Pages tagged "illegal logging"
MEDIA RELEASE: Alarming discovery by citizen scientists sparks concerns illegal logging will continue
Citizen scientists from Wildlife of the Central Highlands (WOTCH) and the Victorian Forest Alliance (VFA) have discovered state-owned logging company VicForests has continued to illegally destroy numerous endangered Tree Geebungs while doing ‘regeneration’ works. The area is within the Immediate Protection Areas announced by the Daniel Andrews government back in 2019. One tree knocked over is estimated to be hundreds of years old.
The groups have reported the illegal logging of the endangered plant, calling for VicForests to be charged for violating state environment laws. The Environment Department’s regulator has responded saying they don’t have the power to act on the breach because the protection areas haven’t been formalised, but are investigating.
“State-owned VicForests have once again been caught red-handed. The agency repeatedly flouts the law, while the regulator does nothing to stop them. Despite the government’s plan to bring an earlier end to native forest logging, we hold grave concerns for forests and endangered species like the Tree Geebung, that are still under threat from VicForests destructive logging. VicForests needs to be wound up.” said Chris Schuringa, Victorian Forest Alliance Campaign Coordinator.
While the government has said they are phasing out native forest logging on Jan 1, they have not made a decision about the future of failed state owned logging agency VicForests.
Tree Geebung (Persoonia arborea) is a mid-story tree found only in the tall wet forests of Victoria’s Central Highlands. Research shows trees over 20 cm in diameter can be hundreds of years old. On 26 October 2022, Warburton Environment Inc. won a landmark Supreme Court case against VicForests over the agency's failure to protect Tree Geebung from logging. In his judgement, Hon. Justice Garde stated;
“...no attempt was made by VicForests to show that it was not reasonably practicable to protect the significant number of Tree Geebungs… Given the evidence as to the past harvesting and burning practices of VicForests, it is highly likely that significant numbers of mature Tree Geebungs have been lost in the Central Highlands in the past through harvesting and regeneration burning. The precise extent of the loss will never be known, but on the basis of recent records it is likely to amount to many hundreds or even thousands of mature trees.”
“Citizen scientists and volunteer groups have been shouldering the responsibility of finding and reporting countless breaches of the laws for years. Yet the state government recently brought in laws to further criminalise citizen scientists and peaceful protesters, who now face thousands of dollars worth of fines and potential jail time, instead of cracking down on rampant illegal logging.” said Wildlife of the Central Highlands (WOTCH) President Hayley Forster
“The government must enact proper protections for forests, particularly after Jan 1 when logging is slated to end. Logging has had terrible impacts on forests over the last 50 years, and there’s a lot of important ecological restoration work that needs to be done. But VicForests have shown that it cannot be trusted in that role.” said Hayley Forster
“These areas were promised to have been protected since 2019, but the government has been slow to formalise, now threatened species are being smashed up in the name of restoration. The forests need real restoration, not further destruction.” said VNPA Executive Director, Matt Ruchel
“The community has lost faith in VicForests and they need to go sooner rather than later”. said VNPA Executive Director, Matt Ruchel
Available for comment
Wildlife of the Central Highlands
0424 386 004
Victorian Forest Alliance
0418 912 625
Victorian National Parks Association
0418 357 813
It's been a massive couple of weeks for forests, with one of the biggest drivers of logging in Victoria Nippon calling it quits on continuing to supply their Maryvale Mill with wood chips sourced from native forests. This is huge news and poses some serious questions about whether native forest logging will continue in Victoria. This situation is not surprising, given years of legal uncertainty, a dive in demand for white copy paper, and the ongoing controversy surrounding native forest logging over many decades.
From alleged corruption scandals, to illegal logging, and damning audits of both the state government's environment regulator AND VicForests itself, there has never been a better time to transition away from native forest logging.
We have a new Environment Minister Ingrid Stitt, plus a relatively new Agriculture Minister Gayle Tierney. Both Ministers are inheriting a backlog of problems, and new opportunities, now that the biggest consumer of wood chips has pulled the plug. The only solution now? A rapid end to native forest logging.
