By Kath Gannaway
A report to be delivered to the State Government later today is calling for an end to Regional Forestry Agreements as well as prosecution of VicForests for alleged breaches of the Code of Practice and the establishment of an independent forestry regulator to enforce compliance.
Friends of the Earth, Fauna and Flora Research Collective and Goongerah Environment Centre chose National Threatened Species Day – 7 September – to deliver the ‘Lawless Logging’ report to the offices of 10 Victorian MPs.
Ed Hill, forest campaigner with Friends of the Earth, said members of the three groups would also gather at Parliament House at 5.30pm to call on the government to act on the recommendations of the report.
The report, subtitled “An investigation into breaches of the regulatory framework governing logging operations in Victoria” details 27 alleged breaches of the Code of Practice for Timber Production in the Central Highlands and East Gippsland forests.
“This report documents 27 cases where logging already occurred or was imminently about to occur within areas that were required to be set aside for protected environmental values, such as threatened species or rainforest,” the report states.
It accuses the Department of Environment, Land and Water Protection (DELWP) of systematic failure to enforce compliance with the Code.
Alleged breaches include Monda Road and Yea Link Road in Toolangi, the Ada Tree Drive and Fitzpatrick Road in Powelltown and Royston Road in Rubicon.
VicForests general manager, Stakeholders and Planning, Lachlan Spencer said VicForests was aware of the cases mentioned in the report and had taken appropriate action for them at the time they were presented.
“VicForests surveys every planned timber harvesting area prior to commencing operations for a range of environmental values,” Mr Spencer said.
He said VicForests regularly uses qualified external ecologists to conduct pre-harvest surveys on behalf of VicForests to look for threatened species and their habitat ensure they are protected.
“VicForests follows a detailed and on-going planning process before commencing any work on areas planned for harvest and takes on board all new information as it becomes available,” Mr Spencer said.
He said that any new information presented to VicForests was assessed and acted upon where needed, including modifying our operations where needed.
The report acknowledges that VicForests has changed plans once made aware of situations by environment groups but says in the cases put forward logging had already occurred, or was about to occur.
Mr Hill however accused DELWP of “outsourcing their responsibilities to the community while turning a blind eye to appalling logging practices that are breaching legislative protections”.
“It should not be left up to the community to find threatened species at the 11th hour before their habitat is bulldozed and pulped for cheap copy paper,” he said.
“This report should serve as a wake-up call to Environment Minister Lily D’Ambrosio that her department is failing in their responsibilities to protect threatened wildlife and enforce the laws that the government’s logging agency must follow.”
In addition to the recommendations mentioned above, the report is calling on the government to establish new parks and reserves across eastern Victoria, including the Great Forest National Park and East Gippsland’s Emerald Link to provide the required habitat needs for forest dependent threatened species to persist into the future.
A DELWP spokesperson told the Mail they had received the reports set out in the Lawless Logging document.
He said they had a dedicated team of compliance officers who investigate timber harvesting compliance issues and that a number of the reports were under active investigation.
“These investigations include VicForests harvesting operations and the requirement to identify and manage rainforest values, and the protection of habitat trees and Leadbeater’s Possum habitat,” he said.
He said the Victorian Government was recruiting an additional 35 staff to increase the protection of forests and wildlife across the state.
$36.3 million over four years was allocated in the 2017/18 Victorian budget to boost Victoria’s forestry and wildlife compliance operations.
“The 35 officers will double the current number of front line compliance staff, increasing protection of Victoria’s forests and wildlife through better compliance, including intelligence gathering enforcement and education,” he said.