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Friday analysis; WWF buys into the war on Australian forestry

The anti-forestry lobby appears to be going on a war footing. The World Wide Fund (WWF) for Nature-Australia has reportedly set up a legal fund for community groups to challenge development decisions in forests they say are under threat from land clearing in the aftermath of the 2019-20 bushfire disaster. Source: Bruce Mitchell

The funds will pay for legal firm the Environmental Defenders Office to represent communities in areas such as the south coast of New South Wales.

The WWF has identified six landscapes on the east coast that include areas of unburnt habitat serving as vital refuges for threatened plants, animals, and ecological communities.

The six areas are the Border Ranges in Queensland and NSW, Nymboida, the Yengo-Wollemi, the north and South Coasts of NSW, and the Eden-Gippsland region across NSW and Victoria.

The WWF says it is funding EDO solicitors to help the community use existing federal and state laws to protect the six landscapes.

The chief executive of the Environmental Defenders Office, David Morris, said that the EDO would assist the community to use “every appropriate legal mechanism” to protect these priority landscapes.

Does that include protests? That remains to be seen.

At the moment protests are continuing and the resulting punishments for those charged seem little more than slaps on the wrist.

There was some hope that the photograph of protestor who put an infant’s life in danger for the sake of a media stunt at a logging site in East Gippsland might have sparked widespread outrage.

There was certainly outrage, but hardly widespread. It is expected the protestor involved may see the inside of a courtroom, but don’t expect any massive penalty if the latest appearance by Bob Brown Foundation activist Lisa Searle is any indication.

Searle refused to leave a mine site when asked by the mine manager and police during a Bob Brown Foundation protest on 22 March.

The Hobart Magistrates Court had previously heard the protest began about 4.40am, causing delays at the site and affecting police resourcing across the West Coast, with three search and rescue officers diverted from Burnie to remove Searle from the crane.

Magistrate Jackie Hartnett last week flagged she would consider a suspended prison term, given a list of previous convictions and fines had failed to deter Ms Searle.

Instead, she was sentenced to an 18-month community correction order entailing 49 hours of community service after pleading guilty to trespass and resisting a police officer.

While that seems more than a little inadequate given the magistrate’s comment that Searle’s actions “had a number of consequences to police on duty that day”, Bob Brown’s response was more concerning.

He said the sentence would not deter Ms Searle and other activists from continuing to fight for the forest, noting she “does more hours of community service than anyone else I know, as it is”.

It is certainly hoped that the WWF/EDO venture is not used to defend activities similar to protests in Tasmania and Victoria.

The WWF has a fine reputation for championing causes relating to wildlife and the environment.

It is hoped that campaigners do not tarnish that good name or get hijacked by more militant activists.