This winter hundreds of Swift Parrots turned up on the south coast of NSW where spotted gums were flowering abundantly, deserting the drought-stricken box ironbark forests they usually frequent (http://www.birdsaustralia.com.au/homepage-news/swiftie-regent-survey-update.html).
These beautiful birds have the misfortune to choose forests slated for logging at both ends of their range. In NSW, much of the coastal forest where the birds sought refuge is state forest. Around Bermagui they were feeding in surviving spotted gum-dominated forest patches. Some were logged and burnt last year; without action, more will go in September.
The parrots are returning to Tasmania, to breed where heavily flowering bluegums provide abundant nectar. Last year most were in Wielangta Forest. This year, where?
What’s happened to protect the parrots?
In a word – not much.
Early in 2009, the Tasmanian government promised two reports by the end of June: the results of last summer’s breeding survey in Wielangta Forest and, crucially, a landscape scale ‘strategic species plan’ covering forestry activities in the species’ potential habitat. According to Minister Garrett the strategic plan would ‘progress a more integrated approach to the management and protection’ of the Swift Parrot. Neither document has appeared. It seems that the strategic plan has turned into ‘interim guidelines’ that are not only unpublished but so secret that they can only be extracted from the Tasmanina government through FOI.
In Canberra, the nomination to grade the Swift Parrot as ‘critically endangered’ -- not just endangered -- has not even passed the first hurdle. Minister Garrett will release his ‘priority assessment list’ around the end of August; if the Swift Parrot makes the list, the actual assessment will take another year or more. As for the recovery plan -- three years after it should have been implemented, the 2006-11 recovery plan is not even completed.
It is getting on for a year since the alarm was sounded on the plight of the Swift Parrot, but little has changed. The breeding season starts within weeks but important Swift Parrot breeding habitat in Wielangta, the southern forests, Bruny Island and Tasman Peninsula, and in other places not yet properly surveyed, continues to be open for logging. Now, the onus is also on the NSW government to protect its vital south coast forests, which this winter supported a large proportion of the species’ total population.
Can a parrot get justice under an RFA? Read the article by Alexandra de Blas in the latest edition of Ecos Magazine: http://www.ecosmagazine.com/nid/10/issue/4865.htm
While the RFAs are currently intended to achieve conservation outcomes, the Commonwealth does not have monitoring, compliance and enforcement mechanisms in place to determine if the RFAs are achieving these objectives; this in turn may have implications for how well the objects of the EPBC Act are being achieved in RFA regions.
Interim Report of the Hawke EPBC Review, June 2009
Pressure is mounting on Regional Forest Agreements. According to both the Hawke Review and the Senate Environment Committee they lack transparency and accountability. Importantly, the Hawke EPBC Review canvasses options for greater Commonwealth oversight of RFA logging. Paraphrased, these are –
• establish an independent expert-based scientific committee to assess compliance and initiate audits of RFAs;
• provide for Commonwealth power to issue 'stop work' orders;
• ensure that the RFA exemption does not apply to incomplete or lapsed RFAs.
Both inquiries relied heavily on the Wielangta Forest case to reach their conclusions.
Forestry Minister Burke was impelled to make a pre-emptive defence of RFAs in a Ministerial Statement on 24 June. Steadfastly ignoring the evidence, he maintained that RFAs embody a ‘rigorous sustainable forest management framework to ensure the environmental protection of key forest values including biodiversity, soil and water, and cultural heritage’.
The deadline for submissions on the EPBC Review is 3 August 2009 (please make even a short submission if you can); and the final report is due in October 2009.
Meanwhile, we are waiting for two reports on the Swift Parrot, both due at the end of June. They are the results of surveys at Wielangta last summer, when the parrots were breeding in large numbers; and the so-called ‘Strategic Management Plan for Swift Parrot Breeding Habitat across Tasmania’, being prepared by the Forest Practices Authority Fauna Strategy Group (which includes Gunns and Forestry Tasmania).
Swift Parrots start returning in September -- to what?
Due to an overwhelming public response, Senator Brown will be able to cover his Forestry Tasmania legal bill this week. Bob would like to
thank everybody who has been and continue to be so generous. If you would like to donate to the ongoing campaign to protect Australia's forests, please do so on this web site.
You can also purchase photographs from a special exhibition by Senator Bob Brown. Visit www.greenart.com.au where you can view the photos online. All proceeds go to the Wielangta forest fund to pay legal costs (any excess funds will be used to help protect Australia's wild and threatened forests).
Bob won his original court case to stop Forestry Tasmania logging the magnificent Wielangta forest, but the win was overturned on a
technicality by the full bench of the Federal Court after the Howard Government joined forces with the Lennon Government to change the law.
Forestry Tasmania wrote a letter threatening to bankrupt Bob if he does not pay their court costs by June 29. That would disqualify him from the Senate.
The Wielangta Forest case has been won and lost in the Federal Court. Long-lasting environmental benefits will flow from our action and Justice Marshall’s original finding, after 36 days of hearings, that logging is harming the survival of the rare Swift parrot, Wielangta stag beetle and Tasmanian Wedge-tailed eagle, stands. It will inevitably help save rare species through legal challenges against destructive developments elsewhere in Australia in the future.
The case has also helped give Wielangta Forest its national profile and will help local groups there in their ongoing campaign to save it and its endangered species. Forestry Tasmania was backed in the court by the Tasmanian and Federal governments.
I and Margaret Blakers and all who have taken and persisted with the Wielangta Forest case these last four years, are extremely thankful to all of you who have donated or otherwise contributed to make this landmark case, right to the High Court, possible.
