Tasmanian Times

The individual has always had to struggle to keep from being overwhelmed by the tribe. If you try it, you will be lonely often, and sometimes frightened. No price is too high for the privilege of owning yourself. ~ Friedrich Nietzsche

The individual has always had to struggle to keep from being overwhelmed by the tribe. If you try it, you will be lonely often, and sometimes frightened. No price is too high for the privilege of owning yourself. ~ Friedrich Nietzsche

David Obendorf

Open Letter from Concerned Scientists on the Tarkine Road and the Tasmanian Devil

Concerned Scientists
ON Monday 16 February 2009, Dr Colette Harmsen, a Tasmanian veterinarian addressed a public meeting of the Waratah-Wynyard Council on a motion before council regarding the proposed new road development through parts of North West Tasmania known as the Tarkine.

Dr Harmsen spoke as a concerned Tasmanian and as a registered veterinarian. She told the meeting that the proposed new road into this forested area had the potential to increase infectious contact between devils infected with the socially-transmissible facial tumour cancer and healthy devils in this disease-free population; the last remaining in Tasmania. Dr Harmsen highlighted the fact that Tasmanian devils opportunistically use roadways as easy access to new areas especially where road-kill carrion is plentiful. Dr Harmsen also expressed concern for the loss of Tasmanian devils from this population – as road-kill victims – particularly as dispersing juvenile devils.

These statements are supported by wildlife population monitoring after road improvements to the Cradle Mountain access road in 1990s which showed the increased road-kill danger for Tasmanian wildlife and scavenging dasyurids. In cases of expanded road access through wildlife habitats, sealed highways have the capacity to cause local extinctions. A recent three-year study of road-kill frequency on main roads of Tasmania estimated that 1700 Tasmanian Devils were being killed annually. And in another 17 month-long study, Dr Menna Jones reported on the direct consequences of sealed upgrades to the main access roads into Cradle Mountain and Freycinet National Parks on the local populations of Tasmanian devils & quolls.

As scientists we are particularly disappointed and shocked that the Tasmanian Minister responsible for threatened species in this state, David Llewellyn saw it necessary to abruptly dismiss Dr Harmsen’s warnings about the impact that the construction of this new Tarkine road posed for the Tasmanian devil. In a statement made to Tasmanian media, Minister Llewellyn said Dr Harmsen’s ‘logic was flawed’ and did not represent the Government’s views.

In November 2007 Professor Hamish McCallum, Senior Scientist to the Save the Devil project publicly warned that researchers may only have a year to save the Tasmanian devil from extinction in the wild. And in March 2008, a 3-day scientific workshop on the Tasmanian Devil hosted by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature heard about the importance of the disease-free devil populations in North West Tasmania.

Apart from impacts to this nationally-listed threatened species, such road developments have the potential to hasten the transfer of other unwanted organisms such as feral animals, weeds and other disease-causing pathogens. Scientific reports and technical workshops have already highlighted the westerly and southerly spread of DFTD-infected devils facilitated by major roads and the presence of road killed wildlife. Road construction and usage have also been incriminated in the spread of the chytrid fungal disease of frogs within Tasmania.

A thorough, science-based IRA of this road proposal considering the ecological effects to the local biodiversity values including the potential for accelerated spread of unwanted weeds, pests and diseases is required.

We wish to support Dr Harmsen for expressing her concerns on the adverse ecological consequences that the construction of this new road will create for the last major stronghold population of wild facial tumour-free devils in Tasmania.

We also defend Dr Harmsen’s right, as a scientist, to speak freely about the devil and the threats this road proposal creates for its continued survival in the wild.

