Landmark Federal Court win in Possums Case overturned

The full bench of the Federal Court on Monday overturned the landmark judgment on 27 May, 2020, in which logging by state-owned VicForests in habitat areas critical to the vulnerable Greater Glider and critically endangered Leadbeater’s Possum was found to contravene federal law. 

The judgement was overturned on one ground, on the basis that logging has a wide exemption from federal environment law even when conducted in habitat critical to the survival of wildlife facing a high risk of extinction, and in breach of state law. 

The Full Court dismissed all other 21 grounds of appeal, including those seeking to overturn factual findings in the original decision. Key findings that stand in the original 444 page-judgment include that logging is permanently destroying habitat critical to the survival of the Leadbeater’s Possum and Greater Glider, is a cause of the decline of important populations necessary for their long-term survival, and that current reserves are inadequate to protect the species from their high risk of extinction. 

The original judgment also found that logging in the 66 areas subject to the case was in breach of Victorian environment law, and in just 17 of the areas investigated, up to 600 Greater Gliders may have been impacted and killed by the state’s logging agency. All appeal grounds relating to those findings were dismissed.  

Friends of Leadbeater’s Possum are applying to keep injunctions in place while they appeal to the High Court, to ensure protections stay in place for the 66 areas subject of the case home to the critically endangered Leadbeater’s Possum and vulnerable Greater Glider. 

Logging continues daily in Victoria at sites where Greater Gliders are recorded and in known Leadbeater’s Possum habitat. Friends of Leadbeater’s Possum and their lawyers at Environmental Justice Australia say Monday’s decision indicates many of those logging operations may be unlawful under state law, even if they are exempt from federal law.  

Friends of Leadbeater’s Possum President Steve Meacher said native forest logging continued to threaten critically endangered species.

“Logging in native forests is killing threatened species and destroying their critical habitat. Against this background, this morning’s judgment is very disappointing,” he said. 

“This battle is not yet over. We are actively looking to appeal to the High Court. 

“The federal government must urgently strengthen environment protections in our forests consistent with the Samuel Review of our national environment laws, and Victoria must expand reserves to prevent both further loss of species heading toward extinction and destruction of their critical habitat.” 

Environmental Justice Australia Co-CEO Nicola Rivers said they would continue legal action to protect native species.

 “Despite findings that VicForests’ logging destroyed critical habitat for species at high risk of extinction, has driven decline of the critically endangered Leadbeater’s Possum, and may have killed hundreds of threatened Greater Gliders, the Court decided those operations are exempt from the federal environment laws designed to protect those very species,” she said.

“We’ll be working with our client, Friends of Leadbeater’s Possum to appeal to the High Court and apply to keep injunctions in place protecting the critical areas of habitat subject of the case.”   

Story Source: Environmental Justice Australia

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Ryan Fritz

Ryan Fritz started The Advocate in 2014 to provide not-for-profits and charities with another media platform to tell their worthwhile hard news stories and opinion pieces effortlessly. In 2020, Ryan formed a team of volunteer journalists to help spread even more high-quality stories from the third sector. He also has over 10 years of experience as a media and communications professional for not-for-profits and charities.

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