Legal case

WOTCH v VicForests: Protecting threatened wildlife after the bushfires

Case update: March 2023

We’ve just finished closing submissions in the Victorian Supreme Court, representing a community group of citizen scientists – Wildlife of the Central Highlands (WOTCH). 

It’s been a huge case to stop the Victorian government-owned agency VicForests from logging the precious unburnt habitat left standing across bushfire-ravaged forests.  

EJA lawyers and legal council made closing submissions in late March 2023 and we are now waiting for judgment.  

About the case

In January 2020, Wildlife of the Central Highlands (WOTCH), a community group of citizen scientists from Victoria’s Central Highlands, launched a Supreme Court case against VicForests.

The community group’s legal challenge seeks to stop VicForests – the Victorian government’s logging agency – from logging areas of unburnt habitat for threatened species impacted by bushfires, including the Greater Gliders, Sooty Owls, Powerful Owls and Smoky Mice.

The catastrophic summer bushfires of 2019-2020 destroyed vast swathes of Victoria’s native forests and millions of animals, including threatened wildlife.

Shockingly, despite the devastation, VicForests continues to log unburnt forests home to threatened wildlife.

Threatened species like Greater Gliders and Powerful Owls have lost much of their remaining habitat, pushing them even closer to extinction. It’s a devastating blow to the places and wildlife we love.


The forests home to this threatened wildlife include forests in the Kalatha Valley of the Giants in Toolangi, along the Koala Creek near Cambarville, in the Upper Thomson water catchment, and around Mansfield, Noojee and Warburton.

WOTCH alleges that logging operations in areas where threatened species impacted by the bushfires have been sighted or where their habitat exists is unlawful until the state and federal government have concluded their bushfire biodiversity responses, and until VicForests protects threatened species in light of the outcome and the impacts of the bushfires.

They contend that by planning and conducting timber harvesting operations in these areas, VicForests has failed, and will fail, to comply with sections and of the Code of Practice for Timber Production 2014. This would be unlawful under the Sustainable (Forests) Timber Act 2004 (Vic), which requires VicForests to comply with any relevant Code of Practice relating to timber harvesting.


VicForests has continued logging in Victoria despite bushfires destroying almost 6 million hectares of forest and an estimated 3 billion animals nationally, including threatened species.

The Victorian government’s own preliminary response to the bushfires lists the threatened Greater Glider, Smoky Mouse, Sooty and Powerful Owls among the “fauna species of most immediate concern.”

Yet clear-fell logging continues in their habitat.

At the time of its launch, this was the first court case to protect threatened species in the wake of the bushfires.

WOTCH was granted injunctions to protect 40 forest areas while the case has been heard. 

Other court cases against VicForests

There are six current cases in the Victorian Supreme Court alleging that the State-owned business’ logging practices are unlawful:

  • WOTCH v VicForests
  • Environment East Gippsland (EES) and Kinglake Friends of the Forest v VicForests (two cases, heard together)
  • Gippsland Environment Group vs VicForest (same orders granted as EES and Kinglake Friends of the Forest)
  • Warburton Environment v VicForests
  • Flora and Fauna Research Collective Inc v VicForests.

In November 2022, VicForests was found to have logged illegally in breach of environmental protections in two landmark court wins by Environment East Gippsland / Kinglake Friends of the Forest and Warburton Environment.

Warburton Environment successfully argued VicForests was illegally logging across areas that are home to endangered Tree Geebung.

Environment East Gippsland and Kinglake Friends of the Forest argued that VicForests’ approach to surveying, logging, and to its legal obligations, had barely changed since the Possums decision in 2020, where it was found to have logged unlawfully.

The WOTCH trial and the two appeals by VicForests against community groups could have far reaching consequences for our forests, wildlife and communities. 

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“I think the Victorian public would be horrified to hear that our government-owned logging agency is continuing to clear-fell log the habitat of threatened species – given the scale and severity of the recent bushfires in Eastern Victoria.”

Jake Mckenzie, Citizen Scientist, Wildlife of the Central Highlands (WOTCH)

“Logging unburnt habitat for threatened wildlife will have a devastating impact and is likely to put these unique species on a rapid trajectory to extinction. As citizen scientists who monitor these species, we can’t sit by and watch this happen, so we are taking VicForests to the Supreme Court and seeking an immediate halt to logging operations in threatened species habitat.”

– Jake Mckenzie, Citizen Scientist, Wildlife of the Central Highlands (WOTCH)

Image: Karen H Black

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