If a private land owner was to destroy native vegetation without a permit, they would be fined and forced to rehabilitate up to 15 times the same area that was destroyed. This is now part of the Native Vegetation Management Framework drawn up by The Department of Sustainability and Environment. But the department which is empowered to enforce this regulation is, in fact, exempt from it.
Rainforest was illegally logged here in Dingo Creek and in the Central Highlands, 180 hectares of the Snowy River National Park were logged, more recently protected Superb Parrot habitat was flattened (see page 3) and this is only the tip of the iceberg. For decades, valuable native vegetation has been stealthily whittled away with chainsaws – either as “mapping errors” incompetent identification by foresters, or just plain bloody-minded cowboy loggers. Government response? “How unfortunate, we’ll be sure it doesn’t happen a two hundred and fifty ninth time”.
Recently in East Gippsland, road widening works were carried out at the Bemm River bridge on the Princes Highway. This river is shouldered either side by beautiful warm temperate rainforest. In contrast to the above examples, VicRoads was obliged to offset the road widening damage at this site by rehabilitating a larger area nearby. This is how the state government’s “net gain” policy works and it is to be commended. This policy states that if a rare vegetation type is destroyed, it must be replaced or have another area rehabilitated so there is no net loss of that vegetation type.
The cumulative loss of rainforest and other protected forests over the years amounts to a significant area. Despite the State Government’s claim that it doesn’t log rainforests (even using their narrow definition), EPA audits of logging coupes shows this law is regularly violated.
The RFA which the DSE claims to operate under, states that there must be no net loss of log ‘resource’, yet does not state the same for loss of conservation areas. The DSE has allowed illegal destruction of protected forest on public land for years. It is absolutely vital that Mr Bracks applies the Native Vegetation Management Framework to these losses as it would to any other land owner or manager if they destroyed or damaged protected areas.