Yours sincerely,

Larissa Abbott, Ecologist, Flora & Fauna Impact Assessment, SMEC Holdings Limited
Professor Maurice R. Alley, Associate Professor of Veterinary Pathology, Pathobiology Section, Institute of Veterinary, Animal and Biomedical Sciences, Massey University, Palmerston North, New Zealand.
Dr Sandra Berry, Visiting Fellow, Australian National University WildCountry Research and Policy Hub. Fenner School of Environment & Society.
Dr Greg P. Clancy, Fauna/Flora Ecologist, Coutts Crossing, NSW
Dr Richard Donaghey, Zoologist & Ecologist, Myalla, North West Tasmania
Dr Tony Friend, Principal Research Scientist, Science Division, Albany Research, Department of Environment & Conservation, W.A
Dr Emma Hage, Veterinarian (West Indies) & volunteer with the Save the Devil Project in 2008
Dr James Harris, Veterinarian (Tasmania), BS, DVM, FRSPH
Tamara Keeley, Wildlife Reproductive Biologist, Taronga Western Plains Zoo, NSW
Professor Jamie Kirkpatrick, Geography and Environmental Studies, University of Tasmania
Dr Alexandre Kreiss, Veterinarian (Tasmania) & completing PhD on the Tasmanian devil’s immune system and DFTD, University of Tasmania
Dr Virginie Kurowski, Veterinarian, completed veterinary thesis on the Tasmanian Devil and the DFTD, France.
Dr Neil McGlashan, Medical Geographer, D.Sc, School of Geography, University of Tasmania & member of the Save the Devil Stakeholder reference group
Dr Elizabeth Murchison, Molecular scientist, Welcome Trust Sanger Institute (UK) and the Australian National University
Dr James Macgregor, Veterinarian (Tasmania)
Erin Noonan, BSc(Hons) Zoologist & worked on the Tasmanian Devil Research Team for 3 years
Dr David Obendorf , Veterinarian (Tasmania), wildlife researcher & member of the Save the Devil Stakeholder Reference Group
Dr Melanie Panayiotou, Veterinarian (Victoria), BVSc (Hons)
Dr Justyna Zofia Paplinska, Zoologist & conservation geneticist, Zoology Department, The University of Melbourne
Chris Sanderson, Ecologist, University of Queensland
Dr Rebecca Spindler, PhD, Manager, Research and Conservation, Taronga Conservation Society Australia
Dr Andrea Reiss, Veterinarian (Western Australia) BVSc, MVS, MACVSc
Dr Kim Riddle, Veterinarian, BVSc, DipClSt (Wildlife Health)
Dr Peter Temple-Smith, Senior Research Fellow, Centre for Reproduction & Development, Monash Institute of Medical Research
Dr Inger-Marie Vilcins, Postdoctoral Scholar, Microbiology, Medical Entomology & Vector-borne disease, University of California
Dr James Watson, The Ecology Centre, University of Queensland
Professor Greg Woods, PhD, Associate Professor, Immunology, University of Tasmania.



Tarkine Road Could Bring Deadly Disease into last Devil Refuge

More than twenty leading experts in fields including veterinary science, zoology, ecology molecular biology and immunology and from as far afield as California, Britain, France and New Zealand have spoken out in support of a colleague who publicly expressed scientific concerns about the plight of the endangered Tasmanian Devil and the impact of the proposed Tarkine road, in North-West Tasmania.

In an open letter sent to Tasmanian and National papers and the Tasmanian Premier, David Bartlett, Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd, and respective Opposition Leaders, Will Hodgman and Malcolm Turnbull, the scientists collectively support the concerns expressed by Tasmanian veterinarian, Dr Colette Harmsen. The scientists have also expressed disappointment and shock that the Tasmanian Minister with responsibility for biodiversity, David Llewellyn, should have so quickly dismissed serious science-based concerns made by Dr Colette Harmsen.

The State Government acknowledges that the spread of devil facial tumour disease has killed well in excess of half the Tasmanian Devil population across Tasmania and is threatening to push this uniquely Tasmanian species towards extinction; the devil is now listed as endangered.

The Tarkine, a 447,000 hectare wilderness area in North-West Tasmania that includes Australia’s largest tract of temperate rainforest, is the last refuge of healthy, disease-free devils. The Tasmanian government has recently rejected a regional tourism plan prepared for the Tarkine by the Cradle-Coast Authority that has the broad support of local councils, tourism operators and conservationists, and has instead decided to give Forestry Tasmania $23 million for a controversial proposal to push a new road through pristine rainforests into the heart of the Tarkine – critical habitat for the Tasmanian Devil.

