Research group The Fauna and Flora Research Collective has brought criminal charges against the State Government’s forestry arm in what the collective and local environment groups are hailing as a “landmark legal case”.
Solicitor acting on behalf of TFFRC, Vanessa Bleyer told the Mail VicForests had been charged on summons with offences under the Sustainable Forests (Timber) Act 2004.
The charges relate to claims by TFFRC that VicForests have logged pre-1900 native trees in breach of the Central Highlands Forest Management Plan (FMP), and have failed to protect Leadbeater’s’ habitat.
However, VicForests maintains no old-growth forest has been harvested in Central Highlands and has said it is investigating the alleged breaches and will report back to the Department of Sustainability and Environment.
In a statement it added “As for Leaderbeater’s possum habitat, none was affected as the trees harvested were not suitable habitat for the species”.
Ms Bleyer said TFFRC had acted because it believed the DSE had not fulfilled its role in taking action against breaches of the FMP.
“This particular charge could have been brought by DSE.
“In this instance DSE did not do what the informant (TFFRC) thought they should have done which was to prosecute VicForests for committing a criminal offence under the Act,” she explained.
A spokesperson for DSE said DSE takes its role in regulating timber harvesting in Victoria’s state forests very seriously and would continue to correctly follow legal and Government processes in relation to this.
“DSE is aware of allegations in the Central Highlands and is investigating the issue,” he said.
“Any future action will be done in accordance with correct legal/statutory processes.”
The action comes just a week after a public meeting of about 250 people at Healesville overwhelmingly supported a call for VicForests to be disbanded and for a stop to further logging on Mt St Leonard in Toolangi.
Local environment group MyEnvironment is instrumental is calls for logging to cease across Central Highlands and have pushed for action to be taken on what they claim are numerous logging breaches.
MyEnvironment spokesman Adam Menary said the case was supported by regional community groups which have tried to raise the issues with government ministers since the Black Saturday bushfires.
“The competence of VicForests to log native forests sustainably has been brought into question,” Mr Menary said.
“With so much of our native forests burnt on Black Saturday, our faunal emblem is in crisis and damage to its habitat could now result in local extinction,” he said.
VicForests stated that “environmental groups have not carried out credible analysis of the age of the trees”.
“VicForests abides by all relevant prescriptions and legal requirements in its harvesting operations,” it stated in a statement.
The case has been set down for a preliminary hearing at on 12 August.