11 August, 2010

Environmentalists hail court win

Michelle Draper
The Age (article), August 11, 2010



Logging in an environmentally significant old growth forest in Victoria will remain banned until the state government implements a host of measures to protect endangered species.

Victoria's Supreme Court has upheld the ban preventing logging at Brown Mountain in the state's far east under an injunction, while a number of surveys on endangered wildlife are carried out.

In a decision hailed as a victory by environmentalists, Justice Robert Osborn also ordered special protection zones and "habitat retention" areas be created at Brown Mountain, north of Orbost in East Gippsland before logging can start.

Anti-logging campaigners Environment East Gippsland took action in the Supreme Court last year to stop the state-owned timber agency VicForests logging at Brown Mountain.

Logging was due to start at the site last September but it was halted until the outcome of the Supreme Court trial, which took place in March.

In a pivotal point for the environmentalists' case, video footage of an endangered long-footed potoroo was captured at the site and formed a key piece of evidence in the trial.

The decision will benefit several threatened and rare species including the potoroo, greater gliders and yellow-bellied gliders, the spot-tailed quoll and two species of endangered frogs, the giant burrowing frog and the large brown tree frog.

Wednesday's decision means VicForests will be legally obliged to take further action to protect endangered species, along with the Department of Sustainability and Environment, before logging can take place.

Unless VicForests complies with the requirements to establish the special protection zones and habitat retention areas, logging at Brown Mountain would be illegal, Justice Osborn said.

Greens leader Bob Brown labelled the ruling a "breakthrough".

"This is breakthrough territory for this whole nation," Senator Brown told reporters outside the court.

"It is now up to the legislators in Melbourne and in Canberra to follow through and not leave it to the courts but to represent the people of Australia by legislation with teeth in it to protect our forests and our wildlife."

Environment East Gippsland spokeswoman Jill Redwood hailed the decision as a win and said it sent a strong message to the DSE and VicForests.

"This is a huge win for not just Brown Mountain, that's just the tip of the iceberg, but old growth forests right across the state," Ms Redwood said.

Ms Redwood said the decision was significant because pre-logging surveys had not been required previously.

She said if the surveys ordered by Justice Osborn were carried out correctly then endangered species would certainly be uncovered in the logging areas.

Justice Osborn ordered habitat retention areas be created for potoroos found at the logging site while special protection zones should be established for the gliders and further surveys for the frogs.

"In order to give effect to these conclusions VicForests should be restrained by injunction from harvesting until the relevant steps have been completed," Justice Osborn said.

Reviews of management areas that are currently under way for powerful owls and sooty owls should also be completed, he said.

VicForests director of strategy Nathan Trushell said the organisation wanted time to digest the 232-page judgment.

"Clearly the injunction remains until a number of conditions that need to be met to the satisfaction of the Department of Sustainability and Environment are met," he told reporters.

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