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Glider protection areas logged before being protected

One of the protected areas in ColquhounThe Andrews government recently set aside protection areas in native forests across the state for protection of the endangered greater glider. However, conservation groups are shocked to discover a large number of the protected areas have been logged in the last 24 months. According to our analysis, around 17 areas within the protection areas were logged before being protected. 

Read the exclusive coverage in The Age here.

The greater glider (Petauroides volans), a once common species, was first listed as vulnerable on the Federal Government’s threatened species list in 2016, and in less than six years, is now listed as endangered. Greater gliders are native forest dependent, relying on the hollows of older trees for nesting and shelter. Native forest logging is known to have devastating impacts on greater gliders and their habitat. The state government’s environment department released the protection areas in October, and said they didn’t know a number of the areas had been recently logged. Protected area in Mansfield

When we met with the biodiversity team in the Environment Department to question their decision to protect recently logged areas, the Department claimed they weren’t aware. Some areas protected do contain quality greater glider habitat, particularly in the Bendoc forest area, but others include recently clear-felled forests, many with a number of greater glider detections found. It’s very likely these animals will have perished from the direct impacts of logging operations, or following logging from lack of suitable habitat and food sources. The Department claims to have used ‘the best available science’ to protect high-quality glider habitat.

Protected area in Swifts CreekYet photographs and footage gathered on the ground, plus recent satellite imagery indicates that protection areas in Swifts Creek, Nunniong and the Colquhoun in East Gippsland, plus areas in Mansfield and Baw Baw in the Central Highlands have been logged – some as recently as six months ago.

VFA spokesperson Chris Schuringa states, “Why is the government protecting recently logged areas, and still destroying prime greater glider habitat? It’s no wonder the species has gone from common to endangered in the last six years under this government.”

Just a few weeks ago the Supreme Court ruled that the state-owned logging company VicForests has been illegally logging in forests containing greater gliders and yellow-bellied gliders. The judge said VicForests had failed to survey for, find, and adequately protect the species in the Central Highlands and East Gippsland areas. 

We are calling for greater accountability and immediate protection of Victoria’s native forests.Protected area in Tanjil

Chris Schuringa states,“This avoidable oversight has devastating and irreversible consequences for the endangered greater glider, for forest ecosystems and for climate. We need protection areas that actually protect intact native forests and genuine greater glider habitat. It appears that VicForests had an indication of where these protection areas might be placed, and went in to log them before they could be protected. It’s disgraceful.”

“We know continued logging of wildlife habitat is not only unconscionable, but numerous court cases show it’s unlawful as well. The only way to truly protect this species and reverse the extinction crisis is to end native forest logging now.”

 

Photo credits:

Lisa Roberts from Friends of Bats and Habitat, Gippsland Environment Group, Wildlife of the Central Highlands, and the Victorian Forest Alliance

Media contact:

Chris Schuringa

VFA Campaign coordinator

[email protected]


New report shows immediately ending native forest logging could prevent 14 million tonnes of carbon emissions by 2030

A new forest carbon report published by The Tree Projects and Victorian Forest Alliance has found that native forest logging in Victoria emits around 3 million tonnes of carbon per year. This is equivalent to 700,000 medium sized cars, or almost double the emissions of Victoria’s domestic aviation sector.

Read Miki Perkin's coverage with the Age here

Click here to download ‘Victoria’s Forest Carbon: An Opportunity for Action on Climate Change’.

The report, ‘Victoria’s Forest Carbon: An Opportunity for Action on Climate Change’,  is the first time that the emissions from Victoria’s logging sector have been calculated and shared publicly. Due to the government’s method of reporting emissions for the forest sector, the emissions of native forest logging have essentially been ‘hidden’ as they are reported in the same category as existing forests and forestry plantations, which draw down a lot of carbon. 

The report’s author, Dr Jennifer Sanger, ecologist from The Tree Projects, “The emissions from native forest logging are not separated from the carbon dioxide absorbed by our forests. Only a net figure is reported, which masks the true level of forestry’s emissions. I think many Victorians would be shocked to find out that native forest logging is such a high emitting industry.”

You can take action by emailing your local MP to call for the immediate protection of forests to rapidly decrease carbon emissions and safeguard forest carbon stores

Victoria’s temperate eucalypt forests are some of the most carbon dense ecosystems in the world. The report finds that up to 14 million tonnes of carbon emissions could be prevented if the logging of these native forests were to end immediately, instead of in 2030 as planned by the Victorian Labor Government.

“Victoria’s native forests are so important. Not only do they store and absorb vast amounts of carbon and filter our clean air and drinking water, but they are also culturally significant to First Nations people, holding their living culture, stories, and totems,” says Victorian Forest Alliance campaign coordinator Chris Schuringa. “These forests are vital habitat for critically endangered wildlife such as the Leadbeater’s Possum and have huge biodiversity value.”

