Stories Activism The Great Forest Case

The Great Forest Case

A new legal challenge could be the best chance in a generation to end native forest logging in Australia.
The hands-off approach to forest management by the Commonwealth government has left a trail of destruction and is pushing species into extinction. O</em><em>nce<span> </span><span>southern Tasmanian forest</span>, now wastelands. Photo: Rob Blakers.

The hands-off approach to forest management by the Commonwealth government has left a trail of destruction and is pushing species into extinction. Once southern Tasmanian forest, now wastelands. Photo: Rob Blakers.

They still log ancient forests in our country’s largest temperate rainforest, they still log the habitat of critically endangered species, and they log the forests scorched by bushfires. Dangerously, they do so against expert scientific advice, in the wake of staggering biodiversity loss, and despite the accelerating climate crisis.

Even after 3 billion animals have thought to have died or been displaced in the Summer 2019/20 bushfires. After the Koala has been found to be almost extinct. After the fastest parrot on Earth has flown home to breed, yet found its ancient forest breeding habitat being removed.

It is time for native forest loss to end. Native forest destruction is accelerating Earth’s sixth mass extinction and the global climate crisis. Bob Brown Foundation is calling on the Commonwealth to use their powers to protect our nation’s native forests and the wildlife that call them home. It needs to happen now; long-held Commonwealth powers are being fast-tracked to weaken protections for the environment and strengthen protections for those destroying it.


If successful, The Great Forest Case would set a precedent for similar litigation for the rest of Australia. takayana/Tarkine in Tasmania. Photo: Rob Blakers.

The international trend to destroy public lands at the behest of corporations is being felt across Australia in the new mines, gas fracking, and native forest logging. While the Australian government moves to weaken federal environmental laws (EPBC Act), they do this after their independent reviewer found “Australia’s natural environment and iconic places are in an overall state of decline and are under increasing threat”. Environmental leader Bob Brown states that the Morrison government’s ecocidal bill, handing federal environmental powers to the states and territories, is the biggest legislative sell-out of Australia’s environment since federation.

"Native forest destruction is accelerating Earth’s sixth mass extinction and the global climate crisis."

In the 6 million hectares of threatened native forests across Australia citizens are rallying as frontline forest defenders in non-violent action and through legal challenges against the governments. With hope and courage, our team at the Bob Brown Foundation have launched the Great Forest Case in the federal court, to end native forest logging once and for all.

It is too much to bear, at times, that irreplaceable forests and critically endangered wildlife that depend upon these forests are still being lost. My best antidote is to get up every day and keep taking action for the forests, wildlife and climate. We are answering with action, as the logging of endangered species habitat and vast forests of Australia is indefensible.

Jenny Weber and Bob Brown. Photo: Ram Ji."People in my generation have spent the past two decades fighting for protection and they're the younger generation of those who led the way before and still fight on," tells Jenny Weber, pictured here with Bob Brown. Photo: Ram Ji.

Travelling with Bob Brown into Tasmania's southern forests to film for the launch of our Great Forest Case we step out into the blackened landscape. I have been here before, the flattened land charred by a napalm like substance dropped from helicopters for the post-logging burns. I am standing where once an impenetrable ancient ecosystem towered into the sky. And then, I realise in more than 20 years of advocating for native forest protection, I have not seen anything like this before. I am surrounded by six giant stumps, each bigger than a bus. The ancient eucalyptus trees that have been logged and carted away. It is 2020, the logging and the post-logging burn is fresh, yet the mindset that carried out this devastating murder is old, greedy, entrenched. It is responsible for the graveyard, a flattened Earth dead zone, that I stand in.

There is hope at the edge of this wasteland, immense towering eucalypts, and we are rescued from despair as we enter into them and are blanketed by the sassafras flowers, bird song and hundreds of different plants. This is Tasmanian emergent rainforest with tall flowering gums hollowed out with homes high in the canopy for the critically endangered Swift Parrot, or the endangered Masked Owl or the flock of Yellow-Tailed Cockatoos, raucously calling as they fly past.

Australia may be a sunburnt country, but it is also home to lush, green, wildlife-rich forests; from the far south-west-corner of Western Australia, to the wet tropics of Queensland, the Great Dividing Range down the eastern seaboard to the rainforests of north-west Tasmania and the tallest flowering plants at our continent’s southern-most point.

Bob Brown stands with a felled giant, truck twice his height, left behind after logging.Bob stands with a felled giant, truck twice his height, left behind after logging in Tasmania's southern forests. Photo: Matthew Newton.

I grew up with the eucalyptus trees, ‘Blinky Bill’ and ‘Snugglepot and Cuddlepie’ totems of an Australian way of life. And watching the trees on my horizon as I swam in the ocean, thinking they would always be there. It is these long green belts that are the backdrop to many Australians’ lives, deceiving them into thinking we have more than enough trees. Behind locked gates are the clearfelled eucalypts and plundered ecosystems – which dated back to supercontinent Gondwanaland. They are still being logged for woodchips or timbers, exported to logging mafias and sold off as ‘eco-wood’. Out of sight and far out of the minds of many.

