Suing the government again – for the owls
Environment East Gippsland is suing the state government for a fourth time! We lodged the legal papers on Monday 22nd Sept 2014.
The summer fires destroyed thousands of hectares of critically important habitat for East Gippsland’s threatened wildlife. This region is the stronghold for large forest owls yet DEPI refuses to urgently review the protection measures for them as they are obliged to.
In the fires 46 protected owl zones burnt. These sites might no longer contain the values for which they were originally protected. The government is legally obliged to establish protection zones for each of the Powerful, Sooty and Masked owls across the region (these zones are woefully inadequate but that’s another issue). The survival needs of owls and the demands of the logging industry are similar, both prefer the rich forests containing large trees. The government’s loyalty though seems to be with the demands of VicForests and the logging industry.
We wrote to Ministers Walsh and Smith in April requesting an urgent review of owl zones, but the environment minister refused. They plan to clearfell 81 stands of mature and old growth forest where owls have been identified. These unprotected areas of prime owl habitat could be critical for the survival of our large forest owls.
We believe DEPI and VicForests are in breach of the Flora and Fauna Guarantee Act, the East Gippsland Forest Management Plan, Action Statements for the Large Forest Owls, the Code of Forest Practices, the Precautionary Principle, the Sustainable Forests Act, the Forests Act, conditions in the Allocation Order and conditions in the Amended Timber Release Plan.
Such lawlessness by the very body which writes legislation and regulations can’t be an accident, not after we have taken legal action against the government on three other occasions.
Even before the fires, the requirement that around 80,000ha of high quality habitat (old growth) must be protected for Powerful Owls in East Gippsland was not being met. Only 64,000ha was set aside. Some even considered that 800 ha per pair of owls to be at best about a third of the area needed.
Since the 2014 Goongerah-Deddick fires, the owls in the burnt zones could have easily perished as they are very territorial. Old growth and other suitable owl habitat is at a premium in the region meaning surviving owls would have found it difficult to move into and survive in poorer habitat that doesn’t support good populations of their prey species.
Citizens should not be forced to sue their own government for breaking its laws. It is a costly, stressful and time consuming action, but when our rare wildlife is in diabolical trouble, we have no other option.
As the case progresses we may have to pass the hat around for financial support. We’ll see how we go and keep you updated on developments.
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