The Victorian Government’s daft “fuzzy map” excuse for VicForests logging outside its allocated forest area could mean that all VicForests’ logging in the past five years may be unlawful.
The Andrews Labor Government told the ABC, which broke the story of the illegal logging,[i] that it’s not possible to tell whether its own logging agency, VicForests, is compliant with the law due to a fuzzy map.
The Victorian environment department, which is responsible for regulating logging, is trying to claim that the fuzzy map in the appendix of the Allocation Order must be relied on for evidentiary purposes to the standard required for criminal prosecution, whilst at the same time is stating that the scale and resolution of that map precludes the ability to determine whether logging has occurred or is occurring only within the boundaries of the Allocation Order, which is the contract by which the state transfers timber from the Crown to VicForests. When VicForests logs outside the boundaries set out in the Allocation Order, VicForests is logging and selling timber that has not been vested to it.
Danya Jacobs, Lawyer for Environmental Justice Australia, said: “The allocation order cannot legally grant timber to VicForests if it doesn’t identify where that timber is. If the Department is right that the map in the order is too poor to know whether any given logging operation is taking allocated timber or not, then it raises the prospect that the order has not effectively granted VicForests property in any timber at all. The result being that VicForests logging operations may have been unlawful everywhere since 2013.”
Ed Hill, Forest Campaigner with Friends of the Earth, said: “The logging regulator, the Environment Department, doesn’t know if it’s Arthur or Martha. This latest mapping excuse from the department further demonstrates that when it comes to enforcement, the department has neither the fortitude nor capability to ensure VicForests complies with the law.
“The environment department has consistently failed in its role as the regulator of VicForests. This is why there is an independent expert panel review its capability and capacity to effectively regulate VicForests and the adequacies of its prosecution policies, procedures and practices.”
Wilderness Society Victorian Campaigns Manager Amelia Young said: “If this Environment Department was in charge of land titles, you could claim half your neighbour’s property and say the map was too fuzzy to prove otherwise. If this government is using fuzzy PDF maps to build the Metro Tunnel, it could come out in the middle of the Yarra.
“If the government can’t say whether or not VicForests is logging inside or outside the Allocation Order anywhere across eastern Victoria — which is the effect of its statement — then how can Victorians, or the markets, be confident that any of VicForests logging conducted under this Allocation Order since 2013, is above board?”
VicForests sells wood from Victoria’s native forests to Nippon-owned paper manufacturer, Australian Paper, which manufactures brands including Reflex products. VicForests wood products are also sold by retail giants Officeworks and Bunnings.
Ms Young said: “There are serious questions over VicForests’ ability to responsibly and sustainably manage Victoria’s native forests.
“In a few days we’ll have a new Victorian government. VicForests may not be not best placed to manage Victoria’s publicly owned native forests. VicForests must stop logging in all high environmental value forests immediately.”
Ms Jacobs said: “These are clearly deep problems. There is a crisis with forest regulation in Victoria, which is paralleled by the crisis in the ecology of the forests themselves. Mountain Ash forests are listed as Critically Endangered under international criteria, and yet our regulatory system permits logging to continue in that forest. We are seeing species dependant on these forests uplisted to Critically Endangered, and species that were once common are now rare and threatened.
“Now, we find out that VicForests appears to have been logging timber that doesn’t belong to it and the government’s response is effectively that it’s not sure what forest it has handed over to VicForests. This issue is in desperate need of leadership from government.”
For further comment contact:
Friends of the Earth Forest Campaigner Ed Hill on 0414 199 645
Wilderness Society Victoria Campaign Manager Amelia Young on 0404 074 577
For more information, contact Wilderness Society media adviser Alex Tibbitts on 0416 420 168