We want to say a huge THANK YOU to all the people who wrote to politicians, made submissions, donated, signed petitions, and shared our posts. Thanks to you we’ve had some important wins, and we’re gearing up for another year of campaigning for permanent protection of East Gippsland’s forests.
Here’s a recap of what’s happened over the last year;
LANDMARK OLD GROWTH FORESTS COURT CASE
Early in the year our friends from Fauna and Flora Research Collective (FFRC) - represented by Environmental Justice Australia - took the Environment Department and VicForests to the Supreme Court. The Victorian government has failed to protect the minimum area of old-growth forest required by law across East Gippsland (60% of old growth wet and damp forest). While FFRC are still waiting for a ruling, the case is the only thing stopping the bulldozers from going into precious old growth forests in East Gippsland. With the fate of old growth forests being left to the whim of VicForests, and new areas of old growth being put on the chopping block, the case is critical in holding the government accountable to the law, and their commitment to protect all old growth forests. The Environment department have reopened the case and there will be more court dates next year, click here to donate to the FFRC legal fund.
Old growth forests subject to the case, still under threat from logging
DAMNING INDEPENDENT REVIEW OF LOGGING REGULATION SLAMS ENVIRONMENT DEPARTMENT
After years of work by GECO and other community groups highlighting the ineffective and incompetent regulatory practices of the Department of Environment Land Water and Planning (DELWP), in 2018 Minister D'Ambrosio announced an independent review of DELWP's capability and capacity to regulate logging. The review was triggered by DELWP's bungled prosecution of VicForests for illegal rainforest logging that was reported by GECO. The prosecution was thrown out of court because the department failed to fill in the charge sheet correctly.
The independent review was released in March 2019. It was damning to say the least. The review concluded the department was not regulating at all. They had no clear compliance or enforcement policies or procedures, the department was unclear about its role as a regulator, VicForests had no clear understanding of the departments role as a regulator and the timber harvesting compliance unit has “neither the capability or capacity to achieve its objectives”.
LOGGING STOPS IN LABOR’S SEA TO SUMMIT WALK
Earlier in the year GECO exposed logging plans along the proposed ‘Sea to Summit’ walk. We developed the walking trail concept as part of the Emerald Link proposal that seeks to protect Australia's last remaining alpine to coastal forest. The Victorian Labor government committed to planning and establishing the trail just before the 2018 election, but logging continued along the proposed route.
The Labor government were going to let VicForests turn the trail into a destruction tour of East Gippsland. However, most of the planned logging areas were taken off the logging list and included in the protected areas announced by the government in November this year. The government now needs to commence a process to formally protect these areas to ensure their permanent protection. Read the Age coverage here.
GLIDING TOWARDS EXTINCTION REPORT
In June we published a report documenting logging of more than 600 hectares of Greater Glider habitat that had occurred since the species was listed as vulnerable under Victorian legislation in June 2017. The Age covered the report findings here. Our report highlights how government inaction and failing environmental laws are having dire consequences for forest dependent threatened species in Victoria.
The Victorian government has now released a long awaited action statement for the Greater Glider, but high quality habitat will still be logged under new rules that require lower intensity logging where 5 or more Greater Gliders are found. This has the potential to weaken existing protections in East Gippsland which currently result in a 100ha protection zone where ten or more gliders are found in 1 km.
GECO has secured important protections for hundreds of hectares of high-quality Greater Glider habitat by holding VicForests accountable to these protections. If the new protections in the action statement replace the current rules, protections for the Greater Glider in East Gippsland will be significantly weakened, despite the fact the species is rapidly declining. We're going to keep campaigning for strengthened protections for the glider, which are crucial to ensuring the species survives.
PLANS TO GUT ENVIRONMENT LAWS ABANDONED
The Environment Department’s plan to remove more than 400 specific protection rules from the logging Code of Practice resulted in thousands of people emailing the Minister. At a time when environmental protection rules need to be strengthened the Environment Department were taking the axe to protections to allow more logging in sensitive areas. After much public outrage Minister D'Ambrosio withdrew the review and took it back to the drawing board. The proposed changes were scrapped because we made our voices heard. The Code will likely be reviewed next year, and we'll be making sure environmental laws are strengthened, not weakened.
VICFORESTS’ CRIMINAL ACTIVITIES EXPOSED!
VicForests’ are under fire once again for a string of illegal activity. In November 2018 our research exposed widespread illegal logging by VicForests in areas they that had not been allocated to them for logging. Legal experts described the logging as 'tantamount to stealing'.
In December 2019 the ABC revealed that despite an official investigation and a change to the law to stop it from happening in the future, VicForests has again issued plans that include areas outside its allocations.
