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Timber harvesting regulation

We are responsible for regulating timber harvesting in Victoria.

Commercial native timber harvesting ceased in Victoria’s State forests on 1 January 2024. On 25 June 2024, the Sustainable Forests (Timber) Repeal Bill 2024 received Royal Assent, which, among other things, resulted in the abolition of VicForests on 30 June 2024 and the repeal of the Sustainable Forests (Timber) Act 2004 (the legal mechanism for permitting commercial timber harvesting in Victoria’s State forests).

Regulating timber harvesting

Environmental laws relating to timber harvesting allow natural values to be protected while providing sustainable access to timber resources.

A natural value in a forest may be a particular threatened species, a cultural heritage site, a source of clean water or something less specific like biodiversity. 

The multiple pieces of legislation related to Victorian timber harvesting outline:  

  • Where and when timber harvesting activities can occur.
  • How timber harvesting activities are conducted.

This legislation can be found on our laws page.

Together, these acts, codes, plans and orders are known as the timber harvesting regulatory framework. This framework informs our actions.

We monitor VicForests’ timber harvesting activities. Our role is to make sure that VicForests and its contractors comply with laws relating to timber harvesting.

The Code of Practice for Timber Production 2014 (the Code) is the primary regulatory document relevant to timber harvesting in state forests.  

What is the Code of Practice?

The purpose of the Code of Practice for Timber Production 2014 is to provide direction to the managing authority (VicForests), harvesting entities and operators to deliver sound environmental performance when planning for and conducting commercial timber harvesting operations.

The effective implementation of the Code helps to ensure that timber production is compatible with the conservation of the wide range of values associated with forests.

It’s a legal requirement for timber harvesting operators to comply with the Code.

A revised Code of Practice for Timber Production came into effect on 6 June 2022, and can be found here:

Code of Practice for Timber Production 2014

Schedule 1 of the Code of Practice for Timber Production is the management standards and procedures for timber harvesting operations in Victoria's State Forests. This document provides the detailed instructions to assist any person undertaking commercial timber harvesting to comply with the Code.

Exemptions from the Management Standards and Procedures

An exemption from the Management Standards and Procedures for timber harvesting operations in Victoria’s State Forests 2021 (MSP) can be requested for the following reasons:

  • Seed collection
  • Roading in Special Protection Zones
  • Regeneration or rehabilitation works
  • Use of existing coupe infrastructure
  • Timber harvesting operations in a water supply protection area
  • Camp site or shower units associated with timber harvesting operations not located on a coupe.

The authority to determine applications for MSP exemptions is delegated by the Minister for Energy Environment and Climate Change to the Chief Conservation Regulator.

There is a register of decisions made by the Chief Conservation Regulator on applications for MSP exemptions

Private land

We do not administer the operation of the Code on private land or within plantations. For more information on timber harvesting on private property and plantation harvesting, contact your local government authority. 

How does the Conservation Regulator regulate timber harvesting in Victoria?

Commercial timber harvesting and associated activities undertaken by VicForests are regulated by the Conservation Regulator to maximise compliance with relevant law.

We do this in 3 main ways:

  1. We prevent harm – for example, we conduct the Forest Protection Survey Program , set clear expectations on how to comply with legal obligations and manage threatened species reports.
  2. We monitor compliance with the law – for example, we conduct independent audit programs and proactive compliance inspections.
  3. We enforce the law – for example, we investigate alleged breaches of the law and take enforcement action.

Our surveys, audits, inspections and investigations take place in forestry coupes. Coupes are areas of forest where timber harvesting occurs.

Compliance and enforcement tools available to the Conservation Regulator

The Conservation Regulator can apply a range of regulatory tools to seek compliance with the law. This includes site inspections, requirements to provide information to the Regulator in assessing compliance with the law, directions notices, enforceable undertakings, injunctions, and prosecutions.

The Conservation Regulator’s Compliance and Enforcement Policy provides an overview of how the Regulator makes decisions about compliance and enforcement, including consideration of appropriate regulatory tools. A copy of the Compliance and Enforcement Policy can be found on our Publications page.

For more information on the legal framework establishing the powers of the Conservation Regulator, please see our laws page. The following provides a brief overview of the Conservation Regulator’s approach to the use of enforceable undertakings and injunctions. This information should be read in conjunction with the Compliance and Enforcement Policy.

Enforceable undertakings

An enforceable undertaking is a legally enforceable agreement that involves a duty holder promising to take agreed actions.

Under section 83A of the Sustainable Forests (Timber) Act 2004 (the SFT Act), the Conservation Regulator can enter into an undertaking with a duty holder who has:

  • breached, or allegedly breached section 45 of the SFT Act dealing with unauthorised timber harvesting operations; or
  • breached, or allegedly breached, section 46 of the SFT Act by failing to comply with any relevant Code of Practice relating to timber harvesting, such as the Code of Practice for Timber Production 2014.

