In 2009, EEG decided to roll out the big guns and sue the government for breaking its own laws. So far we have been successful and with the financial support of the public we intend to continue suing those who illegally vandalise our forests.
Since EEG began back in the early 80s, we have used many tactics to protect our forests. Some worked, like our surveys for the Long-footed Potoroo (until they changed its protection measures). However much of our work has had little to no effect. The government and the logging mafia that calls the shots, seem impervious to public opinion, exposés, economic arguments, and even more impervious to science or loss of species.
This area sits to the SW of the Errinundra National Park and next to the Goolengook forests. It has been shown to be extremely valuable for many rare and threatened species and rainforests. If VicForests is allowed to evade its responsibilities by proceeding to clearfell such a stunning area, it could embolden more of the same. We decided this logging monopoly’s interpretation of its environmental obligations needed to be legally tested.
After initial correspondence it was clear to us that VicForests was not planning to properly look for and protect the rare plants and animals in the rich forests of the Kuark, so EEG launched another Supreme Court action. After engaging lawyers from EJA we stopped the logging with an injunction in February 2016 and the case was scheduled to be heard on December 5th 2016. Read more here
Since our successful Brown Mountain Supreme Court case win in 2010, VicForests has been obliged to ‘look before they log’ to identify threatened wildlife and important values such as rainforest. VicForests has been carrying out very limited surveys and has been failing to find values that Citizen Scientists have identified, recorded and reported on. This has happened in forests planned for logging that had no on-ground field surveys, as well as those which did but the contracted surveyors didn’t find the values that were there.
The Citizen Scientists and survey teams from both GECO and FFRC provided detailed surveys to the compliance section within the Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning (DELWP). It is the role of DELWP to enforce legislation that protects rare plants and animals. Sometimes they did their job and sometimes they didn’t.
This is where EEG and the environmental lawyers from EJA stepped in. These articles document some of the finds and the protection measures that were put in place since Dec 2015.
Suing Govt to Save Owls
After the 2014 summer fires, many of the designated owl protection zones were burnt and no longer contained the values needed to support owls. When requested the Minister responsible refused to carry out a review of unburnt forests to protect new zones of high habitat value. This would have helped ensure the region’s threatened owls would survive. Many potential new sites were earmarked for clearfelling.
We have been forced to launch legal action to ensure these magnificent ‘eagles of the night’ do not die out in East Gippsland due to dwindling suitable habitat. Fires as well as ongoing clearfelling reduce viable populations. The state’s environment laws require there be a minimum number of protected areas to ensure our owls have a chance. We believe they are in breach of this clear obligation. Read more here
Glossy Black Cockatoo FFGA test case
EEG again took action to sue the government over its disregard for its own laws in May 2013. As a test case, we asked it to write protection plans for four out of the 374 Victorian listed threatened species that are without protection measures. By law the government must write up protection plans for each of the species, but some have been waiting for 20 years or more and meanwhile have been suffering serious decline as habitat is legally destroyed. DEPI (now DELWP) settled out of court and agreed to write plans for the four species. In effect though, their wording commits no one to do anything. DEPI also agreed to look at writing a plan to plan for writing up other species’ plans – with no timelines. Read more here
In 2009 we sued VicForests in the Supreme Court for planning to log known threatened wildlife habitat at Brown Mountain. And we won! Landmark Brown Mountain Court Case
It’s a sad reflection on our democracy when a small community group has to find hundreds of thousands of dollars to force a corrupt government to play fair and protect what its own laws say it should. Despite our win, we believe VicForests continues to break the law.
Cobb Hill Rainforest site
In early 2012 EEG began legal proceedings to sue VicForests over their plans to clearfell forests in Sites of National Significance for Rainforests. After refusing to remove these areas from logging plans, we pursued the legal avenue. Eventually they backed off most of the areas we had listed and an out of court settlement was reached.
DSE sues VicForests - Murrungowar rainforest logging
In 2011 the DSE compliance officer, discovered that VicForests had illegally logged quite a few hectares of rainforest at Murrungowar east of Orbost. This was so serious they could not overlook it. However, it appears deals were made to let VicForests off the hook.
After three previous adjournments, the court case was slated for 6th August 2012 but there was an 'out of court agreement' reached beforehand. The case was adjourned for another YEAR! VicForests had to prove they would behave themselves for 12 months. But what citizen that destroys valuable protected heritage over vast areas, is given this kindly option. This is the Age's report on DSE letting VicForests off the hook.
Toolangi/Leadbeaters Possum case
MyEnvironment, our sister group based at Healesville has also taken the government to court. Save Sylvia Supreme Court Case
This legal case note (PDF) looks at the precautionary principle which is part of a number of government plans and legislation. It should be considered when governments make decisions regarding environmental impacts. But the way it’s interpreted can be fickle. The arguments around this principle were a highlight of the Toolangi case to save Leadbeaters Possum habitat from further logging.
Law does not equal justice
The National Environmental Law Review wrote on the absurdity of the law when it fails to protect our critically endangered Leadbeaters Possum (also Victoria’s faunal emblem).
“This disappointing decision demonstrates a failure of the law – a failure of Victoria’s environmental controls, and the Department that is responsible for them, to adequately protect the species they were enacted to protect. We should however be very thankful that groups like MyEnvironment have the courage to bring such legal proceedings. One of the gravest problems with our environmental laws is that battles to save protected species, and clarify our environmental laws, must be fought in the Supreme Court, with the huge accompanying costs and risks.” Source: http://www5.austlii.edu.au/au/journals/NatEnvLawRw/2012/15.html
Wielangta - Bob Brown case
Bob Brown also took the Tasmanian Government to court and won his case for three endangered species. So the Tasmanian government changed the law, appealed the case, and then won the appeal (because the law had changed!). More details on the Tassie case here - Wielangta Forest Court Case
That seems to be what our Victorian government plans to do – change the laws, the plans and codes that protect our wildlife. But with the support of hundreds of people who care for forests and wildlife, EEG will continue our legal challenges. Costly as it is, it has so far proved to be the most successful strategy. For the government to remove the laws that protect endangered wildlife, it would be admitting to a reckless and corrupt logging regime worse than we see in Indonesia or the Amazon.