Landmark case halts VicForests' logging
Friday 28 Aug 2020Strict conditions to stop logging of threatened species habitat in Victoria’s Central Highlands were issued by the Federal Court on Friday, as the forestry industry feels the first effects of a landmark ruling to enforce federal environment law on a state-owned forestry agency.
The Federal Court in May ruled in favour of local environment group Friends of Leadbeater's Possum, which argued VicForests had breached the federal Environment Protection Biodiversity Conservation Act when it logged forest coupes in the Central Highlands region.
The Act contains protections for listed threatened species – including the vulnerable greater glider and critically endangered Leadbeater’s possum which live in the Central Highlands.
VicForests argued to the Federal Court that it was exempt from federal threatened species obligations set out in the Act because of a separately negotiated logging agreement between the state and federal governments – known as a Regional Forest Agreement.
However, Justice Debra Mortimer found VicForests’ logging operations had damaged threatened species habitat and failed the Act requirements – such as protecting threatened gliders and possums. An injunction was placed banning VicForests from doing any more logging in the region.
Strict conditions, issued on Friday, are detailed in orders issued by Justice Mortimer. A spokesman for the state logging agency said now that the orders are finalised, "VicForests will move quickly to lodge an appeal".
No more logging is permitted in the 26 coupes which had already been logged but still hold some commercial timber. The orders permit VicForests to conduct their statutory requirements for forest regeneration, which come under state law. Further, no logging is allowed in 41 un-logged coupes. While VicForests is permitted to draw up new logging plans, it has to apply to the federal government for approval under the Act.
If those plans are approved, the VicForests must appeal to the Federal Court to have the logging injunctions, issued in May, lifted. Experts said the ruling in May set a precedent which may apply to Regional Forestry Agreements regions across the country.
“This is the first time the Federal Court has granted a final injunction to prevent logging of threatened wildlife habitat,” said EJA senior lawyer Danya Jacobs.
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