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Environment East Gippsland Forest Update

Dear forest supporters –

A few newsy items to keep you up to date on forest news.

And thanks to people who had the time to send off emails to those pollies we suggested you write to yesterday. We now hear that the motion could be put to the vote anytime between next week and mid March, so you still have time to email or call these MPs. Oakeshott has received hundreds of emails and calls yet remains immoveable. Maybe try the others.

1. Sylvia Creek Supreme Court case – and other legal news

a. The case began two weeks ago and will be summed up early next week in front of Justice Osborne (who also heard our case). So far it seems to have gone fairly well, with expert witnesses able to present flawless arguments for the protection of the Leadbeaters Possum habitat in the Central Highland’s. Professor David Lindenmayer and Dr Judith Ajani presented the case for the forests and the insane economics of logging. VicForests seemed to have a huge gaggle of barristers and lawyers to argue that if they can’t log the three coupes in contention, then they wouldn’t be able to log 167 other stands of the endangered Leadbeaters habitat. Logging might then be unviable in the Central Highlands.

The Brown Mountain ruling was cited throughout and clearly laid the path for much of this case.

My Environment has taken this very bold legal step, despite not having had much money to pay the bills to begin with, and like our case, have seen it balloon out to two weeks rather than one. They now desperately need some help to cover their legal costs. See their plea at the end of this update.

b. VicForests are again facing the court again on 30th March at Orbost. This one sees the DSE (yes!) prosecute VicForests for illegally logging protected rainforest at Murrungowar just east of Orbost.

c. On the 10th April, Environment East Gippsland is back in the Supreme Court suing VicForests for planning to destroy sites of Rainforest with National Significance. We’ll let you know more details of the trial as we get closer to the date.

d. This month we go into mediation with VicForests in order to retrieve the legal costs back that the court ordered VicForests pay us after the Brown Mountain case almost 18 months ago! If it doesn’t work, we’ll be back in court in March to force the issue.

If you would like to read full details of the Sylvia Creek case, full transcripts will be placed on the My Environment website as they become available. You can read the transcripts of the first three days, in which the case for the plaintiff and VicForests' defence were outlined here.

2. Green Turtles to Sue Government For Climate Change - this Saturday

Well not really, but what if they could? That’s the issue to be explored in a mock trial in front of a live audience, to be held as part of the Sustainable Living Festival at the BMW Edge Theatre at Federation Square this Saturday 18th February.

Organised by public environmental lawyers, the Environment Defenders Office, the mock trial will be presided over by a real judge, argued by real barristers Susan Brennan and Louise Hicks, and have real climate scientist Dr Roger Jones and marine biologist Dr Mariana Fuentes appearing to give evidence.

It’s a very interesting and timely problem to be exploring — if killer whales are trying to bring legal action in the United States, should we be contemplating similar things in Australia?

The inspiration for the mock trial came from a similar event staged in the UK last year, where the fictional crime of ‘ecocide’ — or environmental destruction — was tested in the Supreme Court.

Saturday 18 February 2012, 11am–12.30pm
BMW Edge Theatre, Federation Square

The Sustainable Living Festival runs from 11–26 February 2012. Come and visit the EDO stall!

3. Gunns finds a partner for their pulpmill

Tasmanian timber company Gunns has signed an agreement with New Zealand billionaire Richard Chandler to raise company capital to $380 million in a deal that is expected to help it secure a partner for the controversial pulp mill.

Read the ABC news report here

4. AUSTRALIAN native forest is being woodchipped to be burned in Japan.

Japanese power stations are burning NSW forests to create energy. The Japanese Government is forcing their coal-fired power stations to replace 10-20 per cent of coal supply with "biomass". They’re also burning the ‘waste; from the tsunami damage. Boral Timber executive general manager Bryan Tisher said Boral had sold a mix of plantation and native forest woodchips to Japanese power stations to be burned. "We've done some trials through those stations. "It was a precursor to a tender for three-year supply," Mr Tisher said.

Read the full article here

5. US navy inspects Qld biofuel plant

The US navy wants to run its warships on biofuel – made from among other things - our forests! The Queensland University of Technology is currently researching the potential to run the warships on native forests - a 'Great Green Fleet' by 2016, and eventually run half of its entire fleet on alternative fuels. It’s nightmarishly scary.

Read the full article here

6. Gippsland’s Gunns mill stops log deliveries

There has been a six week shutdown of the Gunns Heyfield mill (north of Traralgon). This could be due to lack of market for the native forest sawn timber and the lack of a buyer. The mill has been for sale but there has been very little interest. VicForests is stockpiling 20,000 cubic metres of timber at Neerim South because of an ongoing contractual dispute with Gunns. VicForests claims Gunns owes it $7.2 million for logs delivered in the past.

Read the full article here

7. Eden woodchip mill biofuel pellet plant approved by Shire

Within 24 hours of the Bega Valley Shire Council approving the Eden woodchip mill’s "pilot" pellet plant (small pellets for burning as fuel), General Manager, Peter Mitchell was talking about expanding it:

“We’ve received a lot of expressions of interest for our product and with our lower costs, there is justification to expand the pilot plant into a larger operation.”

The deadline for this newspaper quote was less than 24 hours after the council vote was taken.

8. Forests forever Ecology Camp

The easter camp is on again this year 6th- 9th April.

Book early as the camp is becoming increasingly popular.
Details are available here
and bookings can be made on our website here

9. Burning forests back on the agenda?

Yesterday we sent an urgent request around for people to email the MPs listed on the issue of allowing burning forests to be regarded as renewable energy and thereby gain RECs (money basically) to make it more viable.