A spokesperson for the group of experts is dismayed by the plight of the Tasmanian Devil and impact the Tarkine road proposal poses for the species’ survival in the wild. Dr David Obendorf is a Tasmanian veterinarian, wildlife researcher and member of the Save the Devil Project stakeholder reference group; he has worked extensively on the devil’s plight and has recently co-authored on the Devil Facial Tumour Disease soon to be published in the European Journal of Oncology.

“The Tasmanian Devil is Australia’s largest carnivorous marsupial and the iconic symbol of a rapidly declining family of large dasyurids. The realization that we could spend so much tax-payer funds and community donations to prevent this unique Tasmanian animal from becoming extinct in the wild and at the same time allow road development proposals to proceed into the last stronghold of cancer-free devils is beyond comprehension,” said Dr Obendorf.

“The scientists collectively are very distressed that the Tasmanian government is considering pushing a road into the last refuge of healthy, cancer-free Tasmanian devils, and we are asking the government of Premier David Bartlett to listen to these concerns and remember the consequences of a previous Tasmanian government-sanctioned policy on the fate of the thylacine.”

“Science needs to be unfettered by politics. Scientists need to be able to speak openly about their scientific concerns and do so without fear of political interference. For Minister Llewellyn to abruptly dismiss Dr Harmsen’s concerns expressed last week was most unfortunate and he should reconsider what was the motivation behind his abrupt put-down of Dr Harmsen,” Dr Obendorf said.

Author Credits: [show_post_categories parent="no" parentcategory="writers" show = "category" hyperlink="yes"]


  1. salamander

    March 2, 2009 at 12:18 am

    Going Bush! That suggests honesty, integrity, honest work. What a laugh! Those two wouldn’t have a clue. They have sold their souls to the government propaganda machine.

    Perhaps such gormless performances will become an endangered species sometime in the near future, when environmental programs use more fact than fiction.

  2. Lilly White

    February 28, 2009 at 11:05 pm

    Fair go guy’s.
    Llewy takes expert advice on these issues, and has the super intellects of the Tasmanian government to advise and assist.
    Eminent persons like Bryan Green, Steve Kons, Brenton Best, Doug Parkinson, Aird, Sturgo, Cox etc etc. and you could add Gay and Gordon to the list.
    What would 30 scientists know when compared to the talent offered by the Tasmanian government.
    Some of these members have years of experience, and their records include achievements such as the TCC, Pulpmill Taskforce, PMAA, and PAL. They have letters after their names, like MLC and MHA and some even have the letters HON before their names. What would 30 scientists, vetinary surgeons and doctors know when compared to the HON David Llewellyn MHA.
    Go on Llewy hang in there, just think about the big retirement payout to come, and when those of lesser intellect question you, just feign a touch of Doug Parkinsons disease and tell them “Don’t you worry about that, that’s not the governments opinion”

  3. David Obendorf

    February 28, 2009 at 8:54 pm

    Anne (comment # 12), if can you find out the email addresses for the producer & director of this FT-sponsored programme series then I’m onlt too happy to send them copies the Open Letter from Concerned Scientists (scientists signing up is growing by the day).

    David Obendorf
    Email: davidobendorf@tassie.net.au

  4. Dr Kevin Bonham

    February 28, 2009 at 7:49 pm

    Phill asserts as if it was fact that DFTD is “human engendered”. Actually we don’t have a clue what engendered it and probably never will, given that it most likely started in one or a handful of devils, and those devils are no longer with us, nor do we know exactly where they came from.

    Charles and Claire, I was on an outing a few years ago where an Azure Kingfisher was seen. The sighting was on the Inglis River walk at Wynyard which is hardly a pristine habitat.

  5. Charles and Claire Gilmour

    February 27, 2009 at 10:53 pm

    Let’s take water and it’s natural flow into the sea (which is very limited in Tasmanian waters) and the magnificent bird – the Azure Kingfisher. A very rare species indeed.

    One can’t miss this beautiful bird when seen. But it is rarely seen. We have been very lucky, not only do we see this very rare bird often around our area, one decided to fly though the new extension of our house. I could only say, that’s a GOOD sign of doing the right thing. Only those who know how very very rare this bird is could appreciate this.

    The Azure Kingfisher needs a river to the sea, it needs little fish, it needs a conducive ecosystem, it needs care and protection, it needs consideration.

