Summer legal actions stop VicForests in its (bulldozer) tracks

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

On three occasions between mid-December 2015 and early February 2016, EEG has been forced to engage lawyers from Environment Justice Australia . We believe VicForests is consistently not taking its legal obligations regarding environmental protection seriously and Minister Neville’s Environment Department is yet to to take action. Keep reading for more details of our most recent legal adventures ...


  1. Bellman/Jacks Rd forest

The first action saw VicForests pull out 24 hours after receiving a detailed letter from our lawyers on 14th December. The planned logging coupe is in the Rich block south west of Goolengook (north east of Orbost). Officially known by VicForests as coupe 842-518-0035 and named ‘Bellman’, we called it the Jacks Rd coupe. Despite its 47ha having obvious values that were likely to support protected species such as the Long-footed Potoroo, Sooty Owl and the Greater and Yellow-bellied Gliders, VicForests decided not to survey the forest before logging.

This reckless ‘don’t look - just log’ attitude was why EEG launched the landmark Brown Mountain court case in 2009-10 – and was also why we won.

The coupe had areas of no logging history, was a wet forest type and had many old hollow-bearing trees. Yellow-bellied Gliders had been heard vocalising at night. Potoroos had also been identified in nearby forest. Unmapped rainforest was also identified by GECO surveyors that had already been encroached upon by logging. This stand should have been surveyed before bulldozers were taken in.

VicForests agreed to pull the logging contractors out and move to another coupe, but …

Cobon forest/Bungywarr Rd

This forest was in the Cobon block along Bungywarr Rd, on the eastern edge of the Errinundra plateau. Logging coupe identification was 885-511-18 and named ‘0506’.

This coupe had been surveyed by wildlife surveyors engaged by VicForests but they found no gliders as their survey had only been done along the road. Once again, the citizen scientists from GECO and the FFRC risked being charged with unauthorised entry into a Timber Harvest Safety Zone (logging protection zone) as they surveyed the forest one night. They documented and reported high densities of Greater Gliders of over 2 per hectare in an isolated area of forest. Five were documented within 2.4ha. This should trigger a 100ha protection zone for wildlife (not loggers). On 6th January our lawyers at EJA requested VicForests stop logging due to the presence of Greater Gliders. VicForests refused to accept the high densities as significant saying spotlighting was not carried out over a long enough transect.

After several more exchanges, an agreement was reached on 15th January. Of the 30ha coupe VicForests would not log in the southern 10ha where the Gliders had been found. Three hectares that VicForests had partly already logged would also not suffer any more felling or a post-logging burn, and be left to regenerate back to its original forest type. While not ideal, this outcome protected a small population of gliders without the more costly option of litigation via the courts.

  1. Kuark – ‘Tin Shed’

The coupe that VicForests moved the logging contractors to when they were forced out of Jacks Rd was another exceptionally high conservation value area. This beautiful forest is south of Goolengook in the Kuark forests. It was not properly surveyed as VicForests determined it had no values that needed to be checked or protected. Their criteria that triggers a survey now appears to be dependent on the total coupe area having more than 1ha of what is termed modelled old growth - by DELWP’s definition. It’s most likely mapped by desk top eyeballing of aerial photos. This coupe was marked as 830-507-23, named "Tin Shed" and is 28ha but supposedly had only 0.88ha of old growth (and connected to a larger stand outside the coupe boundaries). Any old growth can also be clearfelled if no values are found.   

The volunteer surveyors again exposed the poor process used by VicForests to determine if an area has values worth looking for. Citizen scientists have so far found in and adjoining the coupe:

  • An entire new species of fish – the East Gippsland Galaxias considered critically endangered and only occurring in the Arte River and its tributaries.
  • Possibly a new species of Crayfish not before described.
  • Rare Yellow-bellied Gliders
  • Rare Slender Tree Ferns and
  • Rare Blackfellows Hemp
  • The threatened Long-footed Potoroo

All of these require protection measures.

On the 19th January when it was clear that VicForests and DELWP were not going to enforce proper protection or further surveys, we were forced to take legal action again. A detailed letter was sent pointing out what we believed are VicForests’ clear obligations to protect these species. After two weeks and several more letters attempting to negotiate an outcome, we sent one final offer. By the 4th February VicForests had agreed to employ qualified people to carry out surveys for gliders and the rare plants.

Our lawyers at Environmental Justice Australia helped EEG’s 7th legal action, and EEG’s determination also paid off again. VicForests agreed to halt logging and survey for rare wildlife and plants in a stand of East Gippsland’s forests rich in threatened species. We hope to see the results of these surveys shortly and the details of how the likely finds will be protected.

What gems have been lost over the years because VicForests (with a vested interest in logging, not conservation) calls the shots on whether an area should have a survey before it is clearfelled and burnt.

Sadly, Minister Neville’s Environment Department consistently refuses to order VicForests to survey for rare and threatened flora and fauna in areas slated for logging, so it’s left up to community groups to both survey - and engage lawyers.

While we welcome this belated action from VicForests we'll be watching closely and are leaving our options open at this stage (9.2.16).

As if all this wasn’t bad enough, each of these 3 areas are in forests subject of discussion in the State Government’s Forest Industry Taskforce, and have been identified by environment groups as being of the Highest Priority. Was VicForests being deliberately provocative here? We believe so. High conservation value forests like this continue to fall without even being surveyed for protected species, under the watch of Minister Neville’s Environment Department, while the Government’s Forest Industry Taskforce process continues.