I have now received a demand from Forestry Tasmania for $239,368.53 court costs, as awarded by the Federal Court, to be paid by 29th June (see attached). Be assured we will borrow or raise the money to pay this bill (the reference to bankruptcy in the letter is because this would forfeit my seat in the Senate).
This is the last appeal for Wielangta and, as the 29th June deadline mandates, is quite urgent. If you can contribute, I thank you once again, for your generosity to Wielangta and Australia’s other threatened species habitats.
P.S Last year, noted artist Philip Farley painted ‘Wedge-tailed eagles over the Upper Florentine Valley, Tasmania.’ It is beautifully framed by Luke Wagner. The commissioned cost was $10,000. This painting is for sale and the whole of the sale price will go to our Wielangta Forest appeal. You can get details on the website. Bob.
Swift Parrot - inaction!
In October 2008, a review of the impact of logging in Wielangta and other Swift Parrot breeding areas in south-eastern Tasmania found strong evidence that the bird is not just endangered but critically endangered. The report called for immediate action to stop further logging damage to breeding habitat.
Three months later, no serious action has been taken by the Tasmanian or Commonwealth governments. Logging can resume in Wielangta coupe 19D, where numerous Swift Parrots bred this summer, as soon as the birds fledge their chicks -- that is, any time from January 2009. There is still no current recovery plan and government research funding has completely dried up.
Read the details here: Swift Parrot update [PDF]
Bob Brown's Tasmania 2
Exhibition for Wielangta
- opens 10th July 6pm to 8th August 2009
Natural Australia is endlessly enchanting and here are some of it's spectacles which I have been lucky enough to see.
Any money raised from the sale of photos will go to the urgent campaign to end the destruction of Tasmania's wildlife-filled forests.
But the main thing is for me to share my moments of joy in the bush with you.
We hope you and your friends can make it to
the Helen Maxwell Gallery 42 Mort st Canberra [www.helenmaxwell.com] - opens Friday 10th July 6pm and closes on the 8th of August.
View and purchase the images at www.greenart.com.au or come to the exhibition from 10th July - 8th August 2009.
A SHORT HISTORY OF THE WIELANGTA FOREST CASE
This epic case has been before the courts for nearly three years and in preparation for two years before that. At stake is the survival of wildlife threatened by logging and the reach and effectiveness of the federal government’s environmental laws.
Is it the case, as Justice Marshall concluded at the end of the trial, that ‘protect’ in the Regional Forest Agreement (RFA) means really protect. Or is it the case as the Full Federal Court decided, on appeal, that the RFA was not intended to guarantee that the environment, including threatened species, would not ‘suffer’ as a consequence of continued logging.
In legal terms, the issue comes down to the words ‘in accordance with’ in s 38 of the EPBC Act. This is the section that exempts RFA forestry operations from federal environmental scrutiny if they are carried out ‘in accordance with’ the RFA. The question is: should the phrase be read as meaning ‘does not apply’ (as the Full Court held) or ‘consistently with’ (as the trial judge held). If the latter, RFAs can impose requirements as to how forestry operations must be conducted.
The fate of the three species at the centre of this case hangs in the balance. The Tasmanian Wedge-tailed Eagle, the Swift Parrot and the Wielangta Stag Beetle are all federally listed endangered species living in the Wielangta Forest on Tasmania’s east coast. The trial judge found that all were significantly impacted by Forestry Tasmania’s current and planned logging. This decision stands, as does the finding that Forestry Tasmania manipulated the evidence before the court.
This case, brought by Senator Brown as an individual, has only been possible with the support of hundreds of generous donors, the dedication of expert witnesses, and a brilliant legal team. It has exposed Forestry Tasmania to unprecedented scrutiny and put the Commonwealth’s environmental laws on trial.
On Friday 23 May the High Court, on a 2:1 majority, refused Senator Brown’s application for special leave to appeal the Wielangta Forest Full Court decision. The considered that the Howard-Lennon 2007 amendments to the Regional Forest Agreement meant that an appeal would have insufficient prospects of success.
As a result, Wielangta Forest can be logged and only the Commonwealth and the State of Tasmania have the power to enforce the Regional Forest Agreement through the Prime Minister and the Tasmanian Premier. It remains the case that the Commonwealth Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 has never been tested in the High Court.
The High Court did not issue a costs order, meaning that each side bears its own costs for the special leave application. However, Senator Brown will have to pay Forestry Tasmania’s costs for its successful Full Court appeal.
30 May 2005
Senator Brown applies to the Federal Court for an injunction to prevent logging in two Wielangta coupes to protect the Wielangta Stag Beetle
Injunction refused (logging began in coupe 17E at 4 am the following morning) but Forestry Tasmania agreed to defer other logging until after the court case
Federal and state government apply to intervene in the case in support of Forestry Tasmania
Trial begins (followed by 33 days of hearings finishing in May 2006)
Justice Marshall rules the logging illegal because of the impact on endangered species and orders that no forestry operations be undertaken in Wielangta unless the court permits
Forestry Tasmania appeals to the Full Federal Court against virtually the entirety of the trial judgment. The state and federal governments again intervene to support Forestry Tasmania
The Tasmanian RFA is amended by agreement between Prime Minister Howard and Premier Lennon in response to the Wielangta decision. In particular, cl 68 in which the state agreed to protect endangered species is re-written
Full Federal Court appeal hearing (five days before three judges)
Full Court judgment overturns the trial decision saying that RFAs give no guarantee that the environment including endangered species would not ‘suffer’ as a result of logging. Moratorium on logging in Wielangta removed.
Senator Brown applies to the High Court for special leave to appeal
High Court submissions lodged