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Community groups win legal battle for protection of gliders!

In a landmark decision, the Supreme Court on Friday found Victorian government-owned logging company VicForests has logged illegally, and ruled for the first time that VicForests must protect endangered greater gliders, and yellow-bellied gliders. It is two of three cases VicForests has lost in the last two weeks, following a win for Warburton Environment last week who secured better protections for the threatened Tree Geebung in the Supreme Court.

Read the coverage from the Guardian and the Age

Congratulations EEG and KFF!! A massive thank you to you and the hard-working legal team, plus all the folks who got out and surveyed for gliders, and donated to support the case!

Environment East Gippsland and Kinglake Friends of Forests brought the case in 2021, to protect endangered Gliders in East Gippsland and the Central Highlands.

“This is an incredible ruling that will have far reaching consequences for the government’s logging agency by actually protecting these endangered animals where they are living in forests targeted for logging” said Jill Redwood, Coordinator of EEG.

“The judgement confirms what we already knew, VicForests’ logging is pushing the already threatened Greater Glider towards extinction. Our forests need to be protected and restored immediately, so all wildlife, including gliders can flourish once more.”

Sue McKinnon, president of Kinglake Friends of the Forest, said the judgment was an “emphatic win” for the community and the forests.

“The community has every right to be angry that the state government is subsidising the loss-making operations of VicForests to carry out logging that is driving species to extinction. The end of this horrendous practice is long overdue.”

This is the first time the Supreme Court has ordered the State logging agency to both detect and then protect endangered wildlife threatened by logging. The orders will have dramatic consequences for the protection of endangered animals in forests targeted for logging.

Justice Richards found VicForests to have logged important Greater Glider habitat without properly surveying or protecting gliders where found.

The judgement, available for download here, made clear that logging is a serious threat and cause of irreversible harm to the endangered gliders who depend on healthy forests and large trees for nesting hollows. Justice Richards’ stated that the “ecological evidence was that Greater Gliders would probably die” as a result of the logging.

Greater gliders are under serious threat of extinction, with their populations in some areas having dropped 80% in the last 20 years, and further exacerbated by the 2019-20 bushfires. The groups are calling for the state Labor Government to end logging now, not in 8 years’ time.

 


Damning audit shows D'Ambrosio still failing after 6 years as environment minister to crack down on illegal logging

Today the Victorian Auditor-General's Office (VAGO) tabled an independent audit into Victoria's native forest logging regulator in Parliament. The report is another stain on  Environment Minister Lily D'Ambrosio's Department of Environment and their on-going reputation for failing to prosecute illegal logging in Victoria's state forests. State-owned logging company VicForests has for years been found to be in breach of state environment laws.

The independent audit found;

  • Serious gaps in acting on reports of non-compliance and no procedure to investigate widespread illegal logging allegations;
  • The regulator has limited powers to actually enforce the law, and no avenue whatsoever to issue infringement notices; 
  • No available measure or record of the quality or effectiveness of any of their activities, and the agency does not produce a rationale for decisions relating to non-compliance;
  • Has no access to appropriate data and satellite imagery to enable prosecution of illegal logging.

The audit shows the strongest tool that the Department has available to it currently, is to send a warning letter - essentially a slap on the wrist. The report states;

Currently, OCR’s officers cannot issue infringement notices under the SFT Act for timber harvesting noncompliance. This contrasts with the Sustainable Forests Timber Amendment (Timber Harvesting Safety Zones) Bill 2022 introduced into Parliament in May 2022. If passed, this will include stronger penalties (maximum fines of more than $21,000 or 12 months imprisonment) for protesters who illegally enter timber harvesting safety zones.

Despite the audit acknowledging that the Department relies almost solely on third-party reports from citizen science groups, the government recently passed legislation which could slap whistle-blowers with thousands of dollars worth of fines for surveying for endangered wildlife in areas scheduled for logging.

Previous reports and audits also found the Department to be ineffective. They’ve had years to address crippling problems with non-compliance, illegal logging, and corruption allegations.  The government set up a specific regulator’s office to investigate and penalise lawless logging, but it has been little more than window dressing aimed at protecting the interests of the logging industry, rather than holding them accountable to the law. 

Only a few months ago in August the ABC reported that Victoria's government-owned logging agency VicForests illegally cleared 1,000 square metres of protected Leadbeater’s possum habitat and broke the law in 25 out of 30 logging areas, according to a government-commissioned audit.

 

Statement from Victorian Forest Alliance spokesperson Chris Schuringa:

“State-owned logging company VicForests has repeatedly been found to be in breach of state environment laws. This is yet another independent report confirming that no-one is policing Victoria's taxpayer-funded woodchipping industry.” 

“The audit shows that the strongest tool the Department currently has available to it is to send a warning letter, essentially a slap on the wrist. Victorians are left to wonder why the state government would rather throw the book at whistle-blowers and citizen scientists holding VicForests accountable, than police their logging agency?”

“Illegal logging, allegations of corruption, countless breaches to the environment laws; it’s shocking that this is happening in Victoria under a so-called progressive government.” 

We don't log native forest to build houses - around 90% of the trees from native forests become wood chips. Labor’s policy for this lawless logging to continue for another 8 years is wasteful and senseless. Native forest logging must end now - particularly when we know how important forests are for tackling climate change.”

 

Media contact:

Mika Tran

[email protected]

0412 893 513

 


State-owned logging company quietly refers itself to anti-corruption watchdog

Government-owned logging agency VicForests has quietly referred itself to the IBAC after it was revealed by the ABC that the company had used tax-payer funds to spy on community members speaking out against logging.

VicForests sought an external investigation into the allegations, but hasn't released the final report. This follows on from two  other referrals to IBAC late last year. After reports of widespread illegal logging on steep slopes, Greens MP Ellen Sandell made a complaint about VicForests, and VFA member Warburton Environment put forward a complaint against the Environment Department's logging regulator for allegedly failing to rein in illegal logging.

VicForests has been the subject to a string of illegal logging allegations. Finally they've been forced to refer themselves to IBAC. Read the ABC coverage here


Proposed legal change gives Minister ‘god-like power’ over logging operations

Sweeping changes to logging laws proposed by the Victorian government would hand the Environment Minister or head of the department ‘god-like power’ over the fate of forests, remove transparency and cut off pathways for the community to hold government and industry to account. 

Amendments to the Conservation, Forests and Lands Amendment Act tabled in Parliament on February 22, would give the Environment Minister power, effectively unchecked, to determine the lawfulness of logging operations. 

The powers are intended to enable the government to unilaterally set how key important environmental protection rules will be applied in many - if not most - logging operations. 

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