VICFORESTS said it was pleased that the Federal Court last week rejected the argument brought against it by the Friends of Leadbeater’s Possum.
The court found that VicForests was not affected by government delays in reviewing the Central Highlands Regional Forest Agreement.
Consequently, VicForests operations under the RFA had the benefit of being exempt from processes required by the Federal Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act.
VicForests’ board chairman Michael Humphris said VicForests’ operations were achieving high biodiversity and ecology standards laid out in the Regional Forest Agreement, which was agreed between the Victorian and Commonwealth governments.
The Friends of Leadbeater’s Possum had argued that because five-yearly reviews by governments were late, VicForests’ operation was therefore not in accord with the RFA and had to comply with the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act.
“It’s pleasing that the court rejected the claim by the Friends of Leadbeater’s Possum,” Mr Humphris said.
Justice Mortimer emphasised that “this case was not about any breaches of the requirements in Victoria’s forest management system in the Central Highlands State forest,” or whether VicForests complied with requirements.
She also rejected VicForests’ argument and accepted a “mid-way” position put by the Commonwealth.
Justice Mortimer accepted the submission from the Commonwealth that, for the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act exemption to apply, forestry operations must be undertaken in conformity with the system of forest management accredited by the RFA, that is the state regulatory system.
Justice Mortimer declined to make a final order on Friday and instead requested the parties to make submissions by March 16 as to the wording of the final order.
In the meantime, the injunction in relation to the 34 coupes continues.
Mr Humphris said “the proper thing for us to do now is to closely consider the detail of the judge’s request before we make our submission to the court.
“We are confident our extensive protections comply with the requirements of the RFA,” he said.
“For example we protect the Greater Glider by preserving habitat trees and the Leadbeater’s Possum by preserving 12.6 hectares of habitat around possums — an area equivalent to six MCG fields,” he said.