Gliders have their day in court – and WIN

Supreme Court rules in favour of effective detection and protection – with scathing comments on VicForests’ logging.

On 4th of November 2022 Justice Richards handed down her judgment in our case for the Greater and Yellow-bellied Gliders. This is an incredible ruling that will have far reaching consequences for the government’s logging agency. VicForests must now protect these endangered animals in forests targeted for logging, and across all logging areas, not just East Gippsland.

Environment East Gippsland and then Kinglake Friends of Forests brought the case in 2021, to protect endangered Greater Gliders and the rare Yellow-bellied Gliders in East Gippsland and the Central Highlands.

VicForests had conveniently never surveyed for threatened native animals before EEG’s landmark court win in 2010. That Supreme Court case, known as the Brown Mountain case, made it clear that VicForests must look before it logged. But it still hadn’t been looking very carefully and when it couldn’t avoid finding rare wildlife, it wasn’t putting in effective protections measures. Over that 12 years it must have knowingly killed and destroyed thousands of animals and biological values it was legally meant to survey for and protect.

The Greater Glider (Photo: Justin Cally)

What started off as a protest to save a small stand of beautiful wet, Glider-rich forest near Bendoc, became EEG’s legal case in the Supreme Court, which became a precedent that now applies to all logging in Victoria, not just East Gippsland. We knew those forests supported a healthy population of the endangered Greater Gliders. VicForests understands English as well as anyone and knew their legal obligations. We knew they were illegally logging – again.

After 18 months,  hundreds of hours and many late nights by our amazing legal team (3 cheers for Jonny, Kwabena and Kylie!), evidence prepared and hearings, Justice Richards handed down a Judgement. That clarified the existing law. There were not many kind words directed at VicForests (see selected quotes below).

The two arguments we put concerned the meaning of the Precautionary Principle – also referred to as section of the Code, and the need to carry out surveys to identify biological values – referred to as section of the Code.

The clarification of these 2 important sections now means that whether VicForests is planning to log the ash forests of Mt Stirling, the tall glider forests around Swifts Creek or the Wombat forests in the west, they MUST carry out effective surveys first and if gliders are found, provide effective protections – now detailed by the court. The orders and the judgment are below as PDFs.

…logging in East Gippsland and Central Highlands presented “a threat of serious and irreversible harm to both the greater glider and the yellow-bellied glider as a species”.

Justice Richards
Yellow-bellied Glider, recently listed as Vulnerable

“The ecological evidence was that those gliders living in coupes that are harvested in accordance with VicForests’ current practices will probably die as a result of the harvesting operations.”

Justice Richards

Greater gliders are under serious threat of extinction. Their populations in some areas having dropped 80% in the last 20 years. This decline has been further exacerbated by the 2019-20 bushfires.

VicForests must be wound up now, not after another 8 years’ of destructive, lawless logging.

At the time of writing, VicForests is considering whether to appeal this decision, or how they’ll interpret the judgment.

See the Guardian’s coverage here
the ABC’s coverage here
and The Age story here

You can read the full judgment and Orders below. Scroll through or download as a PDF file.
Here are some choice quotes – “The Best of ” the 161 page judgment :

The orders – in simple language – require VicForests to not log, unless it has carried out effective surveys across the entire stand of forest it intends to cut down. Where a Greater or Yellow-bellied Glider is found, it must protect the home range of the Greater Glider (3-4 ha). All forests supporting gliders are to have 100m buffers along waterways (50m each side), leave identified hollow bearing and feed trees, and leave 60% of eucalypts (by stem mass). However, the exception is where forests have previously been clearfelled. Her Honour accepted that such regrowth forest would have no old hollow bearing trees which Gliders need for nesting.
VicForests is claiming this order will make forests unviable to log. It plans to appeal.
The final judgment and orders are below.

It is time for all native forests to be protected and for VicForests to join the whalers in the history books. We are in both a climate and extinction crisis.

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