THE Federal Court last week continued an injunction brought against VicForests by the Friends of Leadbeater’s Possum, preventing VicForests from harvesting timber in five coupes in the Central Highlands and West Gippsland.
The application for an injunction was submitted by FLBP, as part of the amended statement of claim; a follow-on of the original case brought against VicForests in March regarding the Federal Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act exemption.
The Federal Court had previously found VicForests was not affected by government delays in reviewing the Central Highlands Regional Forest Agreement and therefore remained exempt from the EPBC Act.
The amended claim will now proceed to a full hearing and is expected to be before the court in February next year.
The amended claim alleges VicForests’ operations in the Central Highlands are not in accordance with the regional forest agreement because VicForests had not fully complied with state-based regulation.
VicForests general manager of corporate affairs, Alex Messina remained confident VicForests’ operations were compliant.
“We will defend our record and argue this matter at the full hearing next year,” he said.
“The livelihoods of many of our contactors is dependent on continuing a planned harvest schedule. Unfortunately, as a result of this injunction, we will not be able to resume harvesting in five coupes until after the full hearing next year.
“VicForests undertakes a comprehensive and heavily regulated planning process prior to any harvesting, and we believe our operations are compliant with the RFAs.
“VicForests harvests only select timber that has been allocated to it by the state government. The total suitable area is a maximum of six per cent of public forest areas, and we harvest only 0.04 per cent of forests in any given year, which is nominally equivalent to four trees in ten thousand.
“The native timber industry contributes hundreds of millions of dollars and thousands of jobs to regional Victoria each year.”
The amended statement of claim follows a previous claim that did not proceed because FLBP failed to substantiate a threshold question of law.
VicForests regrows all harvested areas with the same type of forest that was originally there – and the vast majority of Victoria’s native forests will never be harvested.
While the court found in March that the Central Highlands FFA did exempt logging from federal threatened species law, it found non-compliance with other terms in the RFA may remove that exemption.
FLP alleged those terms were not being complied with, including that VicForests failed to identify and protect Leadbeater’s Possums, Greater Gliders and their habitat.
FLP president Steve Meacher welcomed the injunction.
“We are pleased that the threatened Greater Gliders are safe from the chainsaws while this case is being heard,” he said.
FLP is being represented in court by Environmental Justice Australia.
EJA lawyer Danya Jacobs said the injunction provided some certainty for the threatened species in these areas and for the many people who loved Victoria’s unique native forests.
“We’ll be hard at work over the coming months as this important case proceeds to trial,” she said.
Published by the Gippsland Times & Maffra Spectator on 14 May 2018