Environmental Justice Australia says it will seek injunction to prevent logging of area containing centuries-old trees
A Victorian government-owned business is poised to clear-fell hundreds of hectares of spectacular old-growth forest, in a move lawyers say is unlawful and which they intend to halt through the supreme court if necessary.
The area about to be logged by VicForests contains countless trees that are centuries old. It is made up of two forest types that are required by law to have 60% marked by the government as “special protections zones” that can’t be logged – a step that has not been taken.
Environmental Justice Australia (EJA) has written to the Victorian Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning, arguing that, in order to protect 60% of those forest types, the areas that are about to be logged must be included in the special protection zones.
Acting on behalf of Environment East Gippsland and the Fauna and Flora Research Collective, EJA has said the department is therefore already in breach of the law and, further, that the planned logging would be unlawful.
The letter, seen by the Guardian, says that unless a satisfactory response is received, the groups will seek a supreme court injunction to halt the logging, or to mandate the government to mark the area a special protection zone.
However, despite the letter being sent on Monday, members of the Fauna and Flora Research Collective saw heavy logging machinery being moved into one of the areas on Tuesday.
“Our clients consider the government has not protected the minimum area of old-growth forest required by law in East Gippsland and, until it does, logging cannot proceed in this majestic old-growth forest that is under imminent threat,” Danya Jacobs, a lawyer at EJA, said. “If we don’t get an adequate response from government, supreme court proceedings are a real possibility.”
Andrew Lincoln from the Fauna and Flora Research Collective said that, from his experience working in the forest, once the logging machinery had moved in, logging could begin any moment. In an email from the department, seen by Guardian Australia, VicForests confirmed it planned to commence logging in the area known as Princess Cut this week.
At the weekend another local citizen science group, the Goongerah Environment Centre, launched a petition calling on Victoria’s environment minister, Lily D’Ambrosio, to use her powers to halt the planned logging. It has attracted more than 3,500 signatures so far.
A spokesman for D’Ambrosio told the Guardian: “The minister is aware of the petition and is working with her department and VicForests on this issue.”
VicForests has not responded to queries from the Guardian.
But the legal letter appeared to have motivated some action from the Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning. A spokesperson from the department said they had written to VicForests informing them of the “potential presence of large old and habitat trees” in the area.
“DELWP has sought advice from VicForests on how they intend to assess and manage any potential risks to large old and habitat trees in the coupes,” the spokesperson said. “DELWP will actively monitor compliance with the code of practice for timber production (2014).”
Ed Hill from the Goongerah Environment Centre said many of the trees in the area marked for logging might be as much as 500 or 600 years old.
“We don’t know with certainty but what we do know is that carbon dating has been done on eucalypt species in very similar forest types and on similar size trees in East Gippsland and that revealed they can live for 500 or 600 years,” Hill said. “This forest has never been logged. There is beautiful rare rainforest in the gullies with extremely large old tree ferns.”
VicForests is a government-owned business that harvests native forests in the state and sells it commercially for timber.
In September, the Goongerah Environment Centre and Friends of the Earth released a report alleging there had been 27 cases of logging in East Gippsland and the Central Highlands in the past three years that breached an environmental code of practice.
VicForests denied the allegations but a spokesman for Victoria’s Department of Environment told Fairfax Media some of the allegations were under “active investigation” by the department.
By Michael Slezak
Published by Guardian Australia on 26 October 2017