By Colin MacGillivray
ENVIRONMENTAL groups have vowed to continue to disrupt native-forest logging after protest action shut down logging coupes in the region last week.
Coupes at Mount Disappointment, Kinglake and Toolangi were among 15 sites across Victoria and New South Wales shut down by an alliance of several environmental and First Nations activist groups.
The Victorian protests targeted coupes logged by state-owned corporation VicForests, which activists claim has endangered native wildlife with its operations.
A federal court ruling in May found VicForests had breached national environmental laws relating to threatened species.
Australian hardware chain Bunnings announced last week it would no longer sell timber logged by VicForests in response to the court’s decision.
The Supreme Court of Victoria issued an order last month barring VicForests from felling trees within 20 metres of the edge of any track or road within the Central Highlands region – an area stretching from Seymour in the north-west to Warragul in the south-east – after a legal challenge by environmental group Kinglake Friends of the Forest.
Protest organiser Sarah Day said activists had opposed VicForests’ operations for years, but believed public sentiment was finally beginning to turn against the company.
“There’s been political lobbying and public awareness raising, and we’ve all been doing that stuff together for years and years with limited success,” she said.
“After the fires we had this summer, we’re astounded and appalled that it’s just business as usual for the government.
“There has been no assessment of the extent of habitat loss and no revision to the logging schedule at all.
“We agreed we needed to take more direct action and go in there and stop the logging ourselves.
“Now there are so many pressures coming at once. There are multiple court cases, there’s Bunnings dropping their timber, there’s hundreds of people protesting, there are First Nations people speaking up and saying, ‘this is not okay, we never consented to this, it’s our natural heritage’.
“After the fires as well, I think it has become more difficult for them to continue to pretend everything is normal and it’s business as usual.”
Ms Day said native-timber logging in state parks put endangered species such as the greater glider and leadbeater’s possum at risk of extinction.
Kinglake resident and Kinglake Friends of the Forest president Sue McKinnon said she had been campaigning against logging in the area for six years and had become inspired to protect the forest in the wake of the 2009 Black Saturday bushfires.
She said public sentiment in the region was heavily against logging activity.
“The general community itself very much sees the forest as a recreational resource – a place to go trail-bike riding and four-wheel-driving and horse riding and walking and birdwatching,” she said.
“There are outspoken people who are related to the industry who are either ex-logging contractors themselves or are tied in with the haulage companies, but those people are very few.”
A VicForests spokesman said the actions of the protestors were reckless and endangered both themselves and loggers.
He said all VicForests coupes were regenerated with their original species and the company’s operations were conducted to conform with Victoria’s environmental regulations.
“It’s an offence to enter forestry coupes where heavy machinery operates and protestors are putting themselves and workers in harm’s way,” he said.
“In salvaging timber from burnt areas, we use best-practice approaches to balance the protection of habitat, forest regeneration and limited timber harvesting, including not harvesting any unburnt patches within the fire-impacted areas.”
VicForests claimed Bunnings’ decision to dump its timber would put 170 Victorian jobs at risk, compounding the effects of COVID-19 in regional areas.
Activists argued a shift away from native-forest logging would create more jobs than it would end.
“Investing in jobs that are good for the planet actually creates more jobs than a short-term, unsustainable logging industry,” Ms Day said.
“Future jobs don’t lie in logging, they lie in conservation, eco-tourism and the services industry in regional towns. Economic studies have shown that investing in those kinds of jobs is a way better investment than investing in logging jobs.”
Ms McKinnon said the writing was on the wall for the long-term future of native-forest logging.
“The forest is so much more valuable standing than as paper,” Ms McKinnon said.
“[Logging activity is] not only really hurting the Kinglake community and the people who love the forest, it’s also hurting the people in the forest industry – the contractors and the haulage operators – who know their industry is coming to an end and know the community is against it.
“[Victorian Premier] Daniel Andrews does have a transition package, but he’s withholding it until 2024.
“The people in the industry who want to get out – and there are some who do want to get out – can’t until 2024 because they’re financially hooked in with the very expensive machines they have.
“Daniel Andrews has already said the industry is closing – it’s on its last legs.
“With that said, I think it’s cruel to the workers in the industry that he is stringing them out.”