03 November, 2011

New state law in the pipeline to aid loggers

Tom Arup
The Age, November 3, 2011

LOGGERS can seek exemptions from state environment laws protecting endangered species under proposed changes quietly released by the state government.

The proposed amendments to the code for timber production - outlined in a document posted on a government website - hands power to the Secretary of the Department of Sustainability and Environment.

The secretary would be able to exempt a logging project from the requirements of the Flora and Fauna Guarantee Act, which protects the state's endangered and threatened species.

The government has so far released nothing on the proposed changes, but a spokeswoman said last night that there would be sufficient time for public comments on the proposed changes, due February.

The proposed changes follow a landmark ruling in the Supreme Court last year banning VicForests from logging old-growth forest at Brown Mountain in East Gippsland, after an endangered long-footed potoroo was filmed in an area to be felled.

The change will mean proponents of a new logging coupe can make applications to the secretary for exemption.

The secretary will consider, among other things, the numbers required to maintain a viable population of a listed species in the area to be logged, and the amount of habitat near the proposed coupe already protected in national parks.

"Variations to the Code of Practice for Timber Production 2007 are proposed to improve the certainty of timber supply to Victoria's native forest timber industry," the document, dated October 26, states.

"The objective of the variations is to achieve a better balance between the protection of threatened species and sustainable timber production from public native forests."

Wilderness Society campaigner Luke Chamberlain said this was "a sneaky move" by the government to exempt logging from endangered species legislation, and would "betray Victoria's unique wildlife to the chainsaws".

"It puts us on a par with governance of logging practices in Indonesia," he said. "This is world's worst practice of lawless logging."

The Age first revealed in August potential changes to the way endangered species are looked after in Victoria.

At the time, the spokeswoman for Environment Minister Ryan Smith said the Flora and Fauna Guarantee Act was currently not under review.

The government reserved the right to review legislation to ensure that it was current, and fit for the purpose, she said.

Yesterday, the spokeswoman said the changes were to the timber code, which fit under the Conservation, Forests and Lands Act, which was not a legislative instrument.

That was contradicted at the time by parliamentary secretary for forestry, Gary Blackwood, who said the government intended to "revisit or review" the way the law applied to the management of threatened species.

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