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EPA to take over as logging watchdog
October 17 2002
By Melissa Fyfe
Environment Reporter

The Department of Natural Resources and Environment will be stripped of its role in auditing logging practices in the state's forests in a move long urged by green groups.

Environmentalists and community groups have complained that the department - which oversees logging in state forests - is too close to the industry and does not ensure contractors comply with the Code of Practices for Timber Production.

Environment Minister Sherryl Garbutt will announce today that the Environment Protection Authority will be given the power to appoint a non-government, independent auditor, whose reports will be made public.

Ms Garbutt said the change would mean fewer breaches of the code and better scrutiny. It would provide incentive for loggers and the department to be more accountable, she said.

"The Victorian community can be assured that these audits will be of the highest standard. EPA-appointed auditors are subject to high levels of scrutiny and are liable for providing incorrect or misleading information while conducting their audits," Ms Garbutt said.

The Code of Practices for Timber Production requires loggers to protect environmentally important areas such as rainforest and streams with buffers; rehabilitate landings and tracks; consider soil issues; remove litter and retain habitat trees.

Applying more scrutiny to forestry practices was a goal the State Government announced in its Our Forests, Our Future reform package earlier this year.

The change was applauded by conservationists yesterday.

"We welcome the separation from Dracula and the blood bank," said the Wilderness Society's Gavan McFadzean.

But he said it was only a "minor detail" and the government was ignoring the conservation movement's main goals of protecting native forests and moving logging into plantations.

Lucy Turner, the president of Lawyers for Forests, said there had been a lack of compliance with the code and lack of proper auditing for some time.

"An increased commitment to auditing and compliance is something that is very welcome," she said.

The Greens' forest campaigner, Marcus Ward, said the move was an improvement but the EPA had not proved itself to be an independent champion of the environment. "We will wait and see," he said. "The NRE's audits of the code have been notoriously laughable. They often find no breaches of the code, but any community member who goes out to the forest will find any number of things to jot down."

Environment Victoria's forest campaigner Nicky Moffat commended the minister for the move. "There are countless breaches of the code that have gone unprosecuted and are hidden from public scrutiny," Ms Moffat said.


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