Timber mills face an uncertain future because long-term agreements on timber supplies were rescinded last year. (ABC News: Ben Knight)
Environmentalists are celebrating after the Federal Court extended a logging ban in the Central Highlands in Victoria until next year.
The Friends of Leadbeater’s Possum group is challenging VicForests’ compliance with the regional forest agreement (RFA) for the Central Highlands.
The Federal Court on Thursday granted an injunction to stop any logging by VicForests until February when a three-week trial is due to start.
Logging was expected to start last month.
The highlands are home to the majority of the state’s Leadbeater’s possums, which live in the hollows of old trees.
“It gives us some breathing space until the trial but the battle goes on to try to protect the forest next to the town,” Friends of Noojee Trees spokeswoman Gaye Trevan said.
A logging reprieve for Noojee
Residents of Noojee in West Gippsland have been campaigning against VicForests’ plans to log a 30-hectare coupe near the township.
“There have been verified sightings of threatened greater gliders by citizen scientists at Noojee and this is what this case is all about,” Environmental Justice Australia spokesman Josh Meadows said.
“It’s a very exciting result for residents of Noojee who’ve been trying very hard to have the forests around their town protected and it’s a great win for anyone who appreciates wildlife and loves the possums and gliders in that part of the world,” Mr Meadows said.
VicForests said 20 trees had already been reserved within the proposed coupe at Noojee to protect greater glider habitat after an agency-run spotlighting tour discovered the threatened gliders.
“We asked them what assessments had been made with respect to wildlife in there and they’d done a desktop survey; they hadn’t even gone in there and had a look,” Ms Trevan said.
“It was only after intense pressure from the community that they went in and had a look.
“Then they sent out a press release saying, oops, we found something.
“It’s not necessarily about whether animals are there or not, whether we found gliders or not in that coupe; we would still protect the habitat trees because they are potential habitats,” VicForests corporate affairs manager Alex Messina said.
We’ve already made many concessions, we need the wood
VicForests will comply with the Federal Court injunction but Mr Messina said the agency would now have to work out how to meet its timber contracts.
“Ninety-four per cent of the state’s native forest is already locked up in national parks and reserves,” Mr Messina said.
“We go into coupes like Noojee because we need the wood.”
Mr Messina said VicForests had expanded buffer zones around the Noojee coupe to 300 metres and was consulting the community about log truck movements.
“So we’ve gone a long, long way and it would be helpful if campaigners were prepared to compromise their positions a little bit to help meet us in the middle,” he said.
Noojee is a timber town
Former sawmiller and Noojee Historical Society president William Langoor said the push to prevent logging in the town was being orchestrated by a small group of ‘minority’ residents and Melbourne-based activists.
“The majority of people here have been part of logging for many years now. The area earmarked for logging has been logged many times before,” he said.
“This has got completely out of hand. Many of us locals are really disappointed with the way this is going.”
The three-week trial in the Federal Court is due to begin on February 25, 2019.