15 December, 2011

Logging stoush heads to court

Adam Morton
The Age, December 15, 2011

VicForests have been accused of logging a protected site of significance for rainforests. Photo: Rob Homer

VICTORIA'S newly empowered state-owned timber agency is facing a legal writ over claims it is illegally logging protected stands of rainforest in the state's far east.

Conservation group Environment East Gippsland has filed a writ in the Supreme Court accusing VicForests of logging a protected site of significance for rainforests. VicForests is contesting the claim, and has given the court an undertaking it will not log the disputed area before a hearing on Tuesday.

The writ comes a day after the Baillieu government released a plan that significantly expanded VicForests' authority.

In a short hearing yesterday, Environment East Gippsland submitted government maps showing the area was protected as a site of national importance.

VicForests told the court it accepted that the maps were from a government website, but said they were out of date. It said a review of the boundaries had moved the border of the protected area. The Department of Sustainability and Environment backed VicForests' statement. ''The northern boundary of the site has not been updated in the biodiversity interactive maps available on the [department] website. This is being corrected,'' spokeswoman Brigid Ennis said.

Environment East Gippsland secretary Liz Ingham said the explanation was ''suspiciously convenient''.

A spokeswoman for Agriculture Minister Peter Walsh said the court would determine whether the action against VicForests was warranted. ''It is unfortunate that in the court of public opinion VicForests is rarely granted the presumption of innocence,'' spokeswoman Stephanie Ryan said.

The latest court challenge to the timber industry follows days of protests holding up workers in the disputed area. Environment East Gippsland last year won an indefinite injunction over logging about 100 hectares of native forest at Brown Mountain, near Orbost, after its campaigners showed that it was home to endangered species.

Mr Walsh this week released a timber industry plan designed to guarantee a long-term future for the native forest industry, including boosting the length of timber contracts from five to 20 years. VicForests was given sole responsibility for calculating how much timber can be sustainably harvested. It will be monitored and audited by the Department of Sustainability and Environment.

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