ROBERTSON, N.S.W: July 10, 2020 — Bunnings Warehouse has announced that it has banned timber supplied by VicForests after a federal court ruling found that the state government-owned forestry had breached environmental legislation in areas inhabited by endangered native wildlife.
According to Bunnings’ director of merchandise, Phil Bishop, the hardware giant’s ‘zero-tolerance approach to illegally logged timber’ will see it only sourcing timber products from responsible and lawful forestry operations.
On June 30, the company discontinued carrying raw materials in its supply chain from VicForests.
In a landmark decision, Justice Debra Mortimer ruled that VicForests’ harvesting operations at 26 logging coupes were not only in breach of the code of practice governed by regional forest agreements [R.F.A.s] but also found that the 41 proposed coupes would likely see other Leadbeater Possums and Greater Gliders’ habitats gravely affected.
“The court decision simply drove home the message that a state-run forestry agency could be made accountable for legislation breaches,” said Kirsten Schweth, co-founder of Native Wildlife Rescue.
In the same way, the ruling revealed how both the federal government and the Environmental Protection and Biodiversity Conservation [EPBC] Act — the very legislation lawmakers created to protect and preserve Australia’s threatened species have failed miserably.
First introduced in 1997, R.F.A.s was designed to exempt state-run logging operations from most environmental laws, leaving the forestry management to exercise full discernment on “ecologically sustainable forest management [ESFM] objectives.”
“By stepping away from its regulatory duties, the federal government has created an opportunity for state-run forests to fast-track contracts and bulldoze wildlife habitats at breakneck speeds. As such, this move has not only impacted species facing extinction, but the excessive logging also caused widespread destruction to forests that are vital to the survival of the unique biodiversity,” adds Kerstin.
Currently, there are bilateral agreements in place with four state governments, including Victoria and N.S.W.
Calls to the Morrison government to dissolve the controversial R.F.A.s by Environmental Justice Australia were rejected.
Destruction of Habitats
At the heart of the issue is the insatiable demand for lumber for housing and exports. With population growth a key economic pillar, the Office of Local Government has been instrumental in fast-tracking new housing along the Sydney-Melbourne corridor.
Another is the 5.9 billion timber export industry, of which China accounts for 70 per cent of all native Australian timber and woodchip exports.
Approximately 75 per cent of the total native forest area is eucalyptus, which is vital for the conservation and future evolution of Australia’s rich biodiversity.
The Greater Glider was recently listed in Victoria as vulnerable for extinction in 2016 under the EPBC Act.
Known as the “clumsy glider,” the nocturnal marsupial is only one of seven species of gliders found along the east coast of Australia. As with the Leadbeater Possum, gliders depend on tree hollows in old-growth forests to make their homes and inhabit up to 18-20 different individual dens within their home range.
In the native forest of Victoria, more than 840,000 hectares have been approved for logging. Over 70 per cent of the forests are prime habitats for both species among other native wildlife struggling to survive in the aftermath of the Black Summer mega-fires.
In N.S.W., the state-run Forestry Corporation manages approximately 2 million hectares of commercial pine plantations and native forests including 3,500 hectares in the Southern Highlands and the hinterland near Port Stephens on the North Coast.
The Royal Commission into National Natural Disaster Arrangements heard that the Black Summer mega-fires decimated a staggering 18 million hectares. This included 5.3 million hectares in N.S.W. — more than 890,000 hectares of native state forests along the N.S.W. Coast and Tablelands, and 2.7 million hectares in the state’s national parks and forests.
Of the harvesting operations slated in N.S.W.’s bushfire affected forests is the native bushland proposed for the state government’s Great Koala National Park [GKNP] in the Bellingen Shire.
The Nature Conservation Council of N.S.W, which represents 150 environmental groups across the state has now called on Bunnings to not source additional supplies from the Forestry Corporation of N.S.W.
In response to the ruling, VicForests has said it will file an appeal.
Notes and References to Readers |
1: The public must understand the framework of the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 [EPBC Act] as a means to move forward in all aspects of environmental lobbying and to enforce transparency and accountability in all matters of ecological significance and governance. This includes having access to any legislative reviews made by the Federal Environmental Minister, Sussan Levy.
2: R.F.A.s are awarded statutory effect under the [a] Commonwealth Regional Forest Agreements Act 2002 [R.F.A. Act]. R.F.A.s are reviewed every five years.
1.8 In practical terms, one of the intentions of R.F.A.s is to enable forestry activities to be undertaken in a region without the requirement for environmental impact assessment for every individual action. Thus the EPBC Act allows for forestry operations subject to an R.F.A. to be exempt from seeking environmental approval under [b] Part 3 of the Act [Requirements for Approvals].
Please view this link for Southern N.S.W.
3. [a] EPA NSW has listed its bushfire-affected forestry operations. [b] Please also view Coastal Integrated Forestry Operation Approval (IFOA), which impacts the South and North Coasts.
4. Environmental Justice Australia has called on the government to create an independent National Environment Commission and an independent national Environment Protection Authority to ensure transparency and accountability under the EPBC Act.
Former ACCC chair, Professor Graeme Samuel AC also released his report and call for an immediate reform of the EPBC Act and escalating destruction of our biodiversity. But in response to the Black Summer and COVID-19 economic meltdown, the government has sped up approvals for major infrastructure projects including 15 major works in the month of June. Similarly, private plantation owners are also fast-tracking clearing with little regard to the wildlife, habitat loss or the EPBC Act [refer to the koala massacre in Victoria]. The Andrews government has yet to provide further information on the travesity.
The Morrison government rejected the request for the appointment of an independent regulator.
5. The Leadbeater Possum was featured in 1996 on an Australian 5 cent stamp and was commissioned for reprint in 2009 by the World Wildlife Fund [ now World Wide Fund For Nature Australia]. The Greater Glider also featured on an unfranked and rare 41 cent stamp in 1990.
We celebrate them on commemorative stamps yet our environmental laws fail to protect them in the wild.
6. Native Wildlife Rescue sincerely thanks the community group, Friends of Leadbeater’s Possum [FLBP], Environmental Justice Australia, who represented the group in the Federal Court, Nature Conservation Council of N.S.W., Wilderness Society, One Tree Planted and other environmental groups for their tireless work in the sustainable management and accountability of our native forests.