In choosing whether to negotiate an enforceable undertaking in response to alleged breach, the Conservation Regulator considers the requirements of the SFT Act, the Conservation Regulator’s Compliance and Enforcement Policy, and the circumstances of the alleged offending. An enforceable undertaking may be appropriate when:

  • the person or company takes active responsibility for the alleged breach and its impacts
  • it is the most appropriate form of response given the nature of the alleged breach and compliance history of the person
  • it will achieve an outcome that is comparable to or superior to other forms of sanction, with respect to remedying the harm and preventing future breaches.

The Conservation Regulator will consider using an enforceable undertaking to achieve outcomes such as:

  • changes in systems and business practices to reduce the risk of future non-compliance
  • requiring investment in environmental remediation activities to rehabilitate or offset harm caused by the alleged breach
  • requiring investment in scientific research relating to the alleged breach.

If an enforceable undertaking is agreed, the Conservation Regulator cannot prosecute or pursue alternative sanctions for the alleged offending. If an undertaking is breached, it can be enforced by the Courts or cancelled. Prosecution may be commenced for the original offending and/or breach of the undertaking.

Injunctions

An injunction is a court order that requires a person to undertake an activity or, more commonly, to stop doing a specific thing. To obtain an injunction an application must be made to a Court. The use of an injunction is available under section 89 of the Conservation, Forests and Lands Act 1987. It is the Court’s decision to grant the injunction and will be followed by a legal proceeding.

Injunctions are available to the Conservation Regulator across several of its regulatory responsibilities, relating to timber harvesting, fire prevention, use of public land and biodiversity (flora and fauna). The use of an injunction would be considered in circumstances where:

  • the conduct is or would be illegal
  • the conduct is causing, or is likely to cause, significant and/or irreversible harm
  • immediate and urgent action is needed
  • efforts to cease or alter the conduct have been unsuccessful
  • it is the public interest and prudent to intervene.

The Conservation Regulator considers using injunctions as part of its graduated compliance and enforcement approach. Factors that may be considered when determining if an injunction is appropriate:

  • the nature of an offence or potential offence
  • the environmental harm
  • whether the non-compliance is repeated or continuing
  • the suitability of other regulatory tools.

Reports

Where an allegation is substantiated the Conservation Regulator has the power to enforce the law. Where appropriate we also apply sanctions to prevent or remedy environmental harm and deter future non-compliance.

Any enforcement action must be undertaken in accordance with the law and within the relevant statute of limitations. Read our statute of limitations guidance.

How does the Conservation Regulator report to the public on timber harvesting compliance?

The Conservation Regulator reports progress in many ways. This includes reporting against the actions and performance measures in the Regulating timber harvesting in State forests under the Allocation Order – Statement of Regulatory Intent. The report will also include the results of audits and inspections against the commitments of the Victorian Forestry Plan.

Regulating timber harvesting in State forests under the Allocation Order - Statement of Regulatory Intent
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Regulating timber harvesting in State forests under the Allocation Order - Statement of Regulatory Intent
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We also provide regular updates to the status of reports made by the public (known as Forest Reports) regarding allegations of non-compliance with the law and reports of the presence of threatened species or other values that require protection.

The results of the annual Forest Audit Program are also made public by the Conservation Regulator.

How will the Conservation Regulator monitor and report on the Victorian Forestry Plan until it becomes law?

At the end of 2019, the Victorian Government announced the Native Forest Transition Package, part of the Victorian Forestry Plan. It supports Victoria’s forest industry to transition away from native forestry.

As part of the plan, harvesting native forests in Victoria will cease by 2030. We can only investigate possible breaches of the law and will not investigate allegations of non-compliance with the Victorian Forestry Plan policy commitments until they become law.

Until the policy commitments of the Victorian Forestry Plan become law we will:

  • develop a guideline for consistent identification and protection of old growth forests
  • develop a guideline for application of modified harvesting rules for the Greater Glider
  • use the best available information to direct surveying to areas with high likelihood of important forest values, including old growth forests and Greater Glider
  • ensure that the most up-to-date results of the Forest Protection Survey Program are provided to VicForests and made available online.

Once measures from the Victorian Forestry Plan become law, we will regulate compliance through its established procedure for preventing harm, monitoring compliance and enforcing the law.

Regulating timber harvesting on steep slopes

The Conservation Regulator monitors timber harvesting coupes on steep slopes to ensure compliance with legal obligations and protect the environment.

You can read more about it in this document: 

Regulating timber harvesting on steep slopes
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Please note that in November 2021 changes were made to the prescriptions related to the conduct of timber harvesting on steep slopes in Water Supply Protection Areas as a result of amendments to the Code of Practice for Timber Production 2014 and its incorporated documents. The Conservation Regulator will continue to monitor timber harvesting on steep slopes, in accordance with relevant laws applicable at the time of any activity being undertaken.

Dispute resolution

Where any additional information or further explanation as to the results of a threatened species report or allegation of non-compliance is sought, the Conservation Regulator encourages you to contact us by email at forest.reports@delwp.vic.gov.au

If you disagree with a decision made by the Timber Harvesting Compliance Unit, you can seek a review by the relevant director by emailing conservationregulator@delwp.vic.gov.au.

If you are still unsatisfied, complaints about an action or decision made by a Victorian public organisation can be lodged with the Victorian Government Ombudsman. For more information on this process, please visit their website.

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