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Regulating timber harvesting continues to be a key area of focus for the Conservation Regulator.

Enforcement activities and supporting compliance

The Conservation Regulator undertakes a number of activities to monitor and support compliance of timber harvesting operations.

Forest Protection Survey Program

The Forest Protection Survey Program (FPSP) seeks to conduct on-ground surveys to identify the presence of high-value flora and fauna species in coupes that VicForests is proposing to harvest. All scheduled coupes are run through a desktop assessment to prioritise where to conduct surveys.

In 2019–2020, the FPSP exceeded its target of surveying 80 per cent of coupes planned for harvest, reaching 86%. All FPSP survey schedules and results are available publicly on the new Forest Information PortalExternal Link – a transparent database on information on forest values.

Coupe Inspection Program

This year the Conservation Regulator launched its new Coupe Inspection Program. This new program identifies coupes for compliance inspections based on the presence of important forest values such as waterways, protected plants and animals, and the risks posed to the environment by timber harvesting operations.

The focus in the first year of the program has been on active harvesting operations, harvesting in domestic water supply catchments and pre-harvest inspections of key values. This includes rainforest and exclusion areas set aside for threatened species protections, and operations in or adjacent to forests impacted by fire.

In 2019–2020, 24 field inspections occurred at 16 individual coupes as part of the Coupe Inspection Program. Half of these coupes were inspected multiple times to ensure any identified issues were rectified.

Rainforest Spot Check Program

The Rainforest Spot Check Program uses the most up to data spatial data to determine the extent of possible rainforest vegetation within, and adjacent to, all Timber Release Plan coupes.

Coupes with high value rainforest are prioritised for spot checks to ensure rainforests are appropriately protected from timber harvesting activities.

In 2019–2020, 60 coupes were identified as likely to contain rainforest, with 17 of the highest value located in East Gippsland. Over 65 per cent of coupes identified for rainforest checking were in fire affected areas of East Gippsland. The extensive impacts of the 2019– 2020 bushfire season meant that these areas could not be checked due to post-bushfire safety issues.

This meant 16 coupes were available for spot checking in the Central Highlands. 25% of these coupes received in-field inspections.

Forest Audit Program

The key objectives of the Forest Audit Program were the protection of soil, water and biodiversity values, execution of in-coupe road design and construction, rehabilitation of coupe infrastructure, implementation of forest coupe planning and coupe regeneration.

Through the Forest Audit Program, a proportion of harvested coupes are assessed.

The 2019–2020 Forest Audit Program report is nearing completion and will be published on the Conservation Regulator’s website by early 2021.

Bushfire season 2019–2020

The 2019–2020 bushfires had a significant impact on eastern Victorian forests, including on their unique flora and fauna.

The Conservation Regulator is responsible for ensuring VicForests and its contractors are complying with the Code, including the Precautionary Principle.

We have been working to ensure VicForests understands and responds to its obligations under the law, in particular, the application of the Precautionary Principle in the post-fire environment.

Victorian Forestry Plan

In November 2019, the Victorian Government announced the Victorian Forestry Plan which commits to a gradual phaseout of all logging in native forests by 2030, and an immediate end to logging of old growth forests.

The Victorian Government asked the Conservation Regulator to monitor and publicly report on VicForests’ compliance with the government’s policy to end timber harvesting of old growth forests.

To support compliance with the new government policy ahead of it becoming law, we developed guidance for consistent identification and protection of old growth forests, and the survey methods and data requirements for submitting third-party reports of Greater Gliders.

We also consulted on a Draft Old Growth Forest Field Identification Procedure. The final procedure was developed into two companion documents, an Assessment Tool and Regulatory Guide, which were released in the 2020–2021 financial year.

Collaboration

We receive reports from the community regarding allegations of non-compliant timber harvesting, as well as threatened species and forest values that have been detected in or adjacent to locations where timber harvesting is planned.

