Minister Walsh last year blind-signed a law that made it illegal for the public to enjoy or use 340,000 ha of public land where logging was occuring. This is about half of all our public land available for logging in eastern Victoria! Yet we are told VicForests logs less than 1% of public forests every year.
Today (17.1.13) Minister Walsh responded to our letter sent last September by publicly announcing as a good news story, that he had changed the laws to make the “Public Safety Zones” only apply to 150 metres around a logging coupe rather than hundreds and in one case thousands of hectares!
EEG wrote to Minister Walsh asking him to explain why they have made it illegal for the public to picnic in, walk through or otherwise enjoy forests in Victoria. The law was designed to keep the public and in particular protesters, from seeing clearfell logging.
We also wrote to tell Minister Ryan Smith in November last year that he must tell VicForests to open locked and chained gates on the main access roads up here. Their “Public Safety Zones” were in fact endangering the safety of the public by blocking fire escape routes or roads used by the local CFA tanker.
Some of these areas were enormous. Coupe 461-514-0010 had a protection zone of approximately 10,000 ha!
The Ministers media release stated:
“It is now an offence to enter a public safety zone if timber harvesting operations are occurring. Previously, trespassers only faced charges when they interfered with timber harvesting. Trespassers can also be charged if they cause an object or substance to enter a public safety zone.
So don’t take your handkerchief or a water bottle with you!
He went on to say … “However, the new public safety zones will now take up less area in our State forests as they more accurately reflect coupe boundaries … This will benefit recreational forest users as they no longer block out big squares of State forest as occurred under previous arrangements where four square co-ordinates defined the boundaries.”
Nice to know they are taking notice of our letters to them (and paraphrasing them in media releases) – even if their response to us is via a media release that claims they are the heroes of the situation.
And it’s good to see Mr Walsh is working hard to look credible.