Defending the brave people who defend our forests
The Kuark forest in Victoria’s East Gippsland contains rare rainforest and provides crucial habitat for threatened species including the Greater Glider and the Long-footed potoroo. It is also home to three threatened owl species – the Sooty, Masked and Powerful owls.
Yet this magnificent ancient forest has repeatedly been threatened by controversial clear-fell logging by state logging agency VicForests.
Lax regulation of the logging industry by the state government means that it is often left up to community groups and citizen scientists to hold these industries accountable when they fail to abide by our environment laws.
Though these forest conservationists are acting in the public interest and often expose serious industrial-scale misconduct, governments often choose to vigorously prosecute these activists for minor legal breaches made when gathering information.
In contrast, there has not been a single prosecution from the Victorian Government against VicForests for logging practices that may be in serious breach of our environment laws despite hundreds of community reports detailing misconduct and several court cases.
It is critically important and fundamental to our democracy, that citizen scientists who breach the law bringing information in the public interest get the fairest possible hearing when they are up against governments or big industries.
In May 2016, lawyers from our Forest Law Program, together with Danny Cash, a generous criminal barrister working pro bono, represented four forest activists in the Melbourne Magistrates’ Court.
These forest activists were facing charges for their actions uncovering logging misconduct in the Kuark forest in East Gippsland. Two community members from Goongerah Environment Centre had entered a logging area in 2015 to document and report rainforest logging to the Environment Department.
Instead of prosecuting VicForests over the incident, described by the Minister as ‘very poor practice’, the government launched a prosecution against those who reported it.
The Victorian government spent two years and a considerable amount of taxpayer dollars investigating and prosecuting these two forest conservationists who reported these operations in the public interest.
The Senior Forestry Compliance Officer admitted in evidence during the case that he could not identify rainforest species and did not know whether rainforest was protected by law in Victoria.
No charges were laid against VicForests.