With raging fires interrupting beloved summer holidays, we have been shockingly awakened to the fact that these forests and their wildlife are fragile, mortal and dependent on each other for survival. We are yet to realise humans too are dependent on their survival.

Our friends in the western US are currently experiencing the horror of forest infernos: choking smoke-filled days and great disruptions. This calamity is horrifically linked with logging, which makes forests hotter and drier over time and leaves behind large amounts of debris, increasing the fuel load on the ground. Professor David Lindenmayer, an expert in landscape ecology, conservation and biodiversity, presents compelling peer-reviewed evidence that Australia’s historical and contemporary logging regimes have made many Australian forests more fire prone and contributed to increased fire severity and flammability. His research also clearly demonstrates that logging fire-affected forests can significantly impair the recovery and rehabilitation of plants and animals, reduce the amount of biodiversity, and adversely affect the composition and nutrient levels of soils.

NSW forest, burnt out by the 2019/20 bushfires. Photo: Jarrah Lynch.NSW native forest decimated by the Summer 2019/20 bushfires. Photo: Jarrah Lynch.

I spent my university years being introduced to many of Australia’s forests through blockades set up to defend them from logging – from the first time I saw a logging area in northern NSW, to the infamous Goolengook blockade in East Gippsland, and the striking spotted gums of the NSW South Coast that stretched to the sea. This was my internship in recognising Australia’s vast diverse forests as importance for being just that: forests, not ‘coupes’ for ‘harvesting’, not ‘timbers’ for furniture and certainly not better off as toilet paper, tissues, nor sheets of plywood. Importantly it connected me to the Australians that value their public lands for their intrinsic value: forests that clean the air and purify the water, and provide sanctuary for wildlife. These people will stand in front of the bulldozers, climb the trees and spend days, nights, years… defending the forests from logging.

It was among the soaring Wedge-Tailed Eagles, ancient rainforests, and tallest flowering plants in Tasmania, where I found my patch to dig in and defend. Here in the 1990s I was surrounded by Elders who were calling for an end to native forest logging. It’s 2020 and the native forests are still falling. The devastating change is that forest-dependent endangered species are now critically endangered, and the climate emergency is catching up with us.

Still, those in power don’t see the fate of the native forests is inextricably linked to the heating of the planet. In parallel, they support the insatiable greed of the native forest logging industry bent on that which has been providing clean air, water, and wildlife habitat from since before European invasion.

"Forest-dependent endangered species are now critically endangered, and the climate emergency is catching up with us."

The Great Forest Case is the best chance in a generation to end native forest logging in Australia. The Bob Brown Foundation is challenging the regulation of native forest logging in Tasmania, with the aim to unravel the notorious framework under which logging across Australia is carried out. Arguing that the Tasmanian Regional Forest Agreement (RFA) is not a valid agreement, we want to strike it down.

Australia’s government is in a cosy “hands-off” arrangement with the state governments which essentially exempts logging from national environment laws, allowing large-scale destruction of native forests which are the habitat of nationally significant species. Currently there are 6 million hectares of Australian native forests which are available for logging under RFAs.

In Tasmania alone, over 1 million hectares of Tasmania’s forests are still under threat from logging. This includes large stretches of old-growth forests, such as in takayna/Tarkine – which is Australia’s largest temperate rainforest, yet over 28,958 ha of its pristine forests remain in “permanent logging zones”. Several of our iconic species are seriously under threat from logging, including the Swift Parrot, Masked Owl, Tasmanian Devil and Giant Freshwater Crayfish. The Swift Parrot is currently listed as critically endangered and is likely to go extinct in the next 10 years. The Tasmanian RFA is currently allowing for Swift Parrot habitat to be logged.

The Swift ParrotTasmania is down to the last remnants of Swift Parrot habitat. Photo: Dave James.

The future of forest products industries lies in already established plantations. Almost 90% of the wood produced in Australia comes from these plantations, which also support the vast majority of timber industry jobs. There is no excuse to continue logging the vast tracts of carbon and wildlife storehouses that are Australia’s native forests.

Bob Brown took the Tasmanian Government to the High Court in 2017 and won the right for peaceful protest. There is a strong track record of environmental groups in Australia winning court cases that deal with RFAs: The Wielangta case in Tasmania in 2005 and the Leadbeater’s Possum case in Victoria in July this year were both successful. The Great Forest Case could spell the end of these notoriously inadequate agreements. If we win and achieve an immediate ban on native forest logging in Tasmania, it will be a game-changing precedent, opening the door for similar action in other states.

Australia’s largest temperate rainforest, takayna/Tarkine. Photo: K Wright.Australia’s largest temperate rainforest, takayna/Tarkine. Photo: K Wright.

And if the governments and corporations continue to log our forests, we will wake up another day for another fight. For there is still so much worth fighting for: the ancient trees, Swift Parrots, Lead-beaters possum, clean air, water and mitigating this climate emergency and biodiversity crisis.

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