Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce has proposed to the Victorian government the downgrading of the critically endangered status of Leadbeater's possum to save Victoria's Heyfield timber mill. Doing so would open up protected forests in the state's central highlands and would allow loggers to harvest more timber for their livelihood.

Herald Sun reported that Barnaby's letter to Premier Daniel Andrews was sent on March 25. The letter urged Andrews to work with the federal government and craft a sustainable plan to keep the mills alive. He also suggested that Environment Minister Josh Frydenberg review the status of the possum, checking if it really needs to be protected more than the 21,000 people directly employed in the state's timber industry.

The letter is in response to the offer of the government-owned logger VicForests to reduce the supply of timber to the Australian Sustainable Hardwood (ASH) to 80,000 cubic meters in year one, followed by 60,000 cubic meters in the subsequent two years, The Guardian reported. The offer comes as their contract will expire this June.

According to, the mill, which is the main source of hardwood for the state and the largest processor in Australia, says it requires 130,000 cubic meters of sawlogs each year to stay in business. With the current offer, there is no way they can operate long-term.

ASH director Clinton Tilley announced to the workers on March 17 that the mill will close for over 18 months. In a report from The Age, Tilley explained to the laborers that the proposal to supply 60,000 cubic meters of timber would cost more than $20 million, with another $30 million for retooling.

Because of the additional costs, they would have to cut back on employees and would only retain 60 staff. The company is also considering moving their manufacturing operations to Tasmania.

The possum is the state's faunal emblem. It was previously listed by then-environment minister Greg Hunt as critically endangered. Last year, it was found through a survey that the population of the possum in the protected forest has reached 1,500. However, they clarified that the increase in number does not mean they had already recovered since the accepted population figure remain around 3,000, The Guardian notes.