Environment East Gippsland launches fourth legal action against government, this time over the provision of owl habitats

6 November 2014

A small environment group is seeking to sue the Victorian government for the fourth time, this time over its alleged failure to properly protect three threatened species of owl.

Powerful Owl chick

A young powerful owl, which needs 800 hectares reserved for each pair of birds. Photograph: David Hollands

Environment East Gippsland has lodged a claim in Victoria’s supreme court after successfully bringing three other cases over the state government’s approach to protecting various threatened species.

The Victorian government is required to establish protection zones for the powerful, sooty and masked owls, which each require a certain area of suitable habitat to survive.

Powerful owls, which are Australia’s largest owl species, have been allocated 80,000ha, at 800ha for each pair of birds. Owls are generally very territorial and require a large area to hunt and feast on prey such as sugar gliders.

Earlier this year bushfires tore through 179,000ha of forest habitat in Gippsland, eastern Victoria.

Environment East Gippsland claims the Victorian government has failed to set aside replacement habitat areas for 46 protected owl zones destroyed by the fire.

Sooty Owl ichick n hollow

The sooty owl is one of three threatened species that are the subject of a supreme court lawsuit against the Victorian government. Photograph: David Hollands

It also accuses the government of failing to find out where the endangered owls are, despite a written appeal for it to do so.

The group’s own survey work has identified 81 plots of forest where the owls live. VicForests, the state logging agency, has agreed not to log the areas until the court case has concluded.

“We have no real idea where all the owls are – if they didn’t die in the fires they would be dying slowly from a lack of food,” Jill Redwood from Environment East Gippsland told Guardian Australia.

“There are no official surveys going on at all, even though they are required to do so. They need to reinstate the owl protection areas and set aside new ones. At the moment, the government is using ignorance as a defence and is defending the interests of the logging industry.”

Environment East Gippsland has previously taken court action that resulted in the government having to undertake surveys for frogs and spotted-tailed quolls before logging a mountainous area, and VicForests agreed not to log nine tracts of rainforest following an out-of-court settlement in another case.

Last year the government again settled with Environment East Gippsland and will prepare “action statements” for four endangered species – the glossy black cockatoo, the long-nosed potoroo, the large brown tree frog and the eastern she-oak skink.

“We are getting a bit fed up having to do this,” Redwood said. “Citizens shouldn’t have to take the government to court so it adheres to its own laws. We’ve won three out of three, which shows the government is more interested in protecting the logging industry than its obligation to endangered wildlife.

“Bushfires are just knocking out so many threatened species that are just hanging on by a toenail.”

A spokeswoman for Victoria’s Department of Environment and Primary Industries said: “As the matter is currently before the supreme court, it would be inappropriate ... to make any comment.”

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