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THE state environment department has dropped a court case against state-owned logging agency VicForests for alleged illegal harvesting of protected rainforest.
The two parties have instead cut an out-of-court deal meaning VicForests is almost certain to avoid a potential fine of up to $29,000.
In March The Age reported the Department of Sustainability and Environment had laid five charges on VicForests relating to harvesting of protected rainforest in the Orbost Forest District in East Gippsland in late 2010.
The charges included directing its subcontractors to harvest rainforest against its licence conditions and providing inadequate buffers. The charges were due to be heard in the Supreme Court this week, but did not go ahead after the agreement was struck.
In its undertaking with the Department of Sustainability and Environment, the timber agency is now required to rehabilitate 22 hectares of rainforest in the Gippsland coupe.
A spokeswoman for the environment department said VicForests has also agreed to ''improve their procedures by producing an updated rainforest identification guide and updating their training framework for identifying and marking rainforest''.
''This is a satisfactory outcome that will result in better practices and environmental benefits,'' the spokeswoman said. In exchange the department says it has ''agreed to provide further clarity around the interpretation of rainforest for VicForests' operations''.
A VicForests spokesman said the undertaking was a sensible way of resolving this issue.
''The agreement acknowledges rainforest definitions are potentially ambiguous and VicForests supports moves to provide clarity on the existing regulatory requirements,'' he said. ''It is always VicForests' intent to comply with the legislation and the undertaking seeks to assist with ongoing compliance.''
The department says it has adjourned the court hearing for a year, saying if VicForests meets its obligations in that time it will apply to have the charges withdrawn. Otherwise it will re-list the matter for a court hearing.
The Wilderness Society's Victorian forest campaigner, Amelia Young, said the notion rainforest could be rehabilitated after logging was a nonsense.
''These forest ecosystems take hundreds of years to develop and cannot simply be replanted. VicForests must be reined in and their management practices substantially altered,'' she said.
''The Wilderness Society is not confident that 12 months, some more training and replanting 22 hectares as per this agreement, will extend the protection Victoria's native forests and rainforests so desperately need.''
The Age Tom Arup