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Environment Department Takes Axe to Environment Protections

Nature conservation groups are alarmed at proposed changes to critical rules to protect forest wildlife and cultural heritage from logging.

The Code of Practice for Timber Production (the Code) is the key regulatory tool used to manage native forest logging in Victoria.

Proposed changes to the Code have been released for public comment by the state Environment Department—and they have set off alarm bells for conservationists.

These changes are a massive backwards step for protecting ecological and heritage values in our state forests.

You can call on the Environment Minister Lily D’Ambrosio to step in and send the review back to the drawing board.

What’s going on?

On the 5 September 2019, the Victorian Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning (the Department) released a draft of proposed amendments to the Code of Practice for Timber Production 2014 as “ … part of the Victorian Government’s current program of forest management reform”. The Department says it is just making minor, administrative changes—but that couldn’t be further from the truth. The consultation is formally open until 29 September, and is the first phase of a proposed two part reform process.

The second part is supposed to be a scientific review of the Code. It is not credible to propose to gut environment protections out of already weak and poorly enforced logging rules, then ‘scientifically review’ them after diminishing them.

The Minister needs to go back to the drawing board and reset the process to review, update and strengthen the Code.

Make a submission directly to the Environment Minister now, asking her to send this shambolic process back to the drawing board.

What is the Timber Production Code and what does it do?

The Timber Production Code is the main tool for regulating native forest logging. According to the Department—which is responsible for regulating native forest logging in public forests—the Code is the “primary instrument for regulating timber harvesting operations”.

Why is the Timber Production Code being changed?

The stated objective of this according to the consultation web site is because “The Victorian Government understands the importance Victorian communities place on protecting the environment and is taking action to strengthen the protection of forests and wildlife for the benefit all Victorians now and well into the future”.

However, the proposed changes weaken, rather than strengthen protections.

What is really happening?

In total, the proposed Code revision deletes more than 400 specific protection rules that currently apply to conserve Victoria’s threatened fauna, habitats, ecosystems, historic and recreation sites right across the landscape.

 Alarming changes include the removal of:

  • long-standing iconic Victorian environment protections such as requirements to reserve minimum areas of old-growth forest across regions
  • requirements to protect high quality habitat for key threatened wildlife such as Powerful, Sooty and Masked owls and Critically Endangered Leadbeater’s Possum
  • protections for endangered ecosystems
  • requirements for government to conserve habitat for threatened species and high conservation value areas on public land
  • historic and recreational site protections, including those that protect popular family campgrounds like Big River from logging—strictures on VicForests’ long-term planning
  • landscape scale threatened species and ecosystem protections.

It is deeply concerning that in the midst of a global extinction crisis, where more Victorian species are at risk of extinction and less old growth forest remains than at any point in recorded history, the Andrews Government would proceed with these changes.

Photo: Old growth wet forest in East Gippsland, the government are currently legally obligated to ensure 60% of the 1995 extent of old growth wet forest is placed in secure reserves, the proposed changes to the Code remove this requirement. 


What should happen now

Call on the Environment Minister Lily D’Ambrosio to step in and send the review back to the drawing board. The current process to amend the Code should be abandoned and reset. At a minimum, any Code changes should be delayed until proper discussion and consultation have been held about all the proposed amendments to the Code and other key pieces of regulation and legislation. Right now, the Department is consulting on some proposed changes, but not all, and it has little to no detail about how protections will remain in force, let alone be strengthened.

Make a submission directly to the Environment Minister now, asking her to send this shambolic process back to the drawing board. 

This summary was written by our friends at The Wilderness Society Victoria

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