16 December, 2015

MEDIA RELEASE: VicForests facing legal action again


VicForests facing legal action again 

The state government owned logging company VicForests, is in the legal crosshairs of environmentalists yet again.  Lawyers acting on behalf of Environment East Gippsland have this week formally requested an explanation as to why a rich habitat site suited for rare forest-dependent wildlife was not surveyed before logging commenced last week.

“We believe this is a strong case of non-compliance with the law”, said EEG’s Jill Redwood. “This beautiful stand of wet forest contains old growth trees, rainforest and many habitat traits essential for rare and threatened wildlife. It should have been surveyed.”

“We won our Brown Mountain case in 2010 when VicForests logged without checking for the presence of rare native animals.  It seems they haven’t learnt.”

“To make things worse, rainforest in this area has not been protected from logging.  As far as we are aware, VicForests has already logged unlawfully within the protected rainforest buffer.”

The forest is part of the St Patrick's River catchment south west of Goolengook and NE of Orbost.

“EEG has had concerns for a number of years that VicForests has been making its own decisions on where to survey based more on its commercial interests rather than actual concern for protecting old growth habitat and rare native animals.”

“More areas of high quality habitat are planned for imminent logging and we believe they have also been overlooked for surveying. The less they find, the more they can cut down.

“We’ve told the Andrews Government about these issues and hope it will pull VicForests into line, but we haven’t had any indication yet that they plan to take action”

For comment:  Jill Redwood    (03) 5154  0145

15 December, 2015

MEDIA RELEASE: Protest halts vicforests illegal logging operation

MEDIA RELEASE – 15/12/2015

Conservationists from Goongerah Environment Centre (GECO) have halted logging operations in high conservation value forest on the St Patrick’s River in East Gippsland today due to multiple breaches of the law.

A person is positioned in a tree platform 30m off the ground. The platform is tied off to logging machinery which is preventing logging operations from continuing.

GECO believes the logging is illegal.  VicForests has failed to carry out necessary pre logging surveys for threatened wildlife, which it is legally obligated to do. Logging has also illegally impacted upon a large stand of protected rainforest.

“The Minister was alerted to these breaches last week but as logging continues we’ve taken direct action to prevent further destruction of wildlife habitat and rainforest,’ said Ed Hill.

Three threatened/protected species have been recorded close to the area; Yellow-bellied Glider, Sooty Owl and the endangered Long-footed Potoroo.  The forest is also rich in old trees with hollows – an indication that other rare and protected wildlife could be supported in this forest,” said Ed Hill.

“Many stands of forest with high quality habitat for threatened wildlife are listed by VicForests as being currently logged or about to be logged and appear to have no surveys associated with them.  These may also be illegal operations.”

“After a controversial rainforest logging operation was exposed by GECO earlier this year, Environment Minister Lisa Neville MP ordered her department to conduct ‘spot checks’ on VicForests’ logging operations in rainforest areas.  This should have ensured rainforests are protected”, said Ed Hill

“Instead we see repeated and blatant contempt of clearly worded laws which should see VicForests charged, as any of us would be for destruction of protected rainforest,” said Ed Hill.

“As the Minister responsible Lisa Neville must act to immediately halt the logging in this coupe and order a full investigation into the suitability of VicForests as a manager of public property,” said Ed Hill.

High resolution images and video available from 10am

Media contact: Ed Hill  (03) 5154 0109 or 0414199645

email: geco.media@gmail.com ,  website: www.geco.org.au

18 November, 2015

Our distorted values

Kath Angus, Thornbury
The Age, letter, 18 Nov 2015

That the proposed Great Forest National Park is in question because VicForests has made long-term logging contracts tells us nothing about the industry's viability or even the need for its existence (The Age, 17/11). It simply tells us our value system is so distorted we would rather  release ever more carbon into the atmosphere and watch species go extinct than break a contract and pay a fee. Chopping down trees simply because we said we would is madness.

16 November, 2015

Great Forest National Park needed now

Peter Campbell
Letter to editor, The Age (not yet published), 16/11/15

VicForests signing expensive and dubious logging contracts (Age 16/11) just before the change of government in 2014 highlights the urgent need for the Great Forest National Park.