    Here must be a breeding group in this area as we have seen them often. They are supposed to be protected. But forestry practices in this area are destroying their habitat. Is there a scientist out there who cares enough to ensure the Azure King fisher and it’s habitat is protected? Because we can show you the spots they inhabit.

  6. anne

    February 27, 2009 at 7:23 pm

    Perhaps the producers of the following programme should be encouraged to a) read this letter and b) speak to a few of its signatories.

    With luck they will then revise the wisdom of any future partnership with FT, and will perhaps be encouraged instead to do a few more programmes about the plight of Tassie’s wildlife in the face of this relentless FT destruction, which they like to dress up as “sustainable” and “world’s best practice”.

    Last week the programme showed Camp Flozza, then explained why it was so important to access Upper Florentine for logging. This is an insidious tactic to influence Tasmanians into supporting FT atrocities. I understand this week the ads mention the Tarkine, and it’s highly likely the programme will promote its accessibility because of the proposed road.

    ‘New series of Going Bush hosted by Hook Line and Sinker’s Nick Duigan and Andrew Hart screens Sundays at 5.30pm « Forestry Tasmania
    … tourism products at the newly revamped Tarkine Forest Adventures at Dismal Swamp are highlights of the first episode of the second series of Going Bush. …

    Andrew and Nick present Going Bush in their inimitable and laconic style, and introduce Forestry Tasmania, its values and staff in an amusing, entertaining and informative way. The first series attracted 40,000 viewers.

    Tune in this week to see the amazing story of Vlastik Skvaril, who recently became the first person to run across the Australian continent. Thanks to a $9,000 Forestry Tasmania-Southern Cross Community Assist grant, Vlastik was able to cover all of his expenses and donate the all funds he raised during his 5768-kilometre run to CanTeen.

    The first episode also takes viewers with Nick and Andrew into the southern forests to meet with tree climbers to measure the world’s tallest hardwood tree.

    The tree was discovered by Forestry Tasmania staff in 2008 and given the official name of Centurion. Following the tree climbers’ measurement, however, the tree was nicknamed ‘the Bradman’. Don’t miss Sunday’s episode to find out why.

    Going Bush is part of a special partnership between Forestry Tasmania and Southern Cross Television. The partnership also includes the Community Assist program, established to provide financial assistance and project support to Tasmanian organisations and individuals who work hard to make their communities better places to live, and who share Forestry Tasmania’s values.

    The series continues in the 5.30pm Sunday timeslot until March 8.’

  7. phill Parsons

    February 27, 2009 at 4:20 pm

    So if one species is threatened with extinction by a continuation of the practices of the timber industry in Tasmania’s natural forests that could be viewed as a mistake.

    If you fail to learn and do nothing to change that it becomes deliberate.

    Then if you repeat the process, demonstrating a failure to learn from repetition, and do so in the face of expert advice you would graduate to criminal except in this case the serial offenders make the laws and describe themselves as government.

    Birds Australia’s report [State of Australain Birds http://www.birdsaustralia.com.au/images/stories/publications/soab/SOAB_2008.pdf%5D is clear about the trends, fingers the causes and proposes solutions.

    The scientific community interested in DFTD is clear in its condemnation of the extension of roading [Gunns highway] into the Tarkine, no excuse is acceptable the devil’s last natural disease free stonghold is endangered.

    Why are we repeating the lessons of the passenger pidgeon, declining from millions to nil over 100 years ago, or the absence of the Tasmanian Emu and the Tasmanian Tiger.

    David Llewellyn must be a very slow learner, and those who vote for him must be unable to learn anything beyond a full belly makes it okay for me.

    Indeed this appears to be the chant of the CFMEU and Timber Communities Australia. I cannot remember them demanding any restraint or change of practice, just more destruction for the mindless result of jobs and the balance sheet.

    Serial action by government to deliberately destroy the heritage it is entrusted with removes it from consideration as government.

    A classic example of failed process is to plant the higher rainfall better soil productive lands down to trees and then pipe the water to the drier less productive land.

    It is simply an agent with one interest, making Tasmanian unattractive unless you are unable to learn.