This motion now looks like now being voted later down the track. So you still have time to ping these guys your thoughts (politely might be best on this one).

If you want to read the issue in more detail – the links below provide a very good analysis of the motion to change the regulations that Oakeshott is trying to get up.

Mr Oakeshott's native forest logging motion could sneak through parliament with the support of the Coalition and other Independents unless we make this a national issue. Add your name to the GetUp petition here

MyEnvironment’s plea for help

On Monday, 6th February, one of the most significant court case ever undertaken on the conservation of Victoria’s threatened fauna commenced in the Supreme Court. The case is testing whether the logging operations of VicForests are in compliance with state laws, focusing on three coupes in Toolangi State Forest, around 80 kms. north-east of Melbourne.

However, VicForests argued on Tues – day 2, that the economic case for continuing the logging of endangered species’ habitat outweighs the precautionary principle. In effect, they are saying, jobs are more important than species and ecosystems.

VicForests have stated that if they can't log these three coupes, then they can't log 162 coupes in the Central Highlands Ash forests - And thousands of jobs will be lost, 150 fire fighters gone and millions of dollars lost to the state. They have threatened that if the precautionary principle is to be applied that it will shut down the industry.

After Black Saturday and decades of industrial logging, the unburned remnant Ash forests now contain what is left of Melbourne’s water supply and the last viable population of the endangered Leadbeater’s Possum (along with a host of other threatened flora and fauna). MyEnvironment has engaged two expert witnesses of unimpeachable authority, Dr Judith Ajani on the economics and Professor David Lindenmayer on the ecological values of our forests.

The anticipated costs of the case have ballooned due to the necessity to respond to VicForests’ economics argument and other unexpected costs including increased transcript costs because VicForests have requested real time electronic recording of witnesses. Of course, they have access to government funding.

The Federal Minister for the Environment Tony Burke is engaged (on some level). MyEnvironment Inc. has requested federal assistance as the case fits squarely in its portfolio of responsibility.

The following information may help you understand the case and why it is so significant:

Leadbeater’s Possums are Victoria's faunal emblem and considered 'canary in the coal mine' species for biodiversity in Victoria’s forest water catchments. If they are tipped into extinction, it means other forest species are also tipping. This case seeks to prevent this.

The forest age class that supports hollow dependant wildlife, is the same forest that provides, and releases, massive amounts of clean drinking and irrigation water for urban and rural users. Replacing this forest with young, rapidly growing plantations would greatly reduce water production and provide no habitat for hollow-dependent species.

Melbourne’s water was the subject of a 2003 World Bank and WWF report advising against further logging yet logging in water catchments continues. The government’s own studies recommended ending catchment logging by 2009 to improve water supply to Melbourne’s growing population.

Science has recognised that the world’s greatest trees are being lost to disease, climate and drought. In Victoria, we will not have any old growth Ash forests left by 2065 due to industrial logging and fires (Victorian images here). Only around 1% of the old-growth Mountain Ash forest remains in these mountains today.

FSC certification was removed from products coming from these forests because VicForests failed to demonstrate compliance with the principles of biodiversity management.

The primary recipient of wood from the Central Highlands is Japanese multi-national paper producer Nippon Paper Ltd. According to the 2010 URS Treasury report, Nippon does not pay full costs of production so tax-payers are subsidising the wood stream.

Victoria has legislated to guarantee wood to Nippon so the state government, in a bid to access new resources, are now planning to log parks, water catchments and special protection zones to fulfill the contract.

The message being sent to other countries is that it's acceptable to log reserves. In effect, Victoria is in breach of both Federal laws and United Nations agreements.

The end of native forest logging in Victoria would also hasten the collapse of Gunns’ Tasmanian Pulp mill. The Heyfield Mill sale by Gunns will supply funds to support the Pulp Mill proposal. If Victorian Ash forests cannot be logged, Heyfield will not be commercial and Gunns will be forced to liquidate it. (we have heard that the Mill sale has fallen through and Gunns may have suspended trading because of this)

Vicforests argue that they should be allowed to log habitat to keep the industry alive while Scott Gentle ex-CEO Victorian Forestry Contractors Association says the industry is a basket case. The haulers say "it could be better run by a kindergarten" and contractors like Mick McKinnell say that the transition to plantations is inevitable. 7.30 ABC Report

Whilst resource mapping shows that little is left outside special protection zones and buffer strips containing endangered species, the Baillieu/Ryan government is proposing 20 year contracts to guarantee industry stability and underwrite VicForests when commitments can no longer be met. These contracts will need to be paid out when the resource is exhausted so it's a quick return for opportunistic investors.

This is total mismanagement in contravention of national competition policy under which a government business enterprise must not be given any commercial advantage. A story from The Age on the state of the industry can be seen at the link.

David and Goliath: VicForests have access to millions of taxpayer dollars and a team of 7 lawyers in court - we have 3.

We are just a small group of volunteers with a first-hand understanding of the issues, dedication and determination to save what remains after the Black Saturday bushfires. Over the last decade we have witnessed massive destruction of critical ecosystems and we need to tell our story.

VicForests are saying that if the judge awards in our favour, this case will end native forest logging in Victoria. Please push this out to your friends and members. We have to raise three times more than we have. Donate here Please. The flow on effect of this case is already being measured in Gunns' business and will affect East Gippsland's forest too.

           Jill and the team.

            Environment East Gippsland Inc.      FORESTS - our breathing space!

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