The information provided by the community is assessed, and if verified, ensures that in-field forest protections are put in place. In 2019–2020, 56 threatened species reports were carried over from the previous year, 74 new reports were received from the community and 43 reports were assessed and closed.

In 2019–2020, 30 community reports of alleged non-compliance were received with eight reports accepted for investigation. VicForests have been issued with four official warnings and four section 70 directions notices, issued under the Sustainable Forests (Timber) Act 2004External Link . A section 70 notice directs the recipient to modify their harvesting operations to achieve compliance with the Code or a section of the Act.

Relevant information collected in the course of our activities is provided for inclusion in the Victorian Biodiversity AtlasExternal Link .

Contractors that are commissioned by the Conservation Regulator to undertake verification surveys for threatened species are made aware of their obligations to provide verified and unverified information to the Victorian Biodiversity AtlasExternal Link . This includes those contractors commissioned through the Forest Protection Survey Program.

The status of forest and threatened species reports, and results of our key performance measures are included in Table 2.

Shared data system

In 2020, DELWP introduced a new more sophisticated shared data system via a mapping platform (the Forest Information PortalExternal Link ) to provide stakeholder access to a wide range of forest related information. This includes results of FPSP surveys and timber harvesting schedules, as well as a variety of recreation, hunting, and forest-related administrative information.

Table 2 Performance measure results for Timber Harvesting Compliance

Performance measure

Target

Result

Comment

Per cent of coupes planned for timber harvesting that have assessments under the FPSP for the potential presence of target flora and fauna, including threatened species and other values such as prescribed vegetation communities and trees

100%

100%

Target achieved

Per cent of coupes planned for timber harvesting that are field surveyed under the Forest Protection Survey Program with a risk of the potential presence for target flora and fauna, including threatened species and other values such as prescribed vegetation communities and trees

80%

86%

Target achieved

Per cent of coupes planned for timber harvesting that may contain rainforest that are spot checked to ensure that VicForests has correctly identified rainforests and has put the required protections in place

20%

25%*

Target achieved

Acknowledge receipt of reports of non-compliance

<2 work days

0.9 work days

Target achieved

Commence the verification of threatened species reports

<5 work days

0.5 work days

Target achieved

Number of coupes harvested in the previous year audited as part of the Forest Audit Program to monitor VicForests’ compliance with the Code and the MSP

30

30

Target achieved

The Forest Audit Program has consistently audited on average 30 harvest coupes per annum. This was again achieved for 2019–2020. While an additional percentage target sought to double the number of audited coupes per annum, due to unforeseen circumstances, this target was unable to be met. The target will stay consistent at 30 coupes audited per annum from 2020-2021 onwards.

(Per cent of coupes harvested in the previous year audited as part of the Forest Audit Program to monitor VicForests’ compliance with the Code and the MSP)

(20%)

(11%)

Number of coupes planned for timber harvesting, or in which timber harvesting is underway, that are subject to compliance inspection to monitor VicForests’ compliance with the regulatory framework

30

16

The 2019–2020 bushfire season significantly inhibited our ability to undertake inspections therefore this target was unable to be met. A percentage target was a new target for 2019–2020, in future years, the target will stay consistent at 30 compliance inspections per annum.

(Per cent of coupes planned for timber harvesting, or in which timber harvesting is underway, that are subject to compliance inspection to monitor VicForests’ compliance with the regulatory framework)

(20%)

(9.6%)

Average time taken to investigate alleged or suspected non-compliance

<12 months

7.4 months

Target achieved

*Coupes in Gippsland and East Gippsland RFA areas were excluded as they were unable to be assessed due to the 2019–2020 bushfires.

Activity measure

Result

Number of threatened species reports received

74

Number of threatened species reports that undergo verification

28

Number of reports of alleged or suspected non-compliance received

30

Number of reports of alleged or suspected non-compliance investigated

8

Reviewed 20 October 2022

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