The case to stop VicForests logging precious old-growth forests
The ancient forests of far East Gippsland, Victoria, are home to rare rainforest found nowhere else on Earth, along with endangered owls, potoroos and gliding possums.
But vast tracts of these spectacular relics, windows into Gondwana, are earmarked for logging by VicForests.
Unless logging is stopped, ancient old-growth forests will be ripped down. This case is our best chance to protect some of Australia’s last remaining old-growth forests forever.
Why is this case so important?
In October 2017, on behalf of Fauna and Flora Research Collective, EJA lawyers commenced urgent legal proceedings in the Victorian Supreme Court after finding out that VicForests had built a logging road and pegged out a coupe, ready to start clearing trees in the Kuark forest.
Back in November 2017, as logging machines were rolling in to the ancient old growth forests of Kuark in East Gippsland, we secured an urgent interlocutory injunction in the Victorian Supreme Court to halt the logging and launched our client's case against Victoria’s state government logging agency VicForests and the Secretary to the Department of Environment, Land Water and Planning (DELWP) to save some of East Gippsland’s remaining wet and damp old growth forests
A temporary injunction was ordered by the Supreme Court to halt logging in Kuark forest and a number of other areas of precious old-growth forest earmarked for logging, until the case is determined in Court.
About the client
The Fauna and Flora Research Collective Inc. (FFRC) is an independent volunteer not-for-profit research collective engaged primarily in surveying for and reporting on the presence of threatened species and communities within Victoria’s public forests that are subject to logging.
The Supreme Court hearing
This was the first case to test the legal obligations on a Victorian government department to place high conservation values such as old growth forests in protection zones.
The case alleges that VicForests and DELWP have not protected the minimum area of old-growth forest required by law, and that until it does, logging in these areas of old-growth forest is unlawful and must not go ahead.
In this case the FFRC is seeking orders to protect the minimum area of old-growth forest required by law across East Gippsland (60%). It also seeks to stop logging planned at over thirty areas of intact old-growth forests in East Gippsland that have never been logged.
The initial hearing ran over December 2018 to February 2019.
During the hearing, a key witness for the Environment Department conceded that DELWP’s position is that logging old-growth forests is not best practice and should cease entirely, despite allowing the practice to continue.
While the case is running, 34 forest areas remain safe from logging and 21 of those areas have already been put into protection zones or removed from logging plans. However, the remaining 13 areas, along with so many other areas of old growth forest in East Gippsland, were left out and still needed protection when the case came to a close.
In November 2019, while awaiting judgement on the case, the Victorian government made a forest policy announcement that signalled an end to old-growth forest logging in Victoria.
However, despite the positive headline, the devil in the detail showed that the government’s plans do not place the remaining old -growth forests in protection zones as the rules require.
The case was reopened and we were again working around the clock with FFRC to prepare the case to defend these ancient forests. We appeared in December and have filed final written submissions. We are now awaiting judgement.
This huge admission shows just how important it is to hold governments to account in Court to protect our magnificent forests.
Until judgment, we’ve kept the towering giants of this magnificent forest standing. We only hope to make that permanent with the outcome of this case.
“With so much of Australia cleared, fragmented and degraded, it’s critical that we protect the remaining old-growth forests of East Gippsland.— ANDREW LINCOLN, FAUNA AND FLORA RESEARCH COLLECTIVE