17 August, 2011

Loggers, activists clash over forest

Adam Morton
The Age, August 17, 2011

CONSERVATIONISTS have held up timber workers in a fiercely contested area of native forest on Melbourne's fringe for nearly a month, chaining themselves to bulldozers and climbing trees scheduled for logging.

The protest, which has led to at least 10 arrests, is expected to reach a climax today as activists and local residents march into the logging coupe outside Toolangi in Victoria's central highlands.

Protest organisers claim they have evidence the coupe is home to the endangered Leadbeater's possum, which scientists say is under threat after Black Saturday bushfires wiped out up to half its habitat.

But the Department of Sustainability and Environment says there has been no sign of live possums.
Department spokeswoman Kim Payne said one tree in the coupe had hollows that showed evidence of possum use.

That tree would be left standing, but the coupe did not meet the legal criteria of prime possum habitat and could otherwise be logged.

Sarah Rees, director of Healesville-based group My Environment, said it was cruel to think a possum could be protected by retaining a single tree while taking away the forest around it.

She said logging was hurting central highlands communities.

''Tourism based on the state forest is far more important to the local economy than forestry and the two cannot co-exist,'' she said.

The conflict over the Toolangi State Forest was the focus of a public meeting in the area late last week when logging opponents verbally clashed with forestry workers, who accused the activists of restraint of trade. One contractor said he had lost about $80,000 due to the protests.

David Walsh, spokesman for state commercial timber agency VicForests, said the Toolangi protests had cost forest workers significant time.

Only about a quarter of the 19-hectare coupe had been harvested. He said gates raised to ensure public safety had been damaged. ''VicForests believes these are legal harvesting operations which comply with the detailed legislative framework governing native timber harvesting in Victoria,'' he said.

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