By Kath Gannaway
Environment group Friends of Leadbeater’s Possum (FLP) is challenging VicForest’s exemption from Federal environment protection law in court.
The first hearing, calling for an interim injunction, is due to start in the Melbourne Federal Court at 3pm today (Friday).
Environmental Justice Australia filed the application on behalf of FLP earlier this week.
The case brought by FLP will challenge whether logging in endangered species habit can continue to have a special exemption from Federal environment protection law.
VicForests confirmed court action was being taken in regard to their operations under the Central Highlands Regional Forest Agreements (FRAs), with CEO Nathan Trushell saying the State-owned company believes its operations are in accordance with the Central Highlands RFA.
The court is being asked to prohibit logging in 34 areas earmarked for logging where Leadbeater’s Possum and Greater Gliders live, unless federal environment laws are complied with.
The application also calls for the court to order the protection of areas to mitigate the impact from what it claims is unlawful logging completed at 32 sites.
FLP spokesperson Steve Meacher said logging in public native forests is exempt from most federal environment laws, provided it is carried out in accordance with the RFAs.
The case before the court however alleges that five-year reviews, a requirement of the RFA, have not been completed as required and as such are not compliant with the Environmental Protection and Biodiversity Conservation (EPBC) Act, which he said requires Federal approval for actions that significantly impact threatened species.
“The Federal-State Regional Forest Agreements have failed to protect endangered wildlife, but have been used to try to exempt the logging industry from environment laws,” Mr Meacher said.
EJA lawyer Danya Jacobs claimed the native forest logging industry has operated on the basis of exemption from federal environment laws for almost 20 years, but also maintains that the agreements have not been complied with.
“This case asks the court to examine this situation in specific forests that are home to iconic threatened species that are suffering because of logging,” Ms Jacobs said.
Mr Trushell said the RFA agreements existed to provide effective environmental conservation and timber industry certainty and said they believed VicForests operations were compliant.
He said VicForests was a highly-regulated organisation that was subject to regular audits and certified by the Australian Forestry Standard.
“We are keen to see the legal matter resolved as quickly as possible to minimise disruption of timber supply to local mills and to important regional jobs,” he said.