VicForests lacks the social licence for continued logging of our native forests and ongoing destruction of Leadbeaters possum and other threatened species forest habitat. Species extinction and ecosystem collapse are not acceptable.

The declining availability of wood resource from native forests, consumer avoidance of timber and paper produced from it, paltry revenue and debts owed equates to the upcoming cessation of native forest logging.

There are few jobs involved now that whole logs are exported to China.

The future lies in transitioning the logging industry to sustainable plantations and recycled fibre - this will be good for jobs and good for the environment.

Nine out of ten Victorians support the immediate creation of Great Forest National Park during the term of current government. We now just need the political will to do so.

15 November, 2015

Leadbeater's possum national park plans dealt a blow

Josh Gordon, State Political Editor
The Age, November 15, 2015

The Leadbeater's possum is believed to be perilously close to extinction. Photo: Justin McManus

A plan for a new national park to protect the endangered Leadbeater's possum has been dealt a blow with revelations VicForests locked in millions of dollars worth of new logging contracts.

State Labor ducked a proposal to create a Great Forest national park stretching from Kinglake to Mt Baw Baw and north-east up to Eildon in the recent state election, instead announcing a taskforce made up of environment groups, scientists, the union and the forestry industry.

The decision to set up the taskforce to strike a "consensus" followed pressure during the campaign from the Construction, Forestry, Mining and and Energy Union, which had threatened to campaign against Labor on concerns that ending logging in the area would threaten Gippsland jobs.

Environment Minister Lisa Neville earlier this year said she believed the park would be created this term, with a commitment to protect logging industry jobs. Conservations and scientists – including Sir David Attenborough – have long argued that the park is needed to protect the possum, which is believed to be perilously close to extinction.

But VicForests' latest annual report, tabled in Parliament last week, suggests ending logging before the 2018 election could be difficult. The report shows VicForests negotiated various contracts to harvest and haul 900,000 cubic  metres of wood a year for the next three or four years.

It said the agreements – which could cost more than $50 million a year assuming current harvest and haulage costs – had the potential to be extended, "providing the greatest level of security that contractors have had since 2009".

News of the new deals has left the state government struggling to explain how a national park might be created into the near future. A government spokeswoman said the annual report confirmed the finalisation of the timber allocation process that began in late 2012, under the previous government.
But in a potentially controversial decision, Labor confirmed it would not financially back any new long-term timber deals until the taskforce has delivered its findings.

"The Labor government has determined that we will not indemnify any new long-term timber sales agreements until the deliberations of the industry taskforce are completed and the government has received its recommendations," the spokeswoman said.

"The taskforce involves government, industry and science working together to reach common ground on the issues facing the industry, such as job protection, economic activity and protection of our unique native flora, fauna and threatened species such as the Leadbeater's possum."

The annual report also showed VicForests returned a $4.7 million   profit last financial year, the third in a row, with a dividend of $1.5 million expected to be paid to the state. VicForests chief executive Robert Green said the industry contributed hundreds of millions of dollars to the economy a year.

"Our revenue from timber sales is up on last year and VicForests alone has injected more than $85 million into regional economies through contracts with local businesses and wages," Mr Green said.
The report also confirmed VicForests started exporting low-grade logs, with approximately 3600 cubic tonnes sent overseas, most likely to China.

27 October, 2015

Environment group to go to police over 'recklessly provocative' behaviour by logging supporters

ABC News (Australian Broadcasting Corporation), 27 Oct 2015

PHOTO: The giant log, estimated to be hundreds of years old, was cut down in contravention with forest regulations. (Facebook)
An environment group called Knitting Nannas of Toolangi is taking a complaint of intimidation to police after a logging truck drove past one of their gatherings at an "unacceptably high speed" last week, north of Melbourne.

When members of the group posted photos of the truck on Facebook, it sparked a torrent of abuse from pro-logging advocates, including a photo of giant tree on the back of a logging truck.

The log, believed to be four or five metres in circumference and hundreds of years old, had "hug this" painted on it, a reference to the term "tree huggers" which is often used to describe environmental campaigners.