When a native forest is logged, around 60% of the total biomass is left on the ground to be burnt as post-logging “waste”. From the 40% that is trucked away, most is woodchipped to make cheap cardboard and packaging products that end up in landfill. A smaller percentage becomes pallets supplied to retail businesses such as supermarkets and only 4% ends up as high-value products. 

Chris Schuringa explains, “Houses are mostly built with plantation timber and rarely with hardwood timber—there isn’t the demand. In Victoria, there are already hardwood plantations, and alternative sources such as farm forestry, which can easily meet our needs. We have the resources and positive solutions to end native forest logging for good. This report shows the incredible opportunity we have to take real action on climate change by protecting forests.”.

The report advocates for prioritising plantations, which produce 14 times more usable wood per hectare and produce 60% less carbon emissions than logging native forests. “Native forest logging is terrible for the climate,” says Dr Jennifer Sanger. “Most of the forest once it is logged releases carbon into the atmosphere within a few years. While trees are regrown after logging, they can take decades to centuries to absorb the emitted carbon. We simply can’t wait decades; we need to reduce our emissions now.” 

The Victorian Forest Alliance is demanding that better protection of Victoria’s native forests and an immediate end to native forest logging are a central part of climate policy. “We’ve been warned by the IPCC that rapid and immediate efforts to cut emissions are critical to avoid irreversible climate collapse,” says Chris Schuringa. “The recent federal election has shown that climate is an important issue for Australians. If the Victorian Government wants to get serious about effective climate action then one of the most low-cost, effective and immediate ways to achieve this is to end native forest logging now instead of waiting until 2030. It’s a clear opportunity to work with nature, not against it.”

Media contact

Mika Tran 

VFA Media & Communications Officer

[email protected]


BREAKING: Warburton Environment wins legal battle for protection of endangered Tree Geebung

VFA member Warburton Environment Inc is celebrating a ground-breaking win in the Supreme Court against state owned logging company VicForests. Yesterday morning Justice Garde found in favour of Warburton Environment and increased protection for the endangered Tree Geebung (Persoonia arborea).

The Tree Geebung is only found in restricted areas in the Central Highlands. The small trees can live for hundreds of years, and is supposed to be protected by by environment laws, which state they must be protected when practicable. Numerous breaches of logged and destroyed Tree Geebungs have been submitted to the Environment Department, who have so far failed to take action. Tree Geebung fruit

Community group Warburton Environment have been holding VicForests accountable to the law, where the state government has failed to protect the endangered tree species. After a two and half year legal battle the judge ruled in their favour, ordering 50 metre buffers around each tree when found. However the court did rule the survey and protection was not needed if it was not "practicable", but that VicForests would need to inform Warburton Environment and the Office of the Conservation Regulator of detailed reasons of why that was the case.

A 2020 Federal Court decision had found the government's logging agency had failed to survey for Tree Geebung and failed to protect them during their wood chipping operations, and the Victorian Government in June 2022 tried to change the law to allow VicForests to continue sending the tree extinct.

Warburton Environment spokesperson Nic Fox said “the verdict was a win for the rule of law”.

"The Victorian Government has spent vast amounts of taxpayer money on this court case to allow its money pit woodchipping company to send a great Victorian tree extinct," Ms Fox said.

"We know the State Government's wood chipping company VicForests loses tens of millions of taxpayer money a year because it has woodchipped all the viable forest, and so now it has begun woodchipping endangered species habitat.

Tree Geebung fruit"VicForests admitted in the Supreme Court in 2020 that the 'vast majority' of areas it now bulldozes, burns and woodchips are endangered species habitat. The Victorian Government is supposed to enforce the equivalent of the Australian Environmental Protection and Biodiversity Act but has not protected endangered species and so respecting the rule of law has fallen to community groups taking legal action.

Justice Garde stated in the Judgement that “no attempt was made by VicForests to show that it was not reasonably practicable to protect the significant number of Tree Geebungs which have been destroyed in harvested areas through the use of bulldozers and mechanical equipment or by regeneration burning.”

“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.”

Contact Warburton Environment for more information

 


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

 


Taxpayers’ money wasted on bulldozing endangered species habitat

The Victorian Forest Alliance is disappointed the Victorian Government has used taxpayers’ money to go to court to continue logging the Greater Glider closer to extinction — just weeks after the Glider was officially declared endangered.

Victorian Government owned logging "business" VicForests — which had to be bailed out with another $21.21M by taxpayers last year — went to the Supreme Court this week to win the right to log native forest that it openly admitted Greater Gliders are living in.

Despite confirmed detections of Greater Gliders in the native forest areas scheduled for logging, VicForests stated it refused to survey to see if there were more there. VFA spokesperson Nic Fox said the public was mostly unaware they are paying for these endangered animals to be logged into extinction or that VicForests was losing more money each year.

"If VicForests, again, logged roughly 3000 hectares of forest last year, then taxpayers lost $7000 per hectare that VicForests bulldozed,” said Ms Fox. “It’s because they have already logged most of the mature forest and now rely on younger forest containing almost entirely small trees which end up being low-value wood chips.”

