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189+ concerned forest protectors oppose anti-protest laws the day they come into effect

On Saturday May 20, people from all across the state headed out to the forest and entered areas scheduled for harvesting by VicForests in defiance of new anti-protest laws aimed at cracking down on peaceful protestors in forests. The anti-protest laws were contested through a state-wide survey action for threatened flora and fauna.

Image: Toolangi turnout for forests

Under the new law people conducting surveys within a safety harvest zone may receive fines up to $11,095.20, which they could receive in the mail anytime within the next 12 months. All surveys were conducted in areas where a Timber Harvesting Safety Zone THSZ (public exclusion zone) is either already in place or where one could be applied any day.

The new laws also increase the maximum penalty to $22,120 or 1 year jail if found with a prohibited device within a THSZ. Flora and fauna surveys took place at five sites across Victoria: in Wombat State Forest, Toolangi, Alberton West, Powelltown, and Colquhoun forest in East Gippsland. Surveyors found endangered Greater Gliders, koalas, endangered Tree Geebungs (an old growth understory plant) and a critically endangered Leadbeater’s possum. Over 130 plant and fungi observations were recorded on the iNaturalist app. Four Greens MPs were among those who illegally entered a THSZ in Wombat State Forest to survey for plant species.

Forest defenders in Wombat State Forest - Photo by Hrkac
Image: Forest protectors in Wombat State Forest - Photo by Matt Hrkac

Amy Calton from Wombat Action Group states: “Protest must be protected, especially within a climate crisis. The government must repeal these outrageous laws and take meaningful action to protect the environment.”

Tuffy Morwitzer, from the Goongerah Environment Centre states: “We must end logging immediately and invest in conservation efforts to build back everything the industry has destroyed - exactly the kind of work citizen scientists were doing today by surveying.”

Felicity Law from Extinction Rebellion states: “At this critical time as we face climate catastrophe and as forest species plummet towards extinction we need forests protected.”

It was an incredible turn out by forest communities across the state, hi-lighting the concerns and dedication of those in attendance. Citizen science has played a crucial role in the detection of threatened and endangered species that would not otherwise be found by government environmental pre-harvest surveys. 

You can read more here about the actions here in the ABC article. 

Community groups such as Wildlife of the Central Highlands and Kinglake Friends of the Forest have recently run cases against VicForests, utilising the effective tool of citizen science, displaying the plight of bushfire affected threatened species and ecosystems at risk of collapse due to over logging and climate change. 

Image: Endangered Greater Glider, a species at the centre of a community court case by Gippsland Environment Group, Environment East Gippsland and Kinglake Friends of the Forest.

"Entering a timber harvest safety zone is necessary for many in order to protect the forest. Everyday folk are tired of seeing precious forest ecosystems destroyed for cheap paper products and pulp sent overseas, they feel a duty to act" said Alana Mountain, FoEM forest campaigner.

"We have a government owned timber industry that has been found to have broken the rules multiple times in multiple ways because of dodgy practice and a lack of regulation. When the law isn't upheld because we have a broken and corrupt system, it's left to every day folk to pick up the slack and step up for the environment".

"These people should not be criminalised, they should be thanked for their devotion and hard work that they put in to protect forests that everyone, not just in this state, but the entire globe depends upon. These are global forests. These are global carbon sinks in a global climate crisis providing an ecosystem service we desperately need to value".

"What we need is a fast and fair transition. The industry is coming to an end, the 2019/2020 bushfires caused extensive damage to state forests and killed billions of native animals. This government claims to be acting on the climate crisis, but we can't have real climate action without forest protection".

"Every year over 3 million tonnes of carbon pollution is generated from logging in this state alone. We can't have a real discussion about this governments role in contributing to climate change mitigation until we put forests on the agenda" Alana Mountain said. 

Last week, it was revealed that the government could end native forest logging before 2030 without paying contractual penalties.

Legal advice commissioned by The Wilderness Society found that supply disruptions and threats to biodiversity indicated the state government could escape its contract with Opal Australian Paper, a subsidiary of Japanese paper giant Nippon, by invoking the force majeure clause in the pulp agreement. Forest folks have often discussed that the extent of devastation from several severe bushfire events such as 2009 Black Saturday and 2019/2020 fires could have been reason enough to trigger the force majeure clause.

Danya Jacobs, special counsel with Environmental Justice Australia, said legal advice showed the government could exit the contract and “stop paying compensation unnecessarily to a multinational corporation. Public money should be going to regional communities developing industries of the future, not to big businesses destroying endangered species."

The writing is on the wall, there are no excuses left for delaying the transition. Now is the time to continue the pressure and to keep contacting relevant decision makers about this issue. You can sign our online email action here to environment minister Stitt, calling for an immediate end to native forest logging. 

You can also sign GECO's petition to repeal the new laws here. 

If you want to get involved and stay connected to the forest movement, join our frequent forest collective meetings taking place online or in person at FoEM. It's a great way to meet new people, get out to the forests and stay up to date with what's happening in the broader movement. 

Media contact:

Alana Mountain - [email protected]
FoEM Forest Campaigner 

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