest Protection survey program does not replace the need for VicForests to undertake its own assessment of biodiversity values on coupes before harvesting.

The Victorian Biodiversity Atlas (VBA) is the DELWP public portal for detailed biodiversity record information. The VBA dataset is collated from a wide range of contributors, including the FPSP. The FPSP aims to get all survey data, including location coordinates, uploaded to the FPSP website and the VBA as early as possible to ensure the data is available to members of the public, unless the data is specifically protected due to its sensitive nature, for example, species that may be at risk of illegal poaching. Visit the Victorian Biodiversity Atlas website

This helps us improve the Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning’s (DELWP) forest management plans to protect our valuable plants and animals.

What is the survey program design?

The survey program has been designed in collaboration with scientists at the Arthur Rylah Institute for Environmental Research and peer reviewed by an independent expert in survey design, Professor Brendan Wintle, University of Melbourne. Independent scientific advice ensures the survey design meets rigorous scientific standards and is continually being tested and improved throughout the program.

Further details of the survey design can be found in the FPSP's survey design summary here.

The overall survey design considers a range of factors that influence what, where, when and how we survey. These include:

  • Which coupes are planned for harvest, where and when (data provided by VicForests)
  • The target species to be considered for survey
  • Survey technology, such as remote cameras and audio recorders
  • Survey standards and techniques
  • Surveying constraints, such as seasonal variation in detecting some species of plants and animals
  • Other constraints, such as winter weather conditions, bushfires and access restrictions
  • Impact of timber harvesting on each target species (depending on the species life characteristics and silviculture method
  • Market capacity and capability to deliver the surveys.

We know we can’t survey everything, everywhere, at all times, so the Arthur Rylah Institute developed a sophisticated prioritisation process to identify what surveys could be conducted in what areas to get the highest likelihood of detecting the most species, while ensuring we get some survey effort on at least 80% of coupes planned for harvest. All within the available budget.

The prioritisation process considers:

  • The probability of detecting the species on a coupe, based on the combination of how likely the habitat for the target species is to occur there using Habitat Distribution Models (HDM) and the likelihood of detecting it if it is actually present (called the detection probability). Note that HDM's do not predict whether a species is at a location at a given point in time. Further information on HDM's is available here.
  • For some highly cryptic species detection probabilities are typically low, while other species are easier to detect. This can be quantified based on statistical analysis of previous survey results using specific techniques.
  • Detection probability is calculated not just to detect an individual, but to detect sufficient individuals to meet the management prescription triggers.
  • Time of the year – some species are easier to detect in some seasons.
  • Optimal survey techniques – the most effective techniques to detect the target species to meet prescription requirements e.g. abundance are used
  • Impact of timber harvesting on target species or their habitat based on DELWP’s Strategic Management Prospects assessment. Further information on SMP can be found at DELWP NaturePrint website
  • Disturbance history including fire history and timber harvesting history to estimate whether modelled habitat is likely to still exist in the coupe, or whether it has been modified by fire or timber harvesting
  • Cost of survey technique and budget available to get the best return on investment
  • Requirement to survey at least 80% of coupes planned for harvest. This is an important constraint that spreads the budget for survey techniques to ensure we plan to survey at least 80% of coupes planned for harvest.

Implementing the survey program

Data is obtained from VicForests on which coupes are proposed to be surveyed and when. The FPSP team then use this data to commence the prioritisation process as outlined above. This is the first step in a desktop assessment of planning surveys in coupes planned to be harvested.

Following prioritisation, a further desktop assessment is conducted to identify the best locations within and adjacent to coupes to conduct the surveys. The desktop assessment uses spatial data such as maps, species distribution and abundance data from VBA records, aerial photos, satellite images, knowledge of the habitat requirements of each species, habitat distribution models and local knowledge. Using this assessment, we are then able to narrow down where on a coupe we should be conducting the surveys to maximise detectability.

The FPSP is aiming to get surveys conducted in sufficient time to ensure a two to three-month lead time prior to proposed harvest date. This will enable the results to be used earlier in coupe planning. The survey schedule is very dynamic as the proposed harvesting schedule regularly changes due to environmental and timber market conditions, contractor availability, and regulatory and zoning changes. The survey schedules, based on information provided by VicForests on coupe locations and proposed harvest date, change almost daily. In some cases, surveys do have to be cancelled if there is insufficient time to conduct the survey. This is usually due to the harvest date being brought forward, or new coupes being added to the operations plan with insufficient time to conduct surveys.  

Seasonal detectability must also be considered when scheduling surveys as certain species may be difficult to detect at different times of year. For example, Spotted-tail Quolls are most detectable in the winter months when individuals tend to move around more.

A table showing the best times to survey for species is available in the FPSP survey design summary here.

What standards are the surveys conducted to?

Survey guidelines have been designed based on published DELWP standards and Commonwealth standards, and expert knowledge on the species involved. The survey guidelines describe the technique to be used, the amount of survey effort required, and what data is to be collected. They are supported by data forms for the consistent collection of required data. The FPSP survey guidelines are available via the links below.

