Media Releases - 14 July 2023

Forestry Tasmania faces criminal charges after evidence of illegal logging uncovered

Aerial shot of logging coupe. Image: Wilderness Society Tasmania.

Criminal proceedings have been initiated this week against Forestry Tasmania by Wilderness Society Tasmania. The complainant alleges that the state-owned logging agency has illegally logged native forest along protected streams in the Styx region of Lutruwita/Tasmania.

Evidence obtained by Wilderness Society Tasmania shows Forestry Tasmania has allegedly breached the Forest Practices Act 1985 (Tas) by logging through a stream-side reserve and outside its ‘harvest boundary’, breaching its own Forest Practices Plan, which constitutes an offence under the Act.

Stream-side reserves are buffers of vegetation alongside streams and rivers to protect vital waterways from degradation. Logging right up to and into waterways typically disrupts hydrological processes and pollutes the watercourse with silt and chemical runoff from heavy industrial logging machinery.

Uniquely, in Tasmania these alleged breaches are grounds for a private criminal prosecution, as opposed to relying on private officers of the state to bring criminal proceedings as is usually the case.

Tasmania’s native forest logging industry is exempt from Australia’s national environmental laws. Instead, native forests are managed, and regulated, via a Regional Forest Agreement (RFA). This has left the door wide open for unsustainable forestry practices—the result of a lax regulatory regime and lacklustre enforcement in the state. The forestry industry regulator in Tasmania has never initiated criminal proceedings against Forestry Tasmania, despite evidence of breaches of the weak state regulations being regularly brought to its attention.

The alleged stream-side logging is a primary example of why Australia’s environmental laws, which are currently undergoing reform, must meaningfully protect forests, and apply to all industries equally, says Wilderness Society Tasmania. Native forest logging should no longer be afforded a special pass for destruction.

In Lutruwita/Tasmania’s precious forests, delicate streams crisscross the landscape, and provide essential water to flora and fauna. These forests are habitat to a range of declining species such as swift waylitja/parrot, Tasmanian wedge-tailed eagle and eastern quoll.

Tom Allen, Campaign Manager for Wilderness Society Tasmania, said, “A self-regulated regime of weak laws and little enforcement has allowed the logging industry to rampantly degrade Tasmania’s magnificent forests. By taking these alleged breaches to court, we are exposing Forestry Tasmania’s alleged long-standing non-compliance with Tasmania’s already weak forest protection laws. What we say is that Forestry Tasmania can’t even meet this lowest of bars and its nature and communities that pay the price.

“While this legal action is a signal to the Tasmanian forestry industry, it is also a signal to the federal government that it cannot allow industries such as these to continue to exploit nature unchecked. The community expects strong nature-protection laws to help protect Australia’s globally-significant forests and turn around species extinctions, not exemptions that allow for the trashing of precious native forest. The time for forest biodiversity protection is upon us all,” said Mr Allen.

The Tasmanian government has recently expanded the amount of native forest it intends to log and has said that it is considering also expanding logging into forested nature reserves beyond the agreed production forests. This presents a risk that a growing volume of potentially illegally-logged wood will enter national and international markets. This is in stark contrast to other states like Western Australia and Victoria (with reported attempts in New South Wales), which have decided to move away from native forest logging altogether by 2024.

The first mentions hearing for this case is set for 9.45am on 6 September 2023 at Launceston Magistrates Court.

For images and drone footage please contact media adviser, see below.

For interviews with Tom Allen, Campaign Manager for Wilderness Society Tasmania, please contact Rhiannon Cunningham, Media Adviser for The Wilderness Society on [email protected] or 0419 992 760