|Pink tape marking Park boundary||Errinundra National Park's new look||Checking GPS and map on Park border|
|Park boundary||Looking down the hill from the Park border||The logging coupe still burns|
The illegal logging has been the subject of a Parks Victoria investigation. A report is now with Minister for the Environment John Thwaites. Vicforests, the corporate entity responsible for logging state forests, faces a fine of $240000.
“This incident is proof that VicForests are not able to manage our forests properly. As long as there continue to be logging operations right on the borders on National Parks then these things will happen. It’s not the first time and it won’t be the last,” said one of the conservationists who found the breach, Fiona York.
“Thwaites and Bracks must act to prevent further mismanagement of Victoria’s State forest. VicForests should be penalised to the full extent of the law. Guidelines which allow logging on National Park boundaries should be altered by government to protect them from “human error,” continued Ms York.
“If it were not for this chance discovery, the public may have never known about this illegal logging. How much more of these incidents have taken place that we don’t know about? There are simply not enough resources dedicated to monitoring logging in this area, and VicForests is unaccountable to the public,” she concluded.
The Errinundra National Park is home to many endangered species and has unique ecology that has existed since before the last ice age. It is the “jewel in the crown” of Victoria’s reserve system. Over the last ten years much of the Park boundary has been logged, leaving it vulnerable. Current regulations allow logging to take place on the borders of National Parks without any buffers.
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Government agency VicForests has admitted it accidentally logged a section of a national park in East Gippsland.
Conservationists have called on the Victorian Government to release a report into the illegal logging in the Errinundra National Park.
A section of the national park was logged when VicForests incorrectly marked a logging coupe.
Fiona York from the Goongerah Environment Centre says buffer zones near national park boundaries are needed.
"Apparently the investigation is finished and the report is sitting on [Environment Minister John] Thwaites' desk waiting for some action," he said.
"Our concern is that we want to see VicForests who are apparently responsible for this illegal logging, prosecuted to the full extent of the law so they don't do it again."
VicForests accidentally logged trees in the Errinundra National Park after incorrectly marking a coup on the park boundary.
A report has been prepared for Environment Minister John Thwaites.
Jill Redwood from Environment East Gippsland says corporate bodies can be fined up to $240,000 for logging without a permit.
"If this was a private landholder who had illegally cleared, not only protected forest without a permit but a national park, they could be up for as much as having to replace that area 15-fold, like protect an area 15 times that size," he said.
VICFORESTS has been accused of recently logging a section of the Errinundra National Park after incorrectly marking a logging coupe on the park's boundary.
It is illegal for logging to take place in a national park and VicForests discovered its mistake with Parks Victoria and immediately ceased logging.
VicForests chief executive Peter Ford said this particular national park boundary was difficult to identify.
Goongerra conservationist Fiona York said the incident raised the question whether VicForests could manage forests properly.
"As long as there continues to be logging operations right on the borders of national parks then these things will happen," Ms York said.
Mr Ford admitted the mistake and said it was only a small section that was illegally logged and only six trees were logged in the section.
"It's not something we like to do," Mr Ford said.
"Procedures will now be put in place where VicForests will meet with Parks Victoria when identifying boundaries."
The Environmental Protection Authority (EPA) has released the results of its annual forest audit, as well as the Special Audit conducted into breaches reported by the public, including the illegal logging of the Errinundra National Park. It found that the DSE and Vicforests were responsible for those breaches and that they failed to follow required procedures. They found that there were systemic problems in the Department and that government officers mistakenly believe they can change coupe boundaries at will. This, of course, is no surprise to environmental activists in East Gippsland! A whopping 98% of coupes surveyed in East Gippsland had breaches in them (44 out of 45).
Thanks to a precedent set in the long-running Dingo Creek court case, a breach of the Code of Forest Practice is now a breach of the law. However. despite finding them guilty of breaches, no -one has been charged. Disturbingly, Vicforests seems to think that everything is fine and that they are already implementing the recommendations put forward by the EPA in the report. These recommendations are as weak as stipulating that Parks Victoria and Senior Forest Managers have a look at coupe boundaries and that staff undertake training. Well done. We can rest easy now...
This lack of penalty for the forest officers responsible for logging national parks and endangered species habitat is in stark contrast to the penalties so eagerly dished out to environmentalists, who are trying to stop logging. Thanks to the new Safety on Public Lands Act, the public can be charged just for being in certain areas of forest. Whose looking now, Bracks?
