Conservationists have been ordered to rip down a tree house in a state forest north-east of Melbourne that was built to highlight the plight of Victoria's faunal emblem.
Mansfield Magistrates Court ruled on Wednesday that the bright red tree house, built last year to protest against logging in the Toolangi State Forest, be removed.
If the unidentified owner of the 14-square-metre structure does not pull it down within 28 days it will be forfeited to authorities for disposal.
The Department of Environment and Primary Industries said every effort was made to identify the owner and reach a solution without going to court.
“DEPI respects people's right to enjoy the forest, however unlawful structures cannot be condoned,” spokesman Peter Farrell said. “DEPI asks that people respect the fact that structures cannot be erected without a licence, lease or authority.”
Friends of Little Red Toolangi Treehouse spokeswoman Amy Calton, who is part of the ground crew at the site, said the group had not decided whether to comply with the order to tear the treehouse down.
“We have no plans to just pack up and give up now that this has happened,” she said. “We don't want to lose it as a community centre so we plan to keep it going, but how that comes about is unknown at this stage.”
Ms Calton criticised the department for taking legal action, saying the tree house never threatened logging activities. “It's simply there to point the finger at destructive logging practices going on in the state,” she said.
“The area is still under threat but at the moment there's no logging activity so really all we have is an education centre. That DEPI would decide that this is such a threat to their activities that they require it to be taken down is a really sad thing.”
The tree house is perched 30 metres off the ground in a pocket of mountain ash forest that forms vital habitat for the critically endangered Leadbeater's possum.
Since November activists including Hannah Patchett have maintained a vigil by living in the structure to raise awareness about the threat of logging to the species of possum, which lost almost half its habitat during the 2009 Black Saturday bushfires.
Conservationists said the treehouse stood as an “environmental beacon” that raised awareness about logging practices in Victorian forests.
Friends of Toolangi Forest spokesman Bernard Mace said the court ruling marked a “sad day” for supporters.
“The tree house is a focal point for the conservation movement and symbolises the courageous and creative efforts of environmentalists striving to protect native forests from VicForests' clearfell logging operations,” he said.
VicForests declined to comment about the case.