On Thursday this week VicForests will appear in the Orbost Magistrates court facing charges for logging protected rainforest in East Gippsland.
The environmental regulator of the logging industry (Department of Environment Land Water and Planning or DELWP) laid the charges after community groups GECO and Fauna and Flora Research Collective reported a logging operation that had unlawfully impacted on warm temperate rainforest near Cann river in April 2016.
It may seem like a pretty straightforward process for the regulator to prosecute VicForests when logging occurs in breach of the law, but DELWP has shown a systemic failure to enforce environmental laws. This is just the second time ever that DELWP has prosecuted VicForests, despite dozens of breaches to the logging code.
In 2009 the community reported 8 hectares of protected rainforest had been illegally logged at Murrongower in the Kuark forest.
The environment department charged VicForests, but before the case went to trial a settlement was reached. This resulted in VicForests walking away after agreeing to produce a rainforest field identification manual for their staff. They never appeared in court.
In the years proceeding the court action protected rainforest continued to be logged as VicForests consistently failed to apply protection buffers, as required by the Code of Practice. Their rainforest manual must have been hard to follow for staff.
The current court action concerns logging in the "Take me home" coupe, near Cann River. Read our rainforest logging report here.
Forest that was required to be set aside as a buffer for protected warm temperate rainforest was blatantly logged in breach of the regulations. In some instances not only had the required 40m buffer not been applied but logging had actually encroached into the rainforest itself.
The impact on the rainforest was obvious and shocking.
Logging of a rainforest stream in the 'Take me home' coupe
Logging within the required rainforest buffer
DELWPs failure to carry out their obligations as the environmental regulator and enforce the rainforest protections laws has led to a culture of rainforest logging in East Gippsland.
In the absence of regulatory accountability breaches to rainforest protections have become common place. VicForests goes from one logging coupe where rainforest is logged, to another logging coupe and does it all again. There seems to be little regard for the consequences because without appropriate regulation and scrutiny there has been none.
The 'Take me home' coupe was one of four high profile rainforest logging breaches that we had been calling on the government to prosecute VicForests for.
After sitting on their hands for nearly two years and taking no action, Fairfax media exposed their inaction in this Sunday Age story revealing years of government inaction to clamp down on illegal rainforest logging.
Nearly one week later the government announced it would prosecute VicForests for one of the four breaches that The Sunday Age story had focused on.
We're hopeful that the prosecution represents a new approach to regulation by DELWP. We expect they will follow thorough with this prosecution and ensure that VicForests are penalized appropriately.
The time has come for Environment Minister Lily D'Ambrosio to restore public confidence in the environmental regulator DELWP and ensure that those responsible for logging breaches are held to account.
The case is listed in Orbost magistrates court on Thursday May 17th.
Rainforest in 'Webbed Feet' coupe in the Kuark forest that would have been logged if GECO had not reported it.