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Federal Court case to stop VicForests destroying threatened wildlife habitat could have national implications for Regional Forest Agreements

By May 31, 2019 June 4th, 2019 Media releases

MEDIA RELEASE 

On Monday 3 June, the trial will commence in the case Friends of Leadbeater’s Possum Inc v VicForests, before Justice Mortimer in the Federal Court, listed for 3 weeks.

In this case, Friends of the Leadbeater’s Possum (FLBP), represented by Environmental Justice Australia (EJA) is challenging the legality of logging by state-owned VicForests, in vital areas of habitat for the critically endangered Leadbeater’s Possum and the vulnerable Greater Glider.

The case seeks court orders to stop VicForests from logging in 41 forest areas (coupes), home to Greater Gliders and Leadbeater’s Possums. It also seeks to protect an area of forest to mitigate for 26 areas alleged to have been unlawfully logged in the past.

The logging in question is in an area covered by a Regional Forests Agreement (RFA) between the federal and Victorian governments. RFAs give VicForests a limited exemption from national environment laws. If this exemption applies, logging the habitat of species like the critically endangered Leadbeater’s Possum is allowed to occur without having impacts assessed or approved under national law.

FLBP alleges that VicForests has not complied with the code of practice for timber production as required by the RFA and therefore is not covered by the exemption.

If the case is successful, it would mean logging proposed in the areas in question would be subject to national environment laws (the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999), and could not proceed without impact assessment and Federal Ministerial approval under that Act. It would also mean that the past logging in question contravened that Act, and could require permanent protection of additional areas to mitigate for that unlawful conduct.

This is only the second time a court case has challenged the Regional Forest Agreement exemption from federal protections for threatened species.

If the case is successful, it could have ramifications for RFAs across the country and change the way that forests and threatened species are managed and protected.

“No government or company should be exempt from national environment laws that are in place to protect threatened wildlife like the Greater Glider and Leadbeater’s Possum. We are determined to prevent the extinction of our unique native animals and to do that we must stop the senseless logging of critical possum habitat.” — Steve Meacher, President, Friends of the Leadbeater’s Possum.

“When the government fails to protect our threatened species, it falls to small community groups like Friends of Leadbeater’s Possum and nature’s legal team, Environmental Justice Australia, to hold them to account in the courts.”

Background

The montane ash and mixed species forests of Victoria’s Central Highlands provide some of the last remaining habitat for the critically endangered Leadbeater’s Possum and the threatened Greater Glider.

Citizen scientists have documented sightings of Leadbeater’s Possums and Greater Gliders in more than 50 of VicForests logging coupes in the Central Highlands.

Environmental Justice Australia, acting on behalf of the Friends of the Leadbeater’s Possum, commenced the case in the Federal Court in November 2017.

EJA and FLBP initially argued that the exemption did not apply because terms of the RFA that require five-year reviews had not been complied with.

That initial part of the case was not successful on those grounds but the Federal Court found non-compliance with other requirements in the RFA could remove the exemption.  The case going to trial will now test whether there has been non-compliance with those requirements.

In May 2018, EJA and the FLBP were successful in gaining a temporary injunction to prevent VicForests from logging in five coupes in Victoria’s Central Highlands until the case is heard and a judgment is made. VicForests has also halted logging in another 36 areas in question while the case proceeds.

When: Monday 3 June 2019, the trial will run for 3 weeks (approx. 10am – 4pm, Mon-Fri)

Where: Federal Court, Level 8, Room B, 305 William Street, Melbourne

Media Opportunity

Media can attend Court (though photos are forbidden) and sit in the public gallery. For key moments of interest, please contact EJA’s media contact.

Spokespeople (contact EJA media liaison to arrange interview)

Brendan Sydes, CEO, Lawyer, EJA

Steve Meacher, President, Friends of Leadbeater’s Possum

Federal Court documentation and transcripts

Please note all Court documents including transcripts can be accessed directly from the Federal Court website here.

Related media (most recent):

MEDIA CONTACT: Livia Cullen, Communications Director EJA, 0411 108 239

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