The photo sparked outrage amongst environmental campaigners.

A spokeswoman for the group, who have campaigned against the logging of environmentally sensitive logging coupes in the area, said the photo showed a "lack of respect" for anyone who opposed logging.

The spokeswoman asked not to be named because of fear of reprisals.

She said the group was formed to stop intimidation from pro-logging groups.

"We're now being subjected to the same treatment," she said.

Loggers 'giving the finger'

Members of the Knitting Nannas said they were taking their complaint to police in hope the intimidation would stop.

Jill Redwood from another group, Environment East Gippsland, said it was the loggers "giving the finger" to environmental groups.

"It was recklessly provocative and shows total contempt for community values and the concerns about our forests," she said.

"It was put up the same day I and two other groups were meeting with department [Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning] to start process of working out giant tree prescriptions [to protect them]," she said.

Loggers are not supposed to cut down any tree over nine metres in circumference.

Nathan Trushell, of VicForests, the state-owned business responsible for logging, said it does not "condone this type of behaviour."

"We are following up with the contractor concerned to address the issue," he said in a statement.

"Our contractors are very responsible in the way the conduct themselves but this was a clear error in judgement from the individual involved.

"We apologise to anyone who was offended by the photo."

23 October, 2015

New colonies of Leadbeater's possum discovered in logging forests

Tom Arup, Environment Editor
Sydney Morning Herald, October 23, 2015

The politically sensitive and critically endangered Leadbeater's possum, which is also happens to be Victoria's animal emblem, is again proving a challenge with the discovery of dozens of new colonies in forests on Melbourne's northern doorstep that are open to logging.

In recent months government and community surveys have found 71 new colonies of Leadbeater's possum in the central highland forests.

That has prompted dozens of new 200-metre logging exclusion zones to be established across the patches of forest in the state's central highlands where the possum populations are being discovered.

A Leadbeater's possum at Healesville sanctuary. New wild colonies of the species have been found in state and national parks. Photo: Joe Armao

The new colony finds are documented in a progress report on state government efforts to protect the possum, which were first launched by the Napthine government (in conjunction with the timber industry and Zoos Victoria) after community and scientific concern for the creature's fate reached fever pitch.

The plan's goal is to find 200 new Leadbeater's colonies in state forest within two years. In April the Andrews government announced it was going to speed up the surveying program.

By September, 71 new colonies had been discovered. And a further 45 new colonies were also found in national parks, which already exclude timber harvesting.

Environment Minister Lisa Neville said the discovery of 116 colonies across state and national parks was "encouraging" and it was pleasing to see progress made "though a collaborative effort across government and with the community".

But Sarah Rees, from the green group MyEnvironment, said new discoveries were well short of the target and "deeply concerning".

"They have looked everywhere, like our teams," she said.

"We are now seeing most of the remnant possums in logging zones and this is what scientists and survey teams have been saying for years."

A spokesman for the state-owned timber company, VicForests. said it was "incredibly positive" to see more than 100 new detections of a critically endangered species and survey work was continuing with areas being protected to ensure harvesting did not impact on possum colonies.

The report says 188 protection zones have now been put in place to protect the newly found colonies, along with another 283 that were already known.

But scientists from the Australian National University have previously criticised the 200-metre protection areas as too small to be effective, arguing they need to be one kilometre to ensure the animal's safety.

The government's progress report also says that logging has been delayed in areas where there is a 65 per cent chance of the species living there, meaning harvesting of 14,800 hectares of forest has been deferred for two years to allow more surveys to take place.

The report also monitored whether Leadbeater's possums were nesting in artificial hollows that have been created, which replicate their natural habitat in old trees, finding about 25 per cent were being used.

It is still unclear how many possums the newly discovered colonies contain.  And there is significant debate about how many Leadbeater's possums still live in the wild overall, with different estimates ranging below 2000 to as high as 11,000.

But the decline of the species due to bushfires and logging pressures prompted federal Environment Minister Greg Hunt to this year boost its threatened species status to critically endangered, which is one step before extinction.