Court grants injunction to Friends of the Leadbeater’s Possum to protect mountain ash forest until 25 February
By Calla Wahlquist
VicForests has been banned from logging in areas of sensitive greater glider habitat in the central highlands until next year, pending the outcome of a legal challenge.
The federal court on Thursday granted an injunction to conservation group Friends of the Leadbeater’s Possum to protect the mountain ash forest until 25 February, when a three-week trial on the validity of the central highlands regional forests agreement (RFA) is due to commence.
Logging was due to start from Friday.
The order protects four logging coupes and a roadway where Friends of the Leadbeater’s Possum allege that the Greater glider, Petauroides volans, has been seen.
Greater gliders are listed as vulnerable under the federal Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (EPBC Act). The area is also within the habitat footprint of the critically endangered Leadbeater’s possum.
“We are pleased that the threatened greater gliders are safe from the chainsaws while this case is being heard,” the Friends of the Leadbeater’s Possum president, Steve Meacher, said.
The group alleged that the management of the forest had breached the Victorian code of practice for timber production, specifically the “precautionary principle” that states foresters must carefully evaluate management options to avoid serious or irreversible damage to the environment.
The code continues: “When dealing with threats of serious or irreversible environmental damage, lack of full scientific certainty should not be used as a reason for postponing measures to prevent environmental degradation.”
The code of practice is accredited under the RFA. The RFA creates an exemption from federal environment laws, meaning that activities which would otherwise be illegal – such as logging the habitat of the critically endangered Leadbeater’s possum – are allowed to occur in certain circumstances.
Lawyers for the Friends of the Leadbeater’s Possum argued that breaching the code of practice in turn breached the RFA, which meant those exemptions were no longer in place.
“Our client alleges that non-compliance with the code of practice for timber production has occurred and constitutes non-compliance with the RFA and therefore results in revocation of the exemption from the EPBC Act,” Danya Jacobs, a lawyer from Environmental Justice Australia, said.
An earlier attempt to argue that the RFA was invalid because Victoria had not complied with requirements to review the RFA every five years failed, after the judge found that failing to comply with the review provisions did not invalidate the RFA.
Australia has 10 RFAs, all of which failed to meet the requirement for regular five-year reviews. The central highlands RFA has only been reviewed once, in 2015.
Three Victorian RFAs, covering the central highlands, east Gippsland and the northeast, were due to expire this year but were granted a two-year extension in March.
The Victorian government has said it will not sign a new RFA without an updated environmental assessment, citing the risk that the agreements will be undermined by further litigation like the Leadbeater’s possum case unless the science is sound.
Published by Guardian Australia on 10 May 2018