By Lisa Cox
Court hears department and VicForests have not protected minimum area of old-growth forest required by law in East Gippsland.
Logging in old-growth forests in Victoria should cease, according to testimony from the Victorian environment department in a court battle over logging in East Gippsland.
The Fauna and Flora Research Collective is pursuing VicForests and the Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning in the supreme court.
The not-for-profit research collective claims the department and VicForests have not protected the minimum area of old-growth forest required by law in East Gippsland.
Under cross-examination on Monday, the department’s deputy secretary for forest, fire and regions, Lee Miezis, admitted the department’s position was that old-growth logging in the state should cease.
A document was presented to the court that outlined a policy to protect all remaining old-growth forests in Victoria by June 2018, a plan that has not eventuated.
Peter Gray, acting for Environmental Justice Australia on behalf of the Fauna and Flora Research Collective, told the hearing that the policy document stated that timber harvesting in old-growth forests “is no longer considered socially acceptable by the Victorian community, nor is it considered environmental best practice”.
“Do you agree that it’s not environment best practice to continue timber harvesting within our remaining old-growth forests?” he asked.
“As the environment department, that would be the position we take,” Miezis said. “And we take that position knowing full well that the policy context as it is today is that … harvesting of old-growth forest is allowed … where it is outside of the CAR (comprehensive, adequate and representative) reserve system.
“Our position, as the environment department, will be to advocate for the protection of all old-growth forest because … we believe it would have significant environmental benefits.
“And one of the benefits is that, just intrinsically, old growth is an important piece of the environment.”
The research collective’s case argues that the government has failed to meet its obligation to protect 60% of old-growth forest in East Gippsland.
Andrew Lincoln, from the research collective, said it was home to plants and animals found nowhere else on earth and it was critical the remainder of the old-growth forests in the region were protected.
“The environment department’s own policy recommends that logging in Victoria’s old-growth forests should have stopped six months ago yet they are still allowing VicForests to destroy what’s left of East Gippsland’s precious old-growth, and are fighting in Court to defend the practice,” he said.
The case is expected to run into the new year.
A spokesman for the Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning said “the Victorian community would expect DELWP to be positive about the protection of Victoria’s old-growth forests”.
“However, we are only one part of a whole-of-government approach to managing Victoria’s forests, which has a focus on, and a need to balance, positive outcomes for the environment while supporting viable and economic opportunity for Victorians, including consideration for the jobs, towns and communities those opportunities support,” he said.
The environment minister, Lily D’Ambrosio, said: “We’ll continue to work with industry and conservation groups to protect our environment, and support the timber industry and the jobs and the towns that rely on it.”
This story was published by The Guardian on 19 December 2018.