Conservationists Arrested, Loggers Move on Goolengook Forest

MELBOURNE, Victoria, Australia, March 11, 2002 (ENS) - Logging and woodchipping in the old growth Goolengook forest in East Gippsland began in two areas Saturday over the loud protests of conservationists. They have tried for years to safeguard the remote area, six hours from the nearest city, Canberra.


Goolengook forest in East Gippsland (Photo courtesy Tony Hastings)
One of the last areas of untouched old growth forest left in Australia, the Goolengook is rated as a Site of National Significance for its rainforest values, a rare mix of warm and cool temperate rainforest species.

The loggers were protected by state police and Department of Natural Resources and Environment (NRE) personnel.

Today, 10 people were charged at the front gate at Goolengook, bringing the total number of people charged to 19 for the first week following the dismantling of the Goolengook fort.

Heavy-handed tactics by the police and NRE staff have escalated the conflict together with the apparent suspension of public access laws. The Wilderness Society reports police are using floodlights and infrared tracking devices in an attempt to keep the public from scrutinizing logging activity in the Goolengook forest.

"I am absolutely appalled public roads have been locked and at the total unaccountability of the NRE. Media have been denied access and logging continues behind locked gates," said Peter Barnes, former senior executive engineer for Shell Energy.

Fiona York of the Goongerah Environment Centre says the NRE is "out of control."

"Overnight we have seen the escalation of the conflict with the confiscation of people's basic life sustaining supplies, whether or not they are in restricted areas and the removal of name badges by both the police and NRE," she said.

"This thuggery clearly demonstrates that the department is determined to push through their agenda of logging behind closed gates despite the ongoing public protest," said York.

Conservationists point out that the cost to taxpayers of the police action far outweighs the profits from the woodchips which sell for A10 cents a metric ton.


Activist sits in a tripod on the Goolengook Blockade (Photo courtesy Goolengook Blockade)
Conservationists are mounting a sustained campaign of civil disobedience with hundreds of people coming in from all around the country to take part in the campaign to halt logging in this pristine area of old growth forest.

Gavan McFadzean, Victorian campaign manager for the Wilderness Society, said, "This is a sad day for all Victorians. Arguably Victoria's highest conservation value old growth forest, and an icon for the environment movement, is being destroyed for as little as 10 cents per ton. It is utterly senseless destruction."

Sunday a documentary filmmaker was assaulted by an NRE officer and the Aboriginal owners of the area made a dramatic plea for its preservation. Community members managed to gain access to the area by walking over 15 kilometers (nine miles) to areas of logging.

The area is home to rare and threatened animals such as the spot-tail quoll, long-footed potoroo, the sooty owl and the powerful owl, as well as large old-growth trees and rare plants, such as the slender tree fern, and the green bird orchid.

The Department of Natural Resources and the Environment justifies this logging operation as the East Gippsland Management Plan and rezoned the area into a General Management Zone - which allows it to be clearcut with no further plant or animal surveys. This was later reinforced by the Regional Forest Agreement between the federal government and the state of Victoria.

Green groups, members of the public and the government's own scientists have all publicly condemned the re-zoning and subsequent logging.

To protect the Goolengook the most hard core blockade ever constructed was built, and it proved to be the longest running in Australia.

It was January 1997 when the road was first blocked by a small tripod, and since then has seen countless structures, lock-ons and protests. On June 5, 1997, World Environment Day, the clearfelling of the National Biological Site of Significance known for its rainforest values began.


One of many police busts of the Goolengook blockade. (Photo courtesy Goolengook Blockade)
Since then the blockade has been busted and re-constructed at least 50 times, and over 160 people have been arrested.

"On February 21, Premier Steve Bracks announced that sawn timber supply would be reduced in East Gippsland by 43 percent. This should mean that areas of old growth forest and rainforest should be spared from the chainsaw," said McFadzean.

"Our concern that the Premier's recent announcement would have no impact in protecting old growth forests have now been tragically justified, as the needs of the woodchipping industry continue to determine the fate of our forests."

"We are extremely concerned about the safety of conservationists in the area who, through civil disobedience, are attempting to stop the destruction," said McFadzean. "Environmental groups are committed and trained in the principles of non-violent action. We call on the logging industry to make the same pledge, and for the police and DNRE staff to act impartially and ensure the safety of conservationists at Goolengook."

Conservation groups have been calling for Goolengook to be added to the adjacent Errinundra National Park.

In Parliament, conservationists are urging a no vote on what they say is a flawed Regional Forest Agreement bill which exempts the native forest logging industry from national environment laws. It commits the Australian public to huge compensation payouts to industry if a future government decides to increase protection for endangered forest wildlife.

Senator Bob Brown, a Green Party member, says the legislation will give backing to the destruction of the tallest trees in the Southern Hemisphere, in the Valley of the Giants on the island state of Tasmania. The bill comes into the federal Senate for debate this week.