Victoria’s state-owned logging company breached rules protecting native animals and rainforests almost 30 times over three years, environment groups allege in a new report.
The report comes after a dead koala was found in a logged section of forest in the Acheron Valley near Marysville that was home to the endangered Greater Glider.
As revealed by Fairfax Media earlier this year the state government could have protected the region but ignored advice from its own scientific committee.
Now the latest report alleges there were 27 cases of logging in East Gippsland and the Central Highlands in the past three years that breached an environmental code of practice.
The code is designed to guard rare, threatened and protected animals and forest types, including rainforests.
However, logging company VicForests has dismissed the report accusing it of misrepresenting its activities.
The report showed that an endangered Spiny Crayfish, Leadbeater’s Possum and the Greater Glider were among the animals found in areas where logging had occurred.
In some cases logging was halted only after endangered species were detected by people from the community.
The report outlines cases where logging had begun or was “imminently about to occur” despite the presence of species that should have triggered protection areas.
In some cases, the report says, logging began in coupes without an adequate threatened species survey beforehand.
The report was produced by Friends of the Earth, Fauna and Flora Research Collective and Goongerah Environment Centre.
Friends of the Earth spokesman Ed Hill said Victoria’s threatened species were “in crisis”, with some facing extinction.
“It should not be left up to the community to find threatened species at the 11th hour before their habitat is bulldozed and pulped for cheap copy paper,” he said.
The report accused VicForests of a “systemic failure” to comply with the code of practice while state-based laws were not being enforced.
But VicForests stakeholders and planning general manager, Lachlan Spencer, said the regulations for timber harvesting were complex and the report was a “misrepresentation of these requirements”.
“VicForests has previously responded to the allegations and does not believe that any represent a breach of the code of practice,” he said. “VicForests encourages feedback into our operations as the forest is a dynamic and changing environment.”
Environment Minister Lily D’Ambrosio said the allegations were serious and would be “thoroughly investigated to determine exactly what has occurred”.
The report calls on the Andrews government to establish a Great Forest National Park, which would begin just beyond Melbourne’s north-eastern fringe, to protect native wildlife.
Friends of the Earth is now pressuring the state government to protect native forests in East Gippsland and the Central Highlands by campaigning in marginal northern suburbs seats where Labor is facing a fierce challenge from the Greens.
The environment group told Fairfax Media it had distributed 7000 pamphlets to residents in the Brunswick and Richmond electorates, informing them of the report’s findings.
A spokesman for Victoria’s Department of Environment said a team of officers was now dedicated to investigating timber harvesting compliance issues.
And some of the instances in the report were under “active investigation” by the department.
The spokesman said the government was also recruiting 35 extra officers to increase the protection of forests and wildlife across the state.
“The 35 officers will double the current number of frontline compliance staff, increasing protection of Victoria’s forests and wildlife through better compliance, including intelligence gathering enforcement and education,” he said.