East Gippsland logging faces fresh court challenge over endangered species


Activists have launched legal action against VicForests, alleging it is not properly protecting species such as the Yellow-bellied Glider are to be logged Photo: Ed Hill, Goongerah Environment Centre

Environmental activists have launched Supreme Court action seeking logging to be ruled unlawful in parts of the Kuark Forest, outside Orbost, until the state-owned timber agency VicForests carries out targeted surveys for endangered species and puts in place protection measures.

The green campaigners say their surveys have found evidence that two areas slated for logging are home to threatened animal and plant species, along with protected stands of rainforest. 

The creatures central to the legal tussle include the Yellow-bellied Glider, Long-footed Potoroo, East Gippsland Galaxias and a previously undescribed species of crayfish.


The East Gippsland Galaxias, one of the threatened species central to the legal challenge. Photo: Ed Hill, Goongerah Environment Centre


The case follows several other legal challenges to native forest logging operations in recent years. It also comes as business, unions and conservationists are locked in government-backed negotiations over the future of the industry in Victoria.

The East Gippsland logging war has intensified in recent times, with activists in the region now carrying out their own “citizen surveys” for protected species in areas slated for harvesting. If threatened plants, animals and forest types are found then protection zones are required to be set-up that normally precludes logging.

Lawyers with Environmental Justice Australia filed the most recent case last Friday. A short-term injunction was also served by the court to halt logging already under way in one of the coupes in an emergency session of the Supreme Court held on Saturday.

“VicForests declined to halt logging after court proceedings were filed. We discovered that some logging had already occurred, logging machines remained in the area, and another machine was delivered early on Saturday morning, so we requested an urgent court hearing over the weekend,” said Danya Jacobs, a lawyer with Environmental Justice Australia.

“We will be arguing that VicForests started logging in this area without properly looking for these values or protecting them.”


Logging in the Kuark Forest that has now been stopped due to a temporary Supreme Court injunction. Photo: Ed Hill, Goongerah Environment Centre

The green lawyers, who are acting on behalf of Environment East Gippsland, say the landmark case will test whether VicForests is correctly identifying and protecting rainforest patches and whether the agency is allowed to log when threatened species have been discovered but the environment department is yet to put protections in place for them.

VicForests spokesman David Walsh said the timber agency would contest the case as it believed its harvesting operations complied with state law. He said nine workers in the halted logging coupe had been moved to other sites for the time being.

Mr Walsh said the area subject to the injunction had already undergone a survey by an independent ecologist and harvesting plans had been modified to protect potoroos. He added VicForests was reviewing how targeted surveys were being carried out.

Last week VicForests agreed to lock up land elsewhere in East Gippsland after a colony of 15 Greater Gliders was detected by local green activists. 

A spokeswoman for Environment Minister Lisa Neville said the environment department conducted investigations on all reports of threatened species, including audits of VicForests practices.

A directions hearing for the case will be heard on Friday, with the injunction against logging in the Kuark Forest coupe in place until Monday.



Originally Published at http://www.theage.com.au/victoria/east-gippsland-logging-faces-fresh-court-challenge-over-endangered-species-20160218-gmxdqa.html

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