Stop them undermining our wildlife protection and democracy

The Victorian Government are once again attempting to dilute the already weak and unenforced rules we have for protecting our forest-dependent wildlife and cultural heritage from logging.

If they make these changes, hundreds of zones designed to protect habitat of threatened plant and wildlife, landscapes and public recreation areas won’t be governed by rules, but wishful targets.

This attempt to game the “Code of Practice for Timber Production” is bad news for nature, and very bad news for communities who fight for nature protection.

It includes a direct attack on community groups’ ability to hold logging agencies to account for illegal activity.

Ask the Environment Minister to strengthen the Code, not dilute it.

In the wake of a global extinction crisis, climate disruption and the devastating bushfires, strengthening logging laws and transitioning out of native forest logging is the only responsible way forward.

We’ll send the following message on your behalf. You can include your own words for more impact.

Dear Minister D’Ambrosio

I write to you today about the proposed changes to the Code of Practice for Timber Production, the suite of rules that govern logging in our state forests.

The proposed changes purport to bring much needed certainty to conservationists, the logging industry and the conservation regulator, but in my view do the opposite.

I believe these changes only build certainty for the logging industry, while diluting already weak rules for protection of wildlife habitat and recreational areas. The changes to the Code of Practice for Timber Production were released late in June 2021 (after originally being withdrawn from public comment in 2019).

They were released to the public with a minimal 28-day consultation period available to interpret and digest 350 pages of documents (consisting of 115,000 words). This included 3,000 highly technical, structural and other changes to the document.

With such a vast amount of complexity to consider in such a brief time period I will outline some of the many concerns below:

  • Attack on community voices

Due to lack of compliance and confidence around policing of The Code, many community groups have taken to the courts to raise their concerns and seek adequate protection of wildlife and forest ecosystems.

Impairing the ability for community groups to raise concerns in a court of law (without the impediment of government) has made the proposed changes not only antagonistic to a fair hearing in the courts, but impossible for the Code to retain any sense of public respect in the public’s eyes. 

The need to protect the community’s ability to take action to protect their publicly owned forests, or at the very least raise questions, is much needed for the Code to retain credibility.

  • Weaker protection of endangered wildlife

The removal of whole planning standards as well as the growing list of activities allowed within a Special Protection Area (SPZ) is unacceptable and will lead to the loss of critical habitat for species such as the Leadbeater’s Possum, Greater Glider and Sooty Owl. 

Many of our forest-dependent species are directly threatened by native forest logging activities, and intrusion into Special Protection Zones will have a significant impact on their populations as well as persistence in the wild.

  • The increase in activities allowed in SPZs is unacceptable and dangerous. 

Activities that have been included in the new changes to the Code, such as roading and retrieval of fallen trees within SPZs, are unacceptable and will damage these areas and the habitat values they provide.

  • Protecting Big Trees

The proposed amendments to protect large trees, those being of 2.5 metres diameter at breast height (DBH), are weak and pose a serious threat of misinterpretation and result in poor outcomes for large trees.

Logging will be allowed within 3 metres of big trees, leading to increased damage to and loss of large trees.

Some species of trees in other FMAs will not reach 2.5m but should still be protected due to their age and habitat importance as habitat.

At the very least the implementation of the Australian Standard Protection of Trees on Development Sites (AS 4970-2009) is needed to protect large trees in state forests from damage by logging activities.

This would not only give enforceable and understandable protections for large trees but result in meaningful protections for large trees. 

  • Weakening of recreational and tourism area protections

Many of the changes to the code weaken the protection of existing and future tourism assets in state forest – including hundreds of walking trails, campgrounds, roadside buffers and large trees.

Essentially what are now enforceable rules are proposed to become aspirational targets. 

A reduction in listed Recreation Sites (from the 2014 list) as well as the reduction in size and removal of roadside buffer strips (to within 500m of listed lookouts and tourism assets) risks much-loved areas and will create the loss of tourism draw cards. 

  • From binding protections to aspirational protections

Removal of landscape-scale protections for wildlife and forest values across the forest landscape from the Code and placing them within a new document named the Forest Management Zoning Accountability Framework will take binding protections and planning requirements and make them aspirational “targets”.

This is a weakening of protections and leaves once secure landscape level protections in a somewhat less auspicious and unclear level of protection. 

At a time of changing climate when many of our forest dependent threatened species balance on the edge of existence, weakening and removing any protections for habitat across the landscape is unacceptable, especially in the context of huge landscape-scale fire.

The weakening of these planning obligations is a threat to many vulnerable plant and animal species and forest ecosystems. 

We know a vast majority of Victorians want greater protection of their public forests for recreational and conservation values – the continued logging of our forest landscapes reduces their capacity to adapt to our rapidly warming climate.

I urge you, Minister, to rebuild the Code of Practice for Timber Production to protect wildlife habitat, high conservation value forests and recreationally importance public land.

A revised Code of Practice for Timber Production should seek to be a document that facilitates transition out of native forest logging in high conservation value areas, not encourage and entrench it, as the current proposed changes do.

I request the government lay out a clear road map and rationale for regulatory changes, explaining how they link to the government commitment to transition out of native forest logging while properly considering the impact of landscape scale fire on wildlife, before proceeding. 

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