The Wild Dog Ridge campaign
The Wild Dog Ridge is located north of Apollo Bay in the Otway State Forest. Wild Dog Ridge is a popular walking track and has high visual value for residents living in the Wild Dog Valley and tourists driving along the Wild Dog road.
See Location map of Wild Dog Ridge.
For the past 30 years there has been controversy over logging on Wild Dog Ridge. In 1977, the Land Conservation Council Proposed recommendations to ban the use of Turtons track to log Wild Dog Ridge (See LCC 1977(b)). This recommendation was dropped from the final 1978 recommendations. See LCC recommendations.
Despite this setback, the LCC still recommended the scenic values of Wild Dog Ridge and Turtons Track be protected from logging. See LCC recommendations.
The Wild Dog Ridge Protests
Controversy began when Forestry Victoria (a division of the the Department of Natural Resources and Environment (DNRE)) authorised the clearfell logging of a four-kilometre length of the Wild Dog track. The logging involved the removal of a strip of trees about 15-25 metres wide from each side of a bush track that runs along the ridge. The logging threatened the scenic quality of Wild Dog Ridge for residents who lived in the Wild Dog Valley and tourist visitors from Apollo Bay that drive along Wild Dog Road.
In late January members of the Otway Ranges Environment Network (OREN) discovered clearfell logging along the ridge had begun. A blockade of local residents and conservationists was set up on Friday the 31st January 1997. Over the weekend, the local Apollo Bay community rallied to support the protest. The Apollo Bay Chamber of Commerce and Apollo Bay Land Care Group both condemned the Department for allowing the logging to occur. On Monday the 3rd February, eleven people were arrested for hindering logging operations on the ridge. At least one of the arrested had bail conditions imposed that stated they could not return to the logging operations on the ridge. This was contested (see below).
The next day, due to overwhelming local community opposition, Forestry Victoira halted the logging operation and removed logging equipment. Only 350 metres of the four-kilometre long road were logged. Local residents claimed victory.
In the press, Forestry Victoira refused to admit that the community had defeated the forestry officers and loggers. DNRE manager for commercial forests, Peter Keppell arrogantly and wrongly stated in the Colac Herald 14/3/97 that he rejected the claim that the DNRE had bowed to protests. Instead he tried to imply Wild Dog Ridge was never a road-line-logging coupe. Later in court, forestry officer, Ian Shurvell, admitted under oath that the logging had been stopped for political reasons.
For photos of logging that occurred at Wild Dog ridge, see Big Ben's Victoria (outside website).
Geelong Magistrates Court Proceedings
Before court proceedings began, the removal of bail conditions was dealt with. It had been demonstrated in a previous Supreme Court ruling, that the imposing of bail conditions to restrict an individual's free movement within State Forest, is a misuse of the Bail Act. Forestry Victoria were using the Bail Act as a "punishment before proven guilty" in a bid to restrict the movement of people the Department deemed as troublemakers. Once Forestry Victoria was confronted with the past Supreme Court ruling, they were forced to drop the use of bail conditions to control people.
After many adjournments the court case began on 6th October 1998 in the Geelong Magistrates Court. Magistrate Kledstadti heard the case. Acting for the defendants were Barristers Brian Walters, Gerard Mullaly and Tony Lewis. Acting for the prosecution was Barrister Mr Champion and Solicitor Robert Pietsch.
Evidence was given on the 6, 7, 8th October and the case adjourned to the 30th November 1998 for a Court View of Wild Dog Ridge. After the Court viewed the site of logging, the court resumed with further evidence on the 1st December and passed judgment on the 2nd December.
The Magistrate found forestry officers had authorised unlawful logging in two areas.
1. Logging was authorised within a road reserve, which was within the jurisdiction of the local shire. All trees and shrubs were the property of the Colac Otway Shire. The DNRE did not have approval from the Shire to remove and sell timber.
2. DNRE had authorised logging within the Olangolah Water Supply catchment. Olangolah is the domestic water supply for Colac. A Committee of Management appointed by the Minister manages the Olangolah Water Supply reserve. A gazette regulation protects all vegetation within the reserve. The regulations stipulate the Committee of Management for Olangolah must first give approval before removal of trees and vegetation can occur. The DNRE had not sought or received that approval.
The charges for the eleven arrested were dropped and the case dismissed. The DNRE was ordered to pay $25,000 costs.
Much of the evidence given by both sides was directed at proving if logging had occurred within the Olangolah Water Supply Reserve. The DNRE employed surveyors to map out the site and present evidence in court. It is estimated the DNRE spent over $200,000 in trying to win the case.
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