Logging in Victoria targets the forests that are most important for biodiversity conservation and the protection of threatened species.
The state logging agency VicForests is required to conduct its operations in a way that is consistent with the principles of ecologically sustainable forest management, including through requirements in the Sustainable Forests (Timber) Act and the Code of Practice for Timber Production 2014.
The objectives of sustainable forest management include to protect biological diversity and maintain the ecological characteristics of native flora and fauna.
Despite these requirements, logging is known to be causing the decline of key threatened species in Victoria.
There are 79 threatened species dependent on the forests where VicForests logging operations occur.
An expert panel recently found at least 35 of those were being negatively impacted by logging operations in eastern Victoria.
The Victorian Environmental Assessment Council has found state forests that are available and scheduled for logging in the Central Highlands and East Gippsland almost completely comprise land that is in the highest category of contribution to biodiversity in the state.
In short, logging in Victoria targets the forests that are most important for biodiversity conservation and preserving threatened species.
Leadbeater’s Possum is one of the species that is affected by these operations. It is listed as critically endangered and faces a very real and serious risk of extinction in the near future.
Despite that listing in 2015 under Commonwealth law, logging continues within habitat that is critical to the survival of the species. In fact these are the areas targeted most heavily for logging.
About 70% of VicForests’ annual Ash timber supply is sourced from within the range of Leadbeater’s Possum. More logging occurs in Ash forests than any other in Victoria. We know with some precision the area that needs to be protected from logging in order to maintain viable populations of this species.
The current protected area falls far short.
Less than 50% of suitable Leadbeater’s Possum habitat is protected and the current 200-metre buffers applied around areas where possum colonies are detected protect only about 2% of suitable Leadbeater’s habitat which represents just 2.5% of VicForests total available resource in the Central Highlands.
The Commonwealth threatened species committee stated in 2015 that ‘the most effective way to prevent further decline and rebuild the population of Leadbeater’s Possum is to cease timber harvesting within montane ash forests of the Central Highlands’.
Despite this, logging continues in those areas.
VicForests consistently fails to identify protected biodiversity values in our forests before it logs, contrary to requirements in the Code of Practice for Timber Production.
Identifying what is there is a necessary precursor to applying any kind of protection. Because VicForests fails at the first step, it also routinely fails to protect threatened wildlife and rainforests from logging.
The community is now filling this void, conducting threatened species surveys in public forests.
Around 30% of Leadbeater’s Possum detections in logging areas come from community surveys.
Community members often conduct surveys at the last minute after logging operations have already commenced.
Because VicForests does not release information about where and when it will be logging, there are numerous findings of threatened species where the required protected area has already been irreparably damaged.
I have been alerted to about 25 examples of this just within the last 18 months.
In one case community members found a dead koala in a logging coupe in the Acheron Valley in the Central Highlands. The same group reported between 9 and 12 threatened greater gliders present in that coupe.
VicForests did nothing in response to that report.
This is an edited extract of Danya Jacob’s evidence to the Standing Committee on the Economy & Infrastructure’s inquiry into VicForests’ operations, 17 July 2017