VicForests has been forced to immediately stop logging in several areas of threatened species habitat after the Victorian Supreme Court granted an injunction to citizen science group Wildlife of the Central Highlands (WOTCH) late yesterday.
At the hearing, the ten areas in dispute were narrowed down to three areas where logging is currently underway. VicForests told the court that logging was on hold or scheduled to commence later in seven other areas.
The Court ruled at 6pm that it will grant an interim injunction to halt logging in the three areas in dispute. WOTCH’s application for an interlocutory injunction that would stop logging for the duration of the case has been listed for hearing on 18 February 2020.
“This is a good result for our threatened species who suffered a huge blow after the catastrophic bushfires – important unburnt habitat is now safe from logging, while this case moves to the next stage,” said Danya Jacobs, Senior Lawyer from Environmental Justice Australia.
“We cannot allow logging to continue the widespread destruction inflicted by these bushfires when the Central Highlands are among the last refuges for these precious species. We need these forests protected – and that’s what we’ll be fighting for,” said Philip Marshal, Citizen Scientist from WOTCH.
The court accepted that there is ‘prima facie’ evidence that serious and irreversible harm to threatened species will occur if logging is allowed to occur in the three areas where logging is currently underway and said “The recent bushfires have caused extensive environmental damage, the severity of which is only beginning to be understood”.
The court accepted that there is a “serious question to be tried” – an important legal test for getting an injunction and rejected VicForests opposing argument that there was not a serious question to be tried.
The court also rejected VicForests contention that the application is an attempt use the legal process to achieve a political outcome, accepting instead that WOTCH’s case raises questions about the legal responsibilities of VicForests which are proper questions for the court to determine.
“This case is an important test for whether laws designed to protect threatened species are able to do so in the aftermath of this summer’s catastrophic bushfires,” Danya Jacobs continued.
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. The ten areas subject of the hearing yesterday are home to Greater Glider, Sooty Owl, Powerful Owl and Smoky Mouse or their habitat.
“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,” said Jake Mckenzie, Citizen Scientist from WOTCH.
Logging has continued in Victoria despite bushfires destroying almost 6 million hectares of forest and an estimated 1 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”, because they were initially identified as having more than 40% of their modelled habitat distribution in Victoria within areas damaged by bushfires or a projected impact area above 70%, and/or a predicted decline in species abundance over 25%.
 DELWP preliminary report, ‘Victoria’s bushfire emergency: Biodiversity response and recovery’, pp 13,15 & 5.