Leadbeaters Possum Arboreal Cameras (PDF, 532.4 KB) (the most effective technique for surveying for Leadbeater’s Possum throughout the coupe)

Leadbeaters Possum Thermal Imaging (PDF, 334.0 KB) (an alternative technique for surveying for Leadbeater’s Possum where there are short lead times and reasonable access)

Terrestrial Cameras (PDF, 380.3 KB) (for ground dwelling mammals such as Long-footed Potoroo and Smoky Mouse)

Spotlight and Call Playback (PDF, 209.0 KB) (for gliders and owls)

Coupe Habitat and Sign Survey (PDF, 365.2 KB) (for sign of target species such as Owl roosts and hollow bearing trees)

Small Mammal Elliott Trapping (PDF, 463.1 KB) (used where terrestrial cameras detect small mammals such as dunnarts that cannot be identified to species from photographs)

Aquatic (Fish and Crustaceans) (PDF, 222.8 KB) (used for surveying freshwater fish and crayfish species)

Threatened plants (PDF, 611.4 KB) (used for plants and threatened ecological communities)

Reptiles (PDF, 564.7 KB) (used for target reptile species)

Frogs (PDF, 407.1 KB) (used for target frog species)

Opportunistic Observations (PDF, 1.4 MB) (used to record any observations of value that are no the target of a specific survey technique)

Who conducts the surveys?

Surveys are conducted by experts from specialist environmental survey companies, and specialist botanists and fauna experts from the Arthur Rylah Institute for Environmental Research.

Using results to inform planning and management decisions

The detection-based data records generated from the forest protection surveys are used as soon as possible to:

  • Advise VicForests of survey results on coupes planned to be harvested to inform pre-harvest planning;
  • And used to inform VicForests decision-making around regulatory prescription responses required
  • Continuously improve the FPSP design and implementation
  • Update the VBA, as the main database of detailed biodiversity record information in Victoria.

In the longer term, the results are used to:

  • Complement the Departments’ Forest Values Assessment (RFA) program, as part of RFA Modernisation
  • Inform DELWP’s strategic forest management planning framework, including a review of the Forest Management Zone (FMZ) schemes’ performance
  • Contribute to the updating of threatened species habitat distribution models and population viability analyses for selected species as part of the RFA process.

VicForests have regulatory responsibility to initiate and comply with relevant detection-based management actions outlined in the Code, MSPs and PSs. These management actions vary for each species, habitat feature or community, and by geographical location and may require any of the following:

  • Exclusion of timber harvesting within or in proximity to a detection site or identified habitat features;
  • Modification of timber harvesting within or in proximity to a detection site or identified habitat features; or
  • Establishment of new FMZs, such as Special Protection Zone (SPZ) or Special Management Zone (SMZ) around the detection site to manage for and protect relevant habitat features, populations or individuals.

As the timber harvesting regulator, DELWP is responsible for auditing VicForests’ adherence with the Code of Practice for Timber Production 2014 and MSPs. DELWP also has ultimate oversight of forest management zones and considers landscape-scale forest planning information to decide how zones are best designed and implemented.

What has been surveyed?

Surveys are being undertaken for threatened plants, arboreal and terrestrial mammals, some bird species, frogs, fish and crayfish, and vegetation communities. In the fauna group, considerable effort is being made to survey for Leadbeater’s Possum using both thermal imaging/call playback, and arboreal cameras. Spotlighting and call playback is being used to search for Greater gliders, Yellow-bellied gliders and various owl species. Terrestrial (ground) cameras are being used to search for Potoroos, Smoky Mouse, Dunnarts and various other ground-dwelling mammals.

Aquatic species, usually surveyed in summer or autumn, are best recorded when stream-flows are low and water clarity is high. Due to the lack of rainfall in spring of 2018 surveys could commence earlier and many coupes have now been surveyed.

The list of target flora species includes all those species listed in the Code of Practice for Timber Production 2014, the Management Standards and Procedures for timber harvesting operations in Victoria’s State Forests 2014, and/or the Planning Standards for timber harvesting operations in Victoria’s State Forests 2014.

The list of target fauna species is available in the FPSP survey design summary here.

Survey results from 1 July 2018 to date:

  • In tabular form can be found here. Instructions to use the survey results table can be found here.
  • In map viewer form can be found here.

What's next?

While summer surveys are being conducted, the FPSP is currently planning surveys for the autumn and winter months, and surveys for next spring and summer.

Work is continuing on designing and developing a data management system to streamline survey data collection and reporting and to provide a web-mapping interface.

Having got off to a flying start, it is now time to review the program design and the operational model to ensure the program is applying robust methods and is able to respond to the factors influencing the survey efficiency and effectiveness.

Feedback from stakeholders and survey contractors is being used to tweak the program design, the survey guidelines, how we communicate the program and how we manage the data.

The survey scheduling process is being continually updated to ensure we are able to conduct surveys well in advance of harvest schedules and to cater for the high volume of changes to inputs such as coupes being added at short notice and proposed harvest dates being brought forward.

While the survey techniques are working well, there are opportunities to use the last six months’ experience to improve certain aspects of the design. This includes:

  • A review of the desktop assessment process to ensure the survey planning process is more adaptable to the frequent changes to the harvesting schedule
  • Refining the scheduling process to ensure we are scheduling as many surveys as possible, and
  • Increasing our efforts into better communicating the program and ensuring stakeholder engagement.

A range of improved communication and engagement opportunities are planned for implementation in 2019. These include preparing a podcast explaining the more technical aspects of the survey design and running field days for people to participate in surveys.

Feedback & suggestions

The Forest Protection Survey Program values your feedback. You can make a suggestion to help us improve our services, request further information, or report an issue by emailing fpsp.inquiries@delwp.vic.gov.au

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Page last updated: 19/03/19