Originally published on the The Age website
Two environmentalists who entered an East Gippsland logging coupe to document the destruction of rainforest have had charges against them dismissed.
The court decision is the final chapter on what has been a two-year saga for Ed Hill and Joe Henderson, whose actions led to the state government conceding it needed to bolster timber harvesting rules – but who were then charged on summons with illegally entering the logging zone.
A giant cut-tail ash tree logged and left behind on the edge of rainforest gully. Photo: Goongerah Environment Centre
Two conservationists from Goongerah Environment Centre (GECO) had charges dismissed in the Orbost Magistrates Court today. Ed Hill and Joe Henderson were prosecuted for entering a logging area where they documented and reported logging of protected rainforest in East Gippsland in April 2015.
Hill and Henderson submitted a report documenting the logging breach to the Department of Environment Land Water and Planning (DELWP). The DELWP investigation found a rainforest area that was consistent with the minimum requirements to trigger legal protection, had been subject to ‘unwarranted destruction’ by loggers under the control of VicForests. Despite this conclusion the Department decided not to take any regulatory action.
The W-Tree community near the Snowy river in East Gippsland, need your help to stop logging of the Basin Creek rainforest complex. This spectacular rainforest area is under threat from VicForests logging operations.
Click here to sign the petition to Victorian Environment Minister Lily D'Ambrosio and Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews calling on them to protect this stunning place from destructive clear fell logging.Read more
Over 100 people attended a snap vigil for Victoria's forest dependent threatened species on the steps of Victorian parliament house yesterday.
The vigil was called just four days ago in response the the Victorian and Federal government's decision to extend the East Gippsland Regional Forest Agreement (RFA).
The RFA exempts logging from complying with federal environment laws that protect threatened species. It has been a disaster for forest wildlife and it's extension is set to lock on more legally exempt destruction of critically important habitat.
Environment groups are raising concerns about the Victorian and federal governments decision to extend the East Gippsland Regional Forest Agreement (RFA).
The RFA is a 20 year agreement between state and federal governments that exempts logging from complying with Federal environment law. It was first signed in 1997 and expires today.
Logging is exempt from assessments under Federal law on the basis of state based logging regimes implementing measures to protect federally listed threatened species.
This week a coalition of 25 environment groups is urging Premier Daniel Andrews to abandon his plans to extend the legal exemption given to the native forest logging industry in East Gippsland.
The East Gippsland Regional Forest Agreement (RFA) is a 20-year arrangement between state and federal governments that gives special immunity to the logging industry from Federal environment laws - laws that should protect nationally listed threatened species.
Since the late 1990s the logging industry in Victoria has been exempt from adhering to federal environment laws that protect our nationally threatened wildlife.
Only native forest logging gets this special exemption known as a 'regional forest agreement' (RFA)
In February 2017 the East Gippsland RFA will expire.
It should not be extended.
Logging has been stopped for the second time in one week in the Goongerah forest block.
Last week VicForests were forced to stop logging at Mt. Jersey after GECO raised concerns with the state government about the threat logging posed to the endangered large brown tree frog and the unlawful nature of the operation that had commneced without a survey for protected species.
After exiting Mt. Jersey, VicForests moved into old growth forest on Yalmy rd in the Goongerah water catchment. This coupe is just 1.5kms from a recent detection of the endangered large brown tree frog and forms important habitat for a number of rare and threatened species. GECO conducted a survey of the creek lines and found several Endangered Orbost Spiny crayfish.
Logging has been stopped by the Department of Environment Land Water and Planning (DELWP) in forest near Goongerah.
The forest is habitat for the endangered large brown tree frog (Litoria littlejohni), a species thought to be extinct from Victoria until rediscovered by GECO volunteers last year. The frog is only know in Victoria from six recently recorded sites.
Goongerah Environment Centre (GECO) has sent a report to the state government detailing illegal logging at Mt. Jersey in East Gippsland. GECO are concerned that logging is impacting on habitat for the Endangered large brown tree frog and protected rainforest.
The large brown tree frog (Litoria littlejohni) was thought to be extinct from Victoria until ecologist and GECO volunteer Rena Gaborov heard it calling in two locations last year. It was the first time the frog had been heard or seen in over 15 years.
VicForests has placed boundary tapes marking out an area of endangered species habitat on Mt. Jersey, near Goongerah.
This area is a stronghold for the endangered Large Brown Tree-frog (Litoria littlejohni). The frog was thought to be possibly extinct from Victoria until last year GECO volunteer Rena Gaborov heard it calling in forest near Goongerah. It had not been seen or heard in Victoria for over 15 years.
The frog has only been recorded in six locations since its rediscovery last year. All of these new locations have been found, documented and reported by GECO volunteers. The state government have not conducted enough surveys to properly asses the very rare and cryptic frogs status.
