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By Kath Gannaway – 24th August 2010 02:00:29 AM
CHARGES filed in the Ringwood Magistrates’ Court in June claiming VicForests illegally logged a forest area in Toolangi have been dropped.

While VicForests last week labelled the case lodged by the Fauna and Flora Research Collective as a publicity stunt, Vanessa Bleyer, the lawyer for FFRC and other environment groups involved, says they are just changing tack.

The matter, which Ms Bleyer had described in July as a ‘landmark legal case’, was set down for a preliminary hearing on 12 August, but charges were withdrawn before it got to court.

VicForests CEO David Pollard said the withdrawal of the private prosecution was an inevitable conclusion.

“There was no legal basis for the prosecution as VicForests’ operations are authorised operations under the Sustainable Forest (Timber) Act 2004,” Dr Pollard said.

“It was unfortunate that the group attempted to bring an action against VicForests before clarifying the details of its own case, he added. “Their actions appear to have been designed to maximise publicity, rather than to show a genuine interest in caring for our forests.”

Ms Bleyer said the FFRC, the Wilderness Society, Lawyers for Forests, My Environment and Friends of the Earth had now taken their case to the Ombudsman.

“FFRC realised that a successful criminal prosecution of VicForests would only result in a fine being imposed on VicForests, which is effectively moving money from one government coffer to another,” Ms Bleyer said.

“That is unlikely to deter VicForests from further offending.”

She said the groups believed an investigation by the Ombudsman was more likely to lead to a better outcome.

Sarah Rees, president of My Environment, said the Ombudsman had been asked to investigate not only the Toolangi coupe, but all areas of Central Highlands that are planned to be logged and which contain leadbeater’s possum habitat.

“We know we would have won on the evidence, but we anticipate it would have resulted in a $2000 fine which would be no deterrent,” she said.

“We would like to prevent the logging rather than go in after they have logged it.”

Dr Pollard said VicForests had not been provided with the full details of the claims made by the group and added “VicForests continues to review its operations in the Central Highlands to ensure that no breach of the Forest Management Plan has occurred”.

“No old growth forest is harvested in Victoria’s Central Highlands region,” he said.