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VicForests to lodge appeal over new Central Highlands ruling

VicForests will move quickly to lodge an appeal now the Federal Court has finalised its Orders relating to the Friends of Leadbeater’s Possum case. Strict conditions to stop logging of threatened species habitat in Victoria’s Central Highlands were issued by the Federal Court on Friday. Source: Timberbiz

The orders made by the Court make it clear that the decision relates only to the small number of forest areas that were the subject of the proceeding. It was based on areas harvested between 2014 and early 2019.

The Federal Court in May ruled in favour of local environment group Friends of Leadbeater’s Possum, which argued VicForests had breached the federal Environment Protection Biodiversity Conservation Act when it logged forest coupes in the Central Highlands region.

VicForests argued to the Federal Court that it was exempt from federal threatened species obligations set out in the Act because of Regional Forest Agreement negotiated between the state and federal governments.

However, Justice Debra Mortimer found VicForests’ logging operations had damaged threatened species habitat and failed the Act requirements including protecting threatened gliders and possums. An injunction was placed banning VicForests from doing any more logging in the region.

No more logging is permitted in the 26 coupes which had already been logged but still hold some commercial timber. The orders permit VicForests to conduct their statutory requirements for forest regeneration, which come under state law.

Further, no logging is allowed in 41 un-logged coupes. While VicForests is permitted to draw up new logging plans, it has to apply to the federal government for approval under the Act.

In a statement on Friday VicForests said it has now moved to a fundamentally different approach to harvesting that provides even greater protection for threatened species.

“This is in addition to the government setting aside extensive areas for biodiversity protection at the end of 2019, including 96,000 ha set aside last November as part of its Victorian Forestry plan,” the statement said.

“All timber harvesting and regeneration operations have and will continue to be conducted in accordance with Victoria’s strict environmental regulations and the State’s Forest Management Zoning scheme.

“VicForests’ operations are scrutinised by the Office of the Conservation Regulator and its strict regulatory guidelines ensure the protection of threatened flora and fauna.”