The Age (article) June 29, 2010
The Victorian government's forestry arm will face a legal challenge over claims it illegally logged old-growth forest and increased the risk to a threatened species.
Sarah Rees at the base of an ancient mountain ash spared the chainsaw but killed during a clean-up fire near Toolangi. She says the present situation is an emergency. Photo: John Woudstra
Environmental groups accuse VicForests of felling dozens of pre-1900 ash eucalypts, breaching the Central Highlands Forest Management Plan.
An impending legal case will also claim the timber agency failed to protect habitats necessary for the survival of Victoria's threatened faunal emblem, Leadbeater's possum.
Ecologist Jacques Cop, from consultants Acacia Environmental Group, said a survey of just one coupe near Toolangi found 31 pre-1900 ash eucalypts had been logged. Five stumps were more three metres across.
''These are trees that are 200 or 300 years old,'' he said.
Mr Cop said the area should also have been protected as a Leadbeater's possum habitat as it met the threshold of having at least 12 hollowed trees within three hectares.
He said neither the state Department of Sustainability and Environment nor VicForests carried out ground surveys to check if ecological requirements were being met.
Sarah Rees, president of local group My Environment, said the situation was an emergency.
''If this doesn't stop we're going to lose the last viable habitat for a range of different species, but Leadbeater's possum carries the strongest case for legal protection,'' she said.
The state government said it took the allegations ''extremely seriously''.
Spokesman Michael Sinclair said VicForests would investigate the alleged breaches and report to the Department of Sustainability and Environment.
VicForests spokesman David Walsh said the agency carried out detail planning before harvesting to ensure it acted within the law and had offered to meet local residents to better understand their concerns.
''No old-growth forest is harvested by VicForests in Victoria's central highlands region,'' he said.
The legal case, being prepared on behalf of a group called the Flora and Fauna Research Collective, comes amid community concern about the scale of logging in the central highlands after the Black Saturday bushfires.
The Wilderness Society said that evidence supporting the latest claims showed illegal logging of native forests was rife under the state government's watch.
A separate allegation of illegal logging at Brown Mountain, in east Gippsland, is the subject of a pending Supreme Court judgment.
''Premier Brumby must act now to end VicForests' woodchip rampage in Victoria's magnificent native forests,'' said Wilderness Society spokesman Luke Chamberlain.