With our short news cycles it can be easy to forget the trail of many shocking stories that have exposed VicForests’ dirty laundry. So we're counting down the top five biggest logging scandals from the last 18 months.
Strap yourselves in! These are just a handful of reasons why the state government needs to make the call to end native forest logging now.
5. VicForests' annual report reveals a whopping $54 million loss, claims most of this was spent defending lawless logging in court
Just a few days before Christmas, VicForests' 2022 annual report was quietly released, revealing a record loss of over $54 million dollars. The public are footing the bill for ongoing logging, plus for VicForests to defend their lawless logging in court. Late last year the Australian Financial Review reported that an economic analysis into native forest logging shows it's costing more money than it makes. Given the extremely low public support for native forest logging, and its expected loss of even more money in 2023, how can the state government justify continuing to prop up this industry?
4. Report shows VicForests are failing to regenerate forests after logging, handing them back to the public as weedy paddocks. The Environment Department's response? Blame deer grazing...
An independent research report by conservationist Marg Blakers, co-published by nearly 20 environment groups in late 2021, shockingly revealed that VicForests is failing to meet its legal obligations to regenerate forests after logging. Up to a third of forests logged fail to regrow, for Ash forests, it's almost half. The ABC broke the story, and when questioned, the Environment Department's regulator had this to say in response;
“The Conservation Regulator cannot take legal action in situations where evidence is not available to substantiate offending and criminal culpability cannot be determined.. Several confounding factors such as grazing by domestic cattle and non-native deer, as well as competition from dense grass cover and blackberry may have contributed to the regeneration outcomes after coupes were finalised.”
3. VicForests loses three court cases in less than a fortnight
It was a particularly bad few weeks for VicForests towards the end of October last year, when they first lost a ground-breaking court case run by Warburton Environment for proper protections of a rare mid-storey tree species, endemic to the Central Highlands, called the Tree Geebung. Just a few weeks later, VicForests also lost another two court cases led by Environment East Gippsland and Kinglake Friends of the Forest, over failure to survey for and protect endangered and threatened gliders. It has been entirely left up to community groups to hold VicForests accountable to the law, where the Environment Department has failed to act on countless breaches.
2. Old growth forests logged DAYS after the government announces an end to all old growth forest logging
In 2019, the Andrews state government announced the immediate protection of all old growth forests, but within days old growth forest areas in Swifts Creek were still being logged. The announcement was described by the government as “the largest environmental protection policy in the state’s history”. Yet the Environment Department changed the definition and classification of old growth forests, in order for them to continue to be logged, under the misleading guise of protection. They've broken their promise, and in 2023, the Andrews government is still planning to log old growth forests.
1. The ABC reveals VicForests used public money to spy on and intimidate community members and scientists speaking out against native forest logging (and then quietly referred itself to anti-corruption watchdog after being caught out... )
There is something especially dark and frightening about a government agency using public funds to spy on citizens. Not only is it a gross misuse of public money, but terrifying to think that advocates for protection of forests can be intimidated and harassed in such a way, purely for campaigning for the protection of forests. At around the same time, VFA member Warburton Environment, also lodged a complaint to IBAC, stating that the Environment Department has failed in its duties to crack down on numerous breaches to environment laws. The results of both complaints to anti-corruption watchdog IBAC are yet to be released.
- Last year the state government passed laws to further criminalise peaceful protesters and citizen scientists by threatened jail time and up to $20,000 in fines
- VicForests starts logging in the proposed Wombat National Park, and makes plans to log in the Dandenong Ranges National Park
- Our report revealed native forest logging emits a whopping 3 million tonnes of dirty carbon emissions every year
- Forest areas set aside for the greater glider were logged prior to being formally protected
- In response to allegations of illegal logging on steep slopes and close to towns under increased bushfire risk, instead of cracking down on breaches the state government changed the law to make illegal logging legal
Together our 30+ member groups are continuing to hold the government accountable, and fight for the permanent protection of precious native forests. You can take action by calling on decision makers to end logging now, and by donating to support our work.
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.
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!
“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.”
0412 893 513
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.
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.Read more