It has been a huge few weeks for forests in Victoria.
The Supreme Court cases
Three brave community groups won landmark cases in the Supreme Court against the government’s logging agency. In two separate cases, the Court ruled that VicForests failed to find and protect endangered species from destruction in breach of environment laws.
The Supreme Court has now ordered the logging agency to locate and protect endangered plants and animals living in the forest, after finding its operations were destroying them.
In Warburton Environment’s case, the Court found VicForests illegally logged the endangered Tree Geebung. This small but mighty tree species is endemic to Victoria, growing only in the Central Highlands and reaching up to 510 years old.
The Court said the significant numbers of mature Tree Geebungs lost due to logging “will never be known” but is “likely to amount to many hundreds or even thousands of mature trees”.
After a two-year battle, the Court ordered injunctions that stop VicForests from logging in wet forest in the Central Highlands unless it surveys and puts protective buffers around mature Tree Geebungs where reasonably practicable. VicForests must also ensure that Tree Geebungs are not damaged in logging burns.
Just one week later, Kinglake Friends of the Forest and Environment East Gippsland won their joint Gliders case against VicForests. The Court found the state logging agency had failed to meet legal obligations to identify and protect endangered Greater Gliders and vulnerable Yellow-Bellied Gliders.
Once abundant, both species were devastated by the Black Summer bushfires as vast amounts of forest were destroyed, and yet logging of their critical habitat continued. This year, both gliders moved up on the Australian government’s list of threatened and endangered fauna. Greater Gliders have declined by more than 80% in the last 25 years in Victoria, while Yellow-Bellied Gliders have experienced an overall population decline of 30%.
Last week, the Court ordered injunctions that stop VicForests logging in East Gippsland or the Central Highlands until it surveys for Greater Gilders and Yellow-Bellied Gliders, protects the home range of Greater Gliders and corridors for it along waterways, and retains 60% of trees in the rest of the logging zone.
These are all incredibly important wins for forests and all of the creatures that rely on them – but we’re not out of the woods.
In the recent Gliders case, Justice Richards referred to the “damning” findings in the Possums case and observed that that decision “might have been expected to prompt some reflection and adjustment of [the industry’s] approach”.
Instead, two years later, the Supreme Court found that the state-owned logging agency:
- Still fails to thoroughly survey coupes when planning timber harvesting
- Still plans to log areas of forest that Greater Gliders are known to inhabit, in the face of scientific opinion that this is likely to cause the destruction of those gliders
- Continues to resist the idea that its responsibility to apply the precautionary principle means it should take care not to kill Greater Gliders and Yellow-Bellied Gliders by making their habitat unliveable during logging operations, despite the ecological evidence of its own expert.
Yet the Victorian government continues to subsidise this loss-making agency, and we’re concerned it will once again try to gut our nature laws
In 2021 and again in June this year, the government caved to vested logging interests and changed the law to dilute and dismantle environment protections. They:
- Deleted hundreds of rules that protected rare forest types and important habitat for owls and other wildlife, and replaced them with a “policy” document.
- Weakened protection of communities from bushfire risk – permitting more logging in close proximity to rural towns
- Removed protection of corridors along forest roads
- Reduced prohibitions on logging steep slopes, putting Victoria’s water supply at risk due to increased soil erosion.
In a tide of greenwash – the government said these changes “improved clarity” and “corrected errors”. Laws to protect nature are not an error – we need to make them not negotiable.
Meanwhile, last year VicForests recorded a $4.7 million loss, despite the government handing them a record $18 million.
Just this week, a Blueprint Institute report found that logging native forests in Victoria costs more money than it makes – and the cost is more than financial.
Last month, another report exposed the carbon cost of native forest logging in Victoria – approximately 3 million tonnes of carbon emissions last year. Annually, this is equal to the emissions of 700,000 cars and is twice the emissions of Victoria’s domestic aviation sector. The science says that by ending native forest logging now instead of 2030, Victoria could prevent up to 14 million tonnes of carbon from being emitted.
We are at a critical point.
Right now, the Dan Andrews government is under pressure from the logging industry to further roll back environment protections and prop up this loss-making industry. This would have devastating and irreversible consequences for our flora, fauna, climate and communities.
Together with courageous community groups, we will continue to hold the logging industry to account, but as we watch ecosystems collapse and face an extinction and climate crisis, we need our government to step up too.
Make a quick phone call to Premier Andrews’ office, asking HIM TO publicly commit to:
- Protect our forests before it’s too late
- Safeguard our nature laws, don’t gut them
- Urgent support for workers to transition to jobs with a future.
Here are some tips and talking points to help you make a call.