The forest that VicForests plan to commence logging this week is just 550m from the site where GECO volunteers recorded the frog just two months ago.
Over fifty people converged in Goongerah this weekend for the ninth GECO citizen science survey camp. People from across Gippsland, Melbourne, Sydney and Canberra took part in old growth forest walks, forest carbon accounting surveys, remote fauna camera deployment and data collection, spotlighting surveys for greater gliders and rainforest mapping.
We had a busy time at our citizen science camp last weekend, surveying forests threatened by logging. We deployed five fauna cameras for endangered Spot-tailed Quolls and Long Footed Potoroos, surveyed for Greater Gliders and mapped areas of protected rainforest, all within VicForests scheduled logging coupes.
Goongerah Environment Centre (GECO) has been awarded the Bob Brown Foundation Community Environment Prize as part of Bob Brown’s annual Environmentalist of Year awards.
The awards recognise and encourage the commitment and courage of environmentalists in their pursuit of environmental protection, preservation and justice.
GECO campaigner Ed Hill joined Environmentalist of the Year, Peter Owen (The Wilderness Society South Australia), Young Environmentalist of the Year, Josh Creaser (350.org) at an awards ceremony in Hobart today.
“Goongerah Environment Centre (GECO) are local environmental heroes. Time after time, the authorities have failed to enforce their own laws designed to protect forests and their wildlife, and this brave band of activists have stepped in to ensure the law is upheld.”
“Thanks to GECO’s persistent and innovative campaigns, hundreds of hectares of habitat for threatened species like the Greater Glider and Long-footed potoroo have been saved from destruction.”
“Incredibly, GECO’s activists have been prosecuted for exposing illegal logging. We think they deserve accolades, so it’s a great pleasure to present them with the Community Environment Award for their courageous work”, Bob Brown said.
“GECO is honoured to have our community based citizen science work recognised on the national stage. It should not be left up to the community to ensure threatened species and rainforests are protected from logging, greater scrutiny of VicForests by the Andrews government is urgently needed,” said GECO spokesperson Ed Hill.
Goongerah Environment Centre (GECO) - 2016 Community Environment Prize
Goongerah Environment Centre Office (GECO) is a grass roots community group based in the small town of Goongerah in far East Gippsland, Victoria. GECO have been campaigning for protection of East Gippsland’s forests since 1993.
Using a variety of strategies including education and raising public awareness, political lobbying, non-violent direct action, citizen science and forest monitoring, GECO take action to protect high conservation value forests from logging.
Through their forest surveys and citizen science camps, GECO have been successful in stopping illegal logging in several East Gippsland forests.
The state-owned logging agency VicForests regularly breaches environmental laws by logging threatened species habitat and protected forest types. Through their Citizen Science Program, GECO takes action in the face of inadequate government regulation, collecting data on threatened species and ecological values that are protected by Victorian law but threatened by logging, reporting the results to the Victorian government.
GECO have undertaken surveys for species such as the endangered Long-footed Potoroo, Greater Glider and large forest owls in areas scheduled for logging. The program has protected habitat by creating reserves and stopped several unlawful logging operations.
GECO’s citizen science program was nominated as a finalist in the 2015 United Nations World Environment Day Awards.
Regular educational forest survey camps based in Goongerah are organized by GECO, with participants learning about forest ecology, logging threats and ecological survey skills.
Although DELWP are supposed to regulate VicForests logging operations, inadequate and irregular auditing of their operations means logging often occurs in breach of environmental laws. GECO audits logging areas for compliance to the law and searches for threatened species before logging occurs, they this provide information to DELWP in sophisticated scientific reports.
GECO campaigners are being prosecuted by the Victorian Government for exposing rainforest logging, charged with entering a logging area to document and expose logging of protected rainforest.
In March operations at Cabbage Tree Creek were stopped after GECO reported logging of rainforest buffers and several rare and protected slender tree-ferns. The operation remains under investigation by Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning (DELWP). This is the fifth rainforest logging operation GECO has reported to DELWP in 2016 that has been forced to a halt after GECO's survey efforts.
In 2016, GECO surveys have halted logging in four areas where protected Greater gliders were found on surveys. Since reporting the presence of large populations of protected Greater gliders, 500 hectares of forest on the Errinundra plateau has been saved with DELWP declaring they will now formally protect these areas that would have been logged if not for GECO's surveys.
While VicForests reported to the media that they protected habitat for nine threatened species in 2016 because of surveys they had conducted, it was in fact the incredible work of GECO and their surveys that halted the logging in these areas.
Ed Hill, GECO Forest Campaigner, is available for interview on 0414 199 645
Today is National Threatened Species Day, held each year to commemorate the tragic death of the last Tasmanian Tiger that died in captivity in Hobart in 1936.