Earlier this month, yet another peer-reviewed scientific study came out revealing logging increases bushfire risk around our country towns, this time by renowned fire scientist Ross Bradstock. Ms Fox says, “The continued logging of our remaining unburnt native forests by VicForests is making our country towns less safe.

“This horrible waste has to end — this money could be used to hire country nurses and pay the remaining logging crews as year-round firefighters, extending their current summer employment."

The VFA considers the Victorian Government to be in clear breach of its Regional Forest Agreement with the Commonwealth to protect endangered species (through the Federal EPBC Act, which the state promises to enforce at state level).

Media contact:

Mika Tran

Victorian Forest Alliance (VFA)

Media and Communications Officer

0412 893 513

[email protected]

 


Harsh new protest laws pass the Victorian upper house of Parliament

Environmental, legal and social justice organisations dismayed by passing of harsh new laws against forest protectors

The Andrews government has steam-rolled ahead with dangerous changes to the Sustainable Forests (Timber) Act 2004 which could see peaceful protesters fined up to $21,000, or face 12 months in jail. The Sustainable Forests Timber Amendment (Timber Harvesting Safety Zones) Bill 2022 passed the Victorian Upper House yesterday.

Sufficient evidence has not been provided to justify the harsh and heavy-handed new penalties that have been introduced. The laws will impact citizen scientists and whistleblowers monitoring logging and searching for endangered wildlife like the Greater Glider and Leadbeater’s Possum in forests under imminent threat from logging. 

Over 4,000 people signed an online petition or emailed the Premier calling for the Bill to be scrapped, and we joined 67 human rights, legal, environment, and climate organisations calling for the harsh amendments to be withdrawn. The Maritime Union of Australia, Australian Services Union, and the United Workers Union also delivered a joint letter to Premier Andrews criticising the new laws.

“This blatant attack on community members protecting native forests is unjustified, extreme, and fails to address the real crime - the ongoing lawless destruction of forests. There have been countless breaches to environment laws, illegal logging, and alleged-corruption by state-owned VicForests. Yet the government is punishing the very people holding this rogue agency accountable.

Peaceful forest protests have been used for decades to protect important areas of forest - many significant environmental protections were won off the back of protests. The right to protest has never been more important given the extinction and climate crisis we face - fuelled by continued logging of native forests. The Andrews government must act now to end native forest logging, not pass draconian laws that the Victorian public don’t support.” said Victorian Forest Alliance spokesperson Chris Schuringa.

"The new laws are disproportionate and lack sufficient safeguards and oversight. The Andrews government says it will end native logging in Victoria this decade but, instead of enforcing existing laws against its own logging operator, it is further criminalising peaceful protest and punishing concerned citizens, whistleblowers and citizen scientists.

In the wake of devastating bushfires, and as we witness ecosystems collapse and the continued destruction of First Nations’ country, legitimate political expression is more important now than ever. This is essential for the protection and conservation of our incredible forests and precious wildlife.” said Environmental Justice Australia lawyer Natalie Hogan. 

Media contacts for comment:

Chris Schuringa

Victorian Forest Alliance (VFA)

Campaign Coordinator

0418 912 625

[email protected]

 


Australia's largest gliding marsupial listed as endangered

The Southern Greater Glider has been listed as endangered today under federal environment laws. The species, often described as a ‘gliding koala’, was a common species found in native forests across Victoria, but in the last 30 years has experienced massive declines from the impacts of logging, bushfires, and climate change. The glider is a nocturnal animal that feeds exclusively on Eucalyptus leaves.

The 2019/2020 bushfires wiped out more than a third of the Greater Glider’s habitat. Despite this, the Victorian government continues to log forests where Greater Gliders are found, destroying their habitat. More than 85% of native forests logged end up wood-chipped for paper and cardboard products, and there are enough existing plantations to completely phase out destructive native forest logging. The conservation advice for the Greater Glider released by the federal environment department highlights the importance of protecting hollow-bearing trees, stating that;

Unburnt areas provide critical refuges for greater gliders in regions heavily impacted by fires, as they may be the only areas with the requisite habitat attributes within extensive landscapes for many years

Read more

VFA joins legal, climate and environment voices against Andrews' draconian anti-protest laws

The Victorian Forest Alliance has joined a number of legal, human rights, climate, and environment groups to call on the Andrews government to withdraw disturbing changes to laws which could see community members peacefully protesting logging face fines of up to $21,000 or 12 months imprisonment.

The joint letter to the Premier and Minister for Agriculture Mary-anne Thomas, and Work Safety Minister Ingrid Stitt states;

Victorians have a long and proud history of peaceful protest. The freedom to protest sits at the heart of our democracy. It allows those without financial means or access to politicians and platforms to be able to be heard and effect change. In the context of a climate crisis, continued destruction of First Nations Country, and collapsing ecosystems, we need to protect this right more than ever.

Read more

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. 

Read more