Despite an official government investigation finding that VicForest had logged several areas that were outside its allocations and this was illegal, the environment department concluded it was unable to prosecute the loggers, because of the poor quality of maps included in the legislation. But documents obtained by the ABC under freedom of information laws show VicForests was using high-resolution maps provided by the Government, which clearly outlined the area it was allowed to log.
An independent review into the Environment Department early this year found their regulatory capacity to be weak and ineffective. It seems like nothing has changed as they continue to bend over backwards to protect the interests of the logging industry. On-going cases of illegal logging, rainforest breaches, and logging of threatened plants and animal species result in VicForests barely getting a slap on the wrist.
IMMEDIATE PROTECTION AREAS ANNOUNCED
In November the government announced their plans to end all native forest logging by 2030 and the protection of some important areas of forests in 'immediate protection areas'. In East Gippsland the immediate protection areas cover about 48,500 hectares.
New expanded protections for the Kuark forest and areas along the route of the planned 'Sea to Summit' trail were announced. New protections for significant stand of old growth forest adjacent to the Snowy River National Park were also committed to. Forests within the Bemm River rainforest site of significance were also protected. GECO has been campaigning to establish a continuous network of protected forests from the alps to the coast called the Emerald Link. The addition of protected areas to the south of Errinundra National Park, form a link from the Errinundra plateau to the Croajingalong coast and are a positive step towards making the Emerald Link concept a reality.
The government is yet to articulate a plan for how the 'Immediate Protection Areas' will be formally protected. They urgently need to announce a process to secure formal protection for these areas by expanding national parks or creating secure forest reserves that will permanently protect these forests.
Important forests to the north and east of the Errinundra plateau remain open to logging and this is of great concern, we will continue to advocate for formal protection of these areas.
Ancient forest in Kuark now protected
OLD GROWTH FORESTS CONTINUE TO BE LOGGED
In November government announced the immediate protection of 90,000ha of mapped old growth forests, but we haven’t heard a word from them about how this will be implemented. Old growth forests in East Gippsland are still being logged right now by government logging agency VicForests using a dodgy field tool to arbitrarily determine what is and isn't old growth. The Guardian has reported on the continued logging of old growth here.
Old growth forests are on the schedule to be logged this summer, with new logging plans released AFTER the announcement that all old growth forests will be protected. Take action here and call on the government to keep their promise and actually protect old growth forest.
The Environment Department is leaving VicForests in charge of finding and protecting old growth using a disastrous field tool, which doesn't work!
Submissions for the verification tool close on January 10 2020, over a thousand people have already taken part in emailing and writing to the Department denouncing the ineffective and dodgy tool.
We will continue working to keep the government accountable to their promise.
STEPS TO FORMALLY PROTECT KUARK FOREST
In March 2018 Minister D'Ambrosio announced immediate protection for 2,500 hectares of the Kuark forest. This included some very significant stands of old growth forest. We have been lobbying and campaigning for the government to formally protect the Kuark area by expanding Errinundra National Park and in November this year Minister D'Ambrosio introduced legislation into Parliament to this!
This is positive step to securing permanent protection for these areas and a very significant win for our campaign. It is now very important that the government introduce similar legislation that will formally protect the recently announced 'Immediate Protection Areas' by adding them to national parks or secure conservation reserves.
Old growth forest in the Goongerah area on Yalmy road, now protected
VICFORESTS THIRD TRY FOR THE FSC GREEN TICK
In the weeks leading up to the Forest Stewardship Council audit, report, after report, after report was submitted of damning evidence that there’s no way VicForests should get the green tick. GECO took the auditor’s to an important area of ancient old growth forest in Granite Mountain that was being logged. The audit result should come out in a few months, meanwhile Officeworks and Bunnings won’t be stocking any products that aren’t FSC certified by December 2020, but they should ditch VicForests now given their appalling track record of illegal logging. Over 80% of Victoria’s forests end up pulped for Reflex Paper, and this has been locked in until the contracts between the government and Australian Paper end in 2030, coinciding with the governments plan to phase out native forest logging.
Ancient old growth forest in Granite Mountain logged by VicForests
THE YEAR AHEAD
It’s been an incredible year with some important wins for East Gippsland’s forests, and we couldn’t have done it without you. But the fight is far from over. With the Regional Forests Agreements expiring in March, old growth forests still on the chopping block, important Glider habitat still being logged for paper, and ongoing reviews of environment laws, we’re gearing up for another jam-packed year of campaigning and hope you'll join us. There will be heaps of ways to get involved.
Thanks again for your support, see you in the new year!
GECO acknowledges the traditional owners of so-called East Gippsland, the Gunaikurnai and Bidewell and Monero people. We pay respect to the thousands of years of their ongoing custodianship of the land. Sovereignty was never ceded. Always was always will be Aboriginal land.