Three environmental activists have been fined for surveys they carried out in a logging coupe in East Gippsland, though the state government conceded it needed to bolster timber harvesting rules following the activists’ report.
The activists from the Goongerah Environment Centre are facing fines of $440 each for entering the coupe in late April, which they say they will likely fight in court.
After surveying the region the group prepared a report alleging the state-owned timber corporation VicForest had illegally logged protected rainforest on the Errinundra plateau in the Bendoc State Forest, which is near the NSW border.
VicForests was later cleared of any wrongdoing, with an environment department investigation finding there was inconclusive evidence of any breach.
But a review also found there was ambiguity over the definition of one type of forest in question, called “cool temperate mixed forest”. And it also said there was a need for greater protection of isolated old trees.
The environment department told the ABC last month it would look to act on the issues identified.
Despite their work leading to likely rule changes, the three activists were hit with fines over the last week for entering a timber harvesting safety zone.
One activist, Ed Hill, said they had put their names on the report raising concerns about the harvesting of rainforest when they handed it to the government. He said the fines were about shielding logging operators from scrutiny.
“We were quite open with the government that we entered the area because we were concerned about logging practices,” Mr Hill said.
“They are looking to improve the regulations in light of the information we provided them, they really should be thanking us,” he said.
Mr Hill insisted the activists did not enter the coupe when workers and machinery were operating, instead accessing the area after hours or at the weekend.
A government spokeswoman said timber harvesting zones had been established to protect public safety.
“Timber harvesting operations are dangerous and the coupes in which they occur are strictly controlled workplaces. A person must not enter, or remain in, a timber harvesting safety zones without authorisation,” she said.
She added the department had its own auditors to check VicForests compliance with environmental standards and was also designing a spot-check program.