22 September, 2014

Environmentalists sue over threat to owls

Bridie Smith, Science Editor
The Age, September 22, 2014

Vulnerable ... the powerful owl. Photo: Simon O'Dwyer
Environmentalists are suing the state government for failing to look after three threatened species of owl found in key logging areas of Gippsland.

Green group Environment East Gippsland launched the legal action in the Supreme Court on Monday, alleging the Department of Environment and Primary Industries and VicForests had failed to set aside areas in the Gippsland Forest to protect the powerful, sooty and masked owls.

Environment East Gippsland co-ordinator Jill Redwood said the Goongerah-Deddick fires in January and February this year burnt 170,000 hectares of forest. Legally, the government was required to review and secure replacement forest areas considered as suitable habitat for the owls, she said.

A four-year-old masked owl. The species is listed as endangered. Photo: Sandy Scheltema
The powerful and sooty owls are listed as vulnerable and the masked owl as endangered, according to Victoria's Flora and Fauna Guarantee Act 1988.

Action statements for the management of the powerful and masked owls state each species requires at least 100 areas of 500 hectares each, while the sooty owl needs 131 areas of at least 500 hectares.

"The government is in total contempt of their own laws," Ms Redwood said. "When you get a response from the minister that shows they are more devoted to the logging industry than to the law that says we need to protect our threatened wildlife, then there's nowhere else to go but the courts."

Ms Redwood said East Gippsland was considered a stronghold for the owls because the age of the forest meant it was ideal habitat for the birds of prey.

"They need that vast area of old-growth hollow trees because they prey on gliders like the greater glider and the yellow-bellied glider,"she said.

VicForests spokesman David Walsh said there was currently no logging taking place in any of the four coupes mentioned in the writ, although harvesting was forecast for 2015. However, he said VicForests was keen to work with Environment East Gippsland to resolve any concerns the group had.

A spokesman for the Department of Environment and Primary Industries said the government was committed to ensuring the state's native forests were managed to ensure threatened species and other native flora and fauna were protected.
"The department has a comprehensive framework in place to protect native species during timber harvesting operations, including forestry management plans and a code of practice for timber harvesting operations," the spokesman said.

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