The state government is seeking to change the legal definition of "Cool Temperate Mixed Forest" after a GECO report provided evidence of illegal logging in this rare and threatened forest type. We fear that changing the definition will most likely water down protections to facilitate logging. The Department of Environment will also review protections for large old trees in light of recent GECO survey work, this is the same survey work the government are threatening to prosecute us for undertaking. We are hopeful old growth trees can be given appropriate protection through this process.
GECO submitted a report on illegal rainforest logging at Hensleigh Ck road on the Errinundra plateau in April. Just as the government returned an inconclusive ruling in relation to illegal rainforest logging, they have also ruled 'inconclusively' in relation to illegal logging of Cool Temperate Mixed Forest. The Department have arbitrarily decided the definition of Cool Temperate Mixed Forest is 'ambiguous' therefore they've decided to retrospectively change the definition and change the law. We fear planned changes will water down protections, and narrow the definition so less forest can be defined as Cool Temperate Mixed Forest and more forest area is available for logging.
Cool Temperate Mixed Forest is listed as a threatened community under the Victorian Flora and Fauna Guarantee Act (FFGA). The law states that all old growth threatened communities cannot be logged. We provided clear evidence that old growth Cool Temperate Mixed Forest had been illegally logged. The logged area we surveyed displayed clear old growth characteristics such as giant stumps and it was mapped as modeled old growth forest. Species composition and structure of the forest prior to logging was consistent with the description of Cool Temperate Mixed Forest as per the legal definition. However, the Department of Environment Land Water and Planning (DELWP) claim there is more than one definition. There is only one legal definition and it's this legal definition they are seeking to change because our report proved that they had failed to uphold the law and allowed VicForests to illegally log the area.
Stump of ancient Eucalyptus tree, over 11m in circumference, likely to be over 500 years old.
This approach is typical of DELWP, who have a history of not enforcing compliance on VicForests. This situation exemplifies the toothless nature of the DELWP who would rather change a law that is inconvenient to VicForests rather than actually hold them accountable and actually do the job they are supposed to.
They were quite sneaky in the delivery of this report, they released it late in the day and went to the media before sending GECO the outcomes of the investigation and their announcement of the review. We received the first information about their reports findings and the proposed review of the legislation when we spoke with the media late Friday afternoon. We did not receive the report until about 7pm Friday night, well after the media had reported on it.
DELWP has said they will consult before making changes to the legislation. We will participate in any consultation, but remain skeptical of the DELWPs intentions with this review.
Read the media reporting below.
Victorian environment department to remove ambiguity from logging definitions after VicForests cleared of logging near Bendoc State Forest
The Victorian Department of Environment, Land Water and Planning will change logging regulations after clearing VicForests of illegal logging in East Gippsland.
The state-owned VicForests has been cleared of logging cool temperate mixed rainforest in the Bendoc State Forest, near the NSW border.
VicForests general manager Nathan Trushell said the organisation was pleased with the outcome and would continue to follow forest regulations.
It was the fourth investigation this year into VicForests logging practises in East Gippsland.
In three earlier investigations, it was found not to have breached logging codes for rainforest protection and waterway harvesting.But the department said there was inconclusive evidence to determine if illegal rainforest harvesting had occurred.
"That means that there is obviously ambiguity for us as the regulators but also industry and environmental groups, it leaves assessments open to interpretation."
Ms Furguson said the second issue the department identified in its review of regulations was the need for greater protection of isolated old trees.
"We'll undertake a stocktake of the protections that exist now for large old trees and we will likely recommend some interim protections for them," she said.
Goongerah Environment Centre's Ed Hill said more needed to be done to protect rainforests in East Gippsland.
"The department need to be asking themselves why did this incident occur in the first place?" he said.
"And what are they going to do to get out there and identify areas of rainforest and threatened species habitat and forest types that are actually protected by the law before they allow VicForests to go in and log them?"
The department said it would consult widely before making any changes to regulations.
Click on these images to view the illegal logging gallery from Hensleigh Ck road, Errinundra Plateau.