By Ed Hill
Friends of the Earth (FoE) affiliate Goongerah Environment hosted a beautiful photo exhibition at the FoE food co-op and café in Melbourne in June. Critically acclaimed wilderness photographer Rob Blakers has visited East Gippsland's forests several times in the past few years. Rob teamed up with GECO campaigners to document old growth forests and rainforest in the region threatened by logging.
Rob's photography reflects the fragile beauty of wilderness as seen through the eyes and camera of one who knows it in a way that few people today ever will. Rob's photos of threatened landscapes have been used in dozens of campaigns from the Franklin River protests in the early 1980s through to the World Heritage listing of the ancient forests in Tasmania's Weld and Upper Florentine valleys. His stunning photos of East Gippsland played a major role in the recent protection of 2,500 hectares of forest in the Kuark.
The exhibition raised crucial funds for a Supreme Court legal challenge run by Victorian forest conservation group Fauna and Flora Research Collective (FFRC). The Supreme court case brought against the Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning is expected to go to trial in the coming months.
The FFRC is arguing that the Environment Department is failing to meet its legal obligations to protect old growth forest in East Gippsland. The law requires 60% of wet and damp old growth forest present in 1995 to be reserved but the protection quota has not been met, and until it has further logging should not proceed in these old growth forests.
The Environment Department and VicForests are defending the case. The Department argues that its obligations to protect old growth forests are not obligations, they are instead 'a drafting error'.
Visit the FFRC website to read the court documents, the FFRC statement of claim and the Department's defence. You can also make a donation to support the case. www.faunaandfloraresearchcollective.wordpress.com
Thirty-four areas of old growth forest that are earmarked for logging are subject to the legal proceedings. The controversial "Princess Cut" coupe off Greens Road in the Kuark area was the site of community protests in October 2017 which ended after the Supreme Court granted an injunction to halt the logging pending the outcome of the case.
VicForests has given an undertaking not to log in the 33 other old growth forest areas without first providing seven days notice to the FFRC. If the government wins the case it will pave the way for their logging agency VicForests to log the 34 areas of old growth forest.
GECO and the Friends of the Earth forest collective are ramping up efforts to campaign for protection of East Gippsland's forests with the launch of the East Gippsland Emerald Link proposal. The Emerald Link is a proposal to protect the region's forests by linking existing parks and reserves to create a continuous network of protected forests from the Australian alps to the East Gippsland coast. The forests of East Gippsland are incredibly rich in biodiversity and the only place remaining on mainland Australia where forest cover is continuous from alpine to coastal environments.
The Emerald Link seeks to protect forest from logging whilst growing investment in nature-based tourism. The proposal includes the establishment of the Sea the Summit forest trail. A multi-day walking track and touring route linking the coastal town of Bemm River to one of the highest mountains in the region ‒ Mt. Goongerah (Mt. Ellery).
East Gippsland is the country of the Gunaikurnai and Bidewell and Monero people. We acknowledge the thousands of years of their ongoing custodianship of the land and pay respect to elders past and present. We continue to seek dialogue with all Traditional Owner groups regarding their land and water management aspirations for the East Gippsland region and the Emerald Link proposal.
For more information on the Emerald Link proposal, visit the website (www.emeraldlink.com.au) to view a stunning short documentary that captures the essence of the places and people in the Emerald Link.
Published in Chain Reaction #133, September 2018. National magazine of Friends of the Earth Australia. www.foe.org.au/cr133