  8. salamander

    February 27, 2009 at 3:05 pm

    It is no surprise that Mr Llewellyn has come out with the standard government response. This is how it has been for years, why should anything change, least of all tactics that have been so successful in getting Mr Llewellyn whatever it is he wants from his well-paid job with perks and superannuation?
    I expect Garrett to approve anything and everything, he evidently has the same extremely low standards of decency with a high degree of political nouse.
    How nice it would be to have our politicial leaders paid according to performance, as so many more honest workers are.

  9. David Obendorf

    February 27, 2009 at 10:00 am

    Scientists – wildlife vets, ecologists, threatenened species experts – are still contacting me to sign on to the Open letter from Concerned Scientists.

    The number of signators is now over 30 and I expect it to increase in coming days.

    In my experience this is an ASTONISHING response from a conservative & usually very hestitant fraternity of science professionals.

  10. Pete Godfrey

    February 27, 2009 at 9:18 am

    On a similar subject has anyone noticed the massive activity that has been going on to get rid of the rats and rabbits from Macquarie Island lately. Maybe it is all in readiness for the last remaining wild and well Devils to be transported.
    Very traditional idea

  11. Pete Godfrey

    February 27, 2009 at 9:15 am

    A close inspection of David Llewellyns hands will show that they are very flat.
    He sits on them firmly and constantly.
    Has anyone noticed the time it has taken for our caring government to get together a few devils that are raised mostly by volunteers and steer them off to a couple of wildlife parks.
    The disease first came to light in 1997. So it has taken 11 years of doing sweet nothing to come to the conclusions that all Scientists who go against the government line of doing nothing are wrong.
    Really our govermnent would be far better suited to living in a far off Himalayan monastry, where doing nothing is a revered activity.

  12. phill Parsons

    February 27, 2009 at 12:09 am

    Its certainly alright to beg for Federal funding to eradicate the fox, a threat to devils, and DFTD, another human engendered threat to devils but nothing must stand in the way of a Gunns highway.

    Be it devils or unsafe road junctions, planing laws or local residents the wood must be rushed overseas to become landfill, the more carbon released the better.

    Devils must be sacrificed, there is the view of Llewllyn’s Labor side of the Liberal Labor accord.

    For Gunns all differences are set aside as they sing as one their dirge of destruction dressing it up as progress and development.

    Will Garrett join this accord and sacrifice the endangered devil on the altar of party donations from the forest industries and their unions?

  13. Factfinder

    February 26, 2009 at 11:14 pm

    We are in good hands!…Eco products with golden AFS PEFC seal…
    “I think the most important thing is we can prove on the world scale we are utilising our forest products to the highest degree and sustainability.
    Tasmania Minister of Primary Industries and Minister for Water and for Energy and Resources and Minister for Corrections and Consumer
    Protection David Llewellyn.

    “We are considering all aspects of environmental concerns along the way and I think that really is the sort of cutting edge approach that Ta Ann has
    had held and in Tasmania,” he said.

    Bob Gordon said Ta Ann also won the Best Emerging Australian Exporter Award, an Australian national-level contest, for demonstrating its commitment
    to excellence and the environment.

  14. Clive Stott

    February 26, 2009 at 4:10 pm

    Of course this government is out of line on the devil issue.
    But then again why would they be interested in preserving any life? They are just being consistent when you read what happened to me:-
    When I met with Bob Knox (Forestry Tasmania) I asked him, “Do you think my death would have changed anything?” He said, “No it wouldn’t.”
    I then asked him, “Do you think my death will change anything?” He said, “I doubt it will.”

    Maybe Warner Bros. need to be sent the articles.

  15. crud

    February 26, 2009 at 12:35 pm

    THE road will go through,lewy is towing the gunns line.

  16. Dave Groves

    February 26, 2009 at 7:38 am

    And with the blink of an eye Llewellyn dismisses these learned professionals….not the view of the government….say no more….
    What an amazing show….

  17. Garry Stannus

    February 25, 2009 at 11:16 pm

    Thank you Dr Harmsen, David Obendorf and the concerned scientists who have spoken out about the proposed Tarkine Loop Road and expressed concern about David Llewellyn’s glib dismissal of Harmsen’s expressed concerns. Very many of us support you.

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