STATE agencies guilty of logging breaches that felled protected trees and threatened endangered species have escaped punishment despite the environmental watchdog finding systemic problems in at least one forest district.
A special Environment Protection Authority audit found three breaches by VicForests near Cann River in East Gippsland, home to threatened species including the long-footed potoroo.
A fourth was confirmed in the Barmah State Forest, near Echuca, where the Department of Sustainability and Environment logged more than half of a 35-hectare protected nesting colony for the endangered superb parrot. As few as 150 superb parrots breed in Victoria.
EPA chairman Mick Bourke said the East Gippsland breaches — where timber workers logged more than a hectare of the Errinundra National Park at one site and breached coupe boundaries by a total of nearly 15 hectares at two others — were signs of a systemic problem.
"Anywhere where there is potential to impact on national forest and special protection zone is a serious matter," he said.
The special audit was released along with a wider EPA report into timber harvesting in 2004-05 which found an average of 91 per cent compliance with the law.
But breaches, often for minor offences such as inadequate record-keeping, were found in 44 out of 45 coupes sampled.
The EPA found the Gippsland and Barmah breaches were due to poor management, communication, mapping and planning, and false assumptions by staff that coupe boundaries could be changed without proper approval. Recommendations included improving boundary delineation and increasing staff training.
But the EPA was not asked to consider penalties. Mr Bourke said it was unclear whether Government officers were bound by codes of practice in the sustainable forests act.
Environmentalists reacted angrily, calling for those responsible to be prosecuted.
Lawyers for Forests president Vanessa Bleyer said it was preposterous that Government employees could break the law and get away with it.
"The audit simply seeks to keep a record of criminal acts. What sort of response is that? I can't break the law and get away with it," she said.
Friends of the Earth spokesman Jonathan La Nauze said the destruction of the superb parrot's habitat should have alarmed the Government: "You only get one chance at saving a species from extinction, and this audit shows we're blowing it."
Environment East Gippsland spokesman Luke Chamberlain said a similar audit finding incompetence and mismanagement in the private sector would lead to mass sackings.
Acting Environment Minister Candy Broad said the Government believed adequate steps were being taken to stop logging breaches. She said it was encouraging that the annual audit found overall compliance in the timber industry was high.
Many of the EPA recommendations had already been put in place, including park boundaries being checked by Parks Victoria before harvesting, she said.
The Environmental Protection Agency is to investigate the logging of the Errinundra National Park, after the Minister requested an enquiry into a number of logging breaches. Three of the breaches being investigated occured in East Gippsland and one in the Barmah state forest. The following is supplementary information provided by the EPA.
On 3 October 2005, the Minister announced that EPA Victoria would undertake an audit into a number of logging incidents, including breaches of the Code of Forest Practices that have occurred in Victorian forests. This includes incidents where forestry operations had occurred within an area of Errinundra National Park and a Special Protection Zone in the Barmah State Forest.
The audit is to be implemented using the Victorian statutory environmental audit system administered by EPA. The audit report will be made available to the public. The auditor will be Geoff Byrne who is currently concluding the annual 2005 Forest Audit.
The objective is to examine four recent logging incidents, including breaches of the Code of Forests Practices in Victorian forests to outline the circumstances surrounding each incident and the action required to minimise the potential for similar incidents in the future.
The environmental audit is to have regard, but is not limited, to the;
In examining the changes required, the auditor will examine the chain of accountabilities that apply to a coupe (through all stages from identification, planning, harvesting to completion) and whether these are sufficient to ensure good practice.
The auditor will report on the accountabilities, procedures and methods used for the identification, delineation, marking and management of harvesting areas in other Australian States and consider these in any recommendations made.
There are four incidents that are considered as part of this audit; three of these occurred in East Gippsland and one in the Barmah State Forest.
The incidents are:
The audit will be undertaken during November 2005 and the final report sent to the Minister in early December 2005.
Consultation will focus on providing information about the audit process and outcomes. This information will be mainly sent through the forestry audit e-mail contact list. If you have any further queries please contact Peter Tange (9695 2642) or Adam Beaumont (9695 2897) at EPA Victoria or by email: firstname.lastname@example.org .