It's been a rough and challenging year, with lots of ups and down. We watched forests where we've been campaigning for protection for decades turn to ashes. The fires devastated communities across East Gippsland and wiped out forests and wildlife. But in the face of this unprecedented catastrophe we have seen our friends and communities recover.
We were blown away by the support that came flooding in those weeks and months following the fires. We want to say a huge thank you to those who donated, put on fundraisers, organised food and supply drops, and supported the community of Goongerah to rebuild after the 2019/2020 bushfires.
Old growth forests on Sellar's Rd, still scheduled for logging
Only a few months after the devastating fires, we exposed the government's plans to log thousands of hectares of fire-affected forests. We helped to get a story out when the government rolled over the dodgy deals which give logging an exemption to Federal environment laws.
The contracts included commitments to conduct a Major Event Review into the impacts of the bushfires. Governments have since agreed to a review, but the Andrews government still haven't met new commitments to put in place interim protections for all listed threatened species, and logging continues in the meantime.
Logging in fire-affected forests, far East Gippsland
Thousands of people emailed the Premier, the Environment Minister, the Agriculture Minister and the Treasurer calling for an end to native forest logging after the fires. Our friends at Wildlife of the Central Highlands launched an epic legal case against VicForests over logging of bushfire affected threatened species habitat. The case is halting the destruction of 26 important areas of forest.
Friends of Leadbeater's Possum represented by Environmental Justice Australia made history and won their landmark Federal Court Case against VicForests. The judge found VicForests' breached state and federal laws which are meant to protect threatened species. It was the final push for Bunnings to stop selling wood from native forests, an incredible result after years of pressure from environment groups.
The Weekend Australian covers the landmark Federal Court case win
Under the cover of COVID-19, and in response to the court case, the government announced dodgy changes to the law which governs logging, which could strip community groups of their rights to take legal action against VicForests. We are yet to see the changes, but it won't be good news if the government is weakening laws when wildlife needs stronger protections more than ever.
Thousands of people made submissions into the once-every-twenty-year review into the EPBC Act, and a Victorian Parliamentary inquiry into ecosystem decline. VicForests also failed their recent attempt at getting Forest Stewardship Council certification, blaming COVID-19 and the bushfires for failing their audit.
Logging in the Colquhoun which was stopped after we found a high density of Yellow-bellied Gliders
In the last few months our friends at Fauna and Flora Research Collective were back in court fighting for protection of old growth forests after the Environment Department reopened the case following the government's so-called old growth logging ban. The government have lied about protecting old growth, instead of putting all mapped old growth in protected areas they've changed the definition and are using a dodgy field tool which doesn't work, and is modelled on a tool VicForests invented. The trial finished last week and FFRC are now waiting for judgement.
A few months back we also worked with the Age to expose the Environment Department's failure to put in a proper protection zone for an endangered Large Brown Tree Frog on Mt Jersey. We submitted a report showing VicForests had illegally logged into a rainforest buffer in the same area.
Recovering forests on Mt Jersey, logged by the Andrews state government
A confidential document we got through Freedom of Information revealed the Environment Department made secret reccomendations to government logging agency VicForests to stop logging due to risks of "irreversible damage to biodiversity". Despite the government being warned about the devastating impacts logging will have on bushfire affected wildlife, the senseless destruction of forests has continued.
After it was discovered VicForests were logging precious old growth forests in unburnt areas in the Colquhoun East Gippsland, we teamed up with Gippsland Environment Group and found a high density of Yellow-bellied Gliders which halted logging! We also got news that a Greater Glider report we worked on with Fauna and Flora Research Collective resulted in the protection of important forests in the Cottonwood area! Without the work of citizen scientists, these forests would have been logged.
Forests in the Cottonwoods, safe from logging for now
Ending the year on a high, last week Bidewell-Maap Elders wrote to the Andrews Government condemning logging planned within and adjacent to the Bidewell reserve near the Errinundra National Park. There are two coupes up against the reserve with access planned through a large roading coupe within the reserve itself.
The letter says:
The reserve is under the custodianship of the Bidewell people, we have had no one approach us to ask for permission to go onto country. Before going onto country there needs to be consultation, there has been no consultation with Elders and Traditional Owners of the land.
The continued destruction of forests cannot continue when they need to be protected [and] which are very significant for our peoples and our connections to country. The reserve is cultural heritage for the Bidewell people.
Bidewell-Maap custodians at the Bidewell reserve
Despite all the challenges of this year we have a lot to be proud of and thankful for. We are outraged that logging is continuing in Victoria, and ramping up in East Gippsland despite the fires. But we're more determined than ever to see these precious forests protected. If you'd like to support the work that we do, please donate here.
Again we want to say a huge thank you to everyone who wrote submissions, donated to the bushfire fundraiser, or to GECO or the Old Growth forests fundraiser, and to everyone who wrote, called, and emailed politicans, shared our posts, articles and videos. We couldn't do what we do without your support.
Have a safe and happy holiday, see you in the forests very soon.
We live and work on the lands of the Gunaikurnai and Bidewell and Monero people. We acknowledge the thousands of years of their ongoing custodianship of the land and pay respect to elders past and present.