This year has been huge for Victoria’s forests and the wildlife that calls them home.
Despite the summer bushfires wiping out vast swathes of forest and so much of our precious wildlife, logging has continued across the state. It’s more critical than ever that our environment laws are working properly to protect the forests and wildlife we love.
We are so grateful to everyone who has supported these cases – we could not have come this far without your support. Here’s a brief update on our three active forest court cases that are making great strides for forest protection. We hope you’ll continue to support our work as the cases progress. Here’s the latest news on all three.
The possums case
In May, after a three-year David and Goliath battle in the Federal Court, on behalf of Friends of Leadbeater’s Possum (FLbP), we proved that VicForests’ logging operations contravened federal law and failed to protect the critically endangered Leadbeater’s Possum and the threatened Greater Glider.
On 21 August 2020, the Federal Court delivered final orders on the case that grant final injunctions to protect the 66 areas subject to the case from logging and ordered that VicForests pay Friends of Leadbeater’s Possum’s costs of running the case.
This historic win has huge implications for forest protection across Australia. The case has already prompted Bunnings to stop stocking VicForests’ products and inspired a number of challenges to forest practices across the country.
But instead of focusing on the transition out of native forest logging, VicForests has lodged an appeal to try and undo the court’s decision and is taking the volunteer-run Friends of Leadbeater’s Possum back to court.
The old-growth case
In November 2017, we launched a Supreme Court case on behalf of the Fauna and Flora Research Collective (FFRC) against the Victorian Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning (DELWP) to protect the ancient old growth forests of Victorias’ East Gippsland, including Kuark forest and over thirty other areas of old-growth forest earmarked for logging. These areas are home to rare old-growth forests found nowhere else on Earth, along with endangered owls, potoroos and gliding possums.
This is the first case to test the legal obligations on DELWP to place high conservation values such as old growth forests in protection zones.
While the case was running, 34 forest areas remained safe from logging and as the case drew on, 21 of those areas were put into protection zones or removed from logging plans. However, the remaining 13 areas, along with so many other areas of old growth forest in East Gippsland, were left out and still needed protection when the case came to a close.
In November 2019, while awaiting judgement on the case, the Victorian government made a forest policy announcement that signalled an end to old-growth forest logging in Victoria. However, despite the positive headline, the devil in the detail showed that the government’s plans do not place the remaining old -growth forests in protection zones as the rules require.
The case has now been reopened and we are again working around the clock with FFRC to prepare the case to defend these ancient forests. The hearing is scheduled from the 5 November.
The bushfires case
In January 2020, on behalf of Wildlife of the Central Highlands (WOTCH), a community group of citizen scientists from Victoria’s Central Highlands, we launched a Supreme Court case against VicForests to stop the state-owned agency from logging areas of unburnt habitat for threatened species impacted by the bushfires – including the Greater Glider, Sooty Owl, Powerful Owl and Smoky Mouse.
The case seeks to enforce legal obligations to protect threatened wildlife in the aftermath of this catastrophe, including to avoid serious damage to the environment under the precautionary principle.
The Victorian government’s own response to the bushfires lists the threatened Greater Glider, Smoky Mouse, Sooty and Powerful Owls among the “fauna species of most concern”. And yet logging continues in their habitat.
This is the first court case to protect threatened species in the wake of the bushfires. WOTCH has been granted a series of injunctions to halt logging in 26 areas of unburnt habitat while the case proceeds.