PARK WATCH December 2018 |
Winding through temperate forested peaks and gullies in Victoria’s central west is one of our state’s most-loved and accessible bushwalks, the Beeripmo Walk.
Walkers there enjoy sharing the trail with more than 130 species of birdlife and the possibility of spotting the Mount Cole grevillea, which is only found in this area.
What they do not expect to encounter is bare, recently logged forests.
Despite the public appreciation and its high conservation values, Mount Cole Forest has 47 coupes scheduled for intensive logging. Seventeen of these, covering 330 hectares, are flagged as ‘even-aged management’ – in other words, clearfell industrial logging. Some have already fallen to this fate.
Mount Cole Forest may be relatively small in size (in total around 12,000 hectares – currently 2,498 hectares in Mount Buangor State Park and 8,909 hectares in Mount Cole State Forest) compared to those in the east. But Mount Cole has significance of its own kind.
Identified as having high conservation values under the VNPA’s Small Parks Project in 2010, Mount Cole has in its rich forests the most western extent of mountain brushtail possum, and many threatened species, including the nationally endangered regent honeyeater, the endangered growling grass frog, and the aforementioned likely endangered Mount Cole grevillea.
VEAC’s investigation into the central west forests states: “Some areas that the analyses identified as high-ranking areas of rare and threatened species habitat are recommended to remain state forest. These areas include parts of the Mount Cole, Musical Gully-Camp Hill and Trawalla-Andrews state forests. These areas are relatively small and dispersed and would be difficult to capture in protected areas without either adding the entire area to protected areas or establishing a network of smaller protected areas throughout the broader area.”
VNPA disagrees with the recommendation for Mount Cole to remain in state forest, where 70 per cent would remain open to intensive logging.
We believe there are additional significant natural values that need to be considered in the VEAC investigation process. When looking on a finer scale, we have found a picture emerges that warrants better protection in an expanded national and regional park. VNPA has captured this in an ‘alternative reserve design’ using the following unique or important ecological features of Mount Cole as criteria:
- Montane Plateau vegetation type – Isolated montane patches, specifically snow gums on Mount Cole, are rare in the west of the state, and will be critical in acting as an important climate change refuge to the eastern for moving species. They are a significant biogeographic connection to the eastern Alps, and one of the few suitable sites for translocation of Ballantinia – a threatened plant species.
- Herb-rich Foothill Forest vegetation type – VEAC has identified a 12,021 hectare shortfall in formal protection for this forest type in the Central Victorian Uplands Bioregion. Yet there are large areas left unprotected. They sit outside of the proposed draft recommendations for a small extension of national park and new nature reserve. VNPA’s alternative reserve design would pick up an additional 4,182 hectares in national park and 561 hectares in regional park, to reduce the Herb-rich Foothill Forest shortfall by more than a third.
- Headwaters of the Wimmera River – Headwaters for rivers in other parts of the investigation area, such as the Moorabool and the Maribyrnong, have been recommended to gain protection in new parks, yet sadly the Wimmera headwaters have missed out. There is concern down river about the health of platypus populations, and protecting these significant headwaters could help improve stream conditions throughout the river. If not included in parks, the Wimmera and some of the other tributaries should be considered for listing under the Heritage Rivers Act 1992 (similarly to other areas farther downstream).
- Recreational assets – Sections of the much-loved Beeripmo Walk and camping areas are adjacent to logging sites. Protecting against logging will retain the future integrity of the walk’s high tourism value.
- Special Protection Zones (SPZ) – The map overleaf shows a series of SPZs throughout Mount Cole, which are excluded from logging activities to protect significant powerful owl habitat and scenic features. These areas, which cover a significant area of Mount Cole, would benefit from inclusion into parks to protect the powerful owl, and for ease of management.
Also worth recognising are important ecological communities and ecosystems that have been identified in the area, including:
- Small areas of grassy woodland dominated by yellow box, including the critically endangered ‘White Box – Yellow Box – Blakely’s Red Gum Grassy Woodland and Derived Native Grassland’ community listed under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999;
- ‘Groundwater Dependent’ or ‘Spring Soak Wetland/Woodland’ ecosystems very closely aligned to communities recently recognised under the Flora and Fauna Guarantee Act 1988. A detailed survey should be undertaken.
VNPA’s alternative reserve design aims to protect these natural values in a national park, whilst still allowing for recreational uses in an adjacent regional park. In our draft design, one single connected protected area would allow for much simpler management. While our preference is for the entirety of Mount Cole to be protected in a national park under the National Parks Act 1975, this revised reserve design is the next best option to accommodate broader recreational uses.
Not only will this alternative reserve design protect Mount Cole’s significant natural values from the threats it faces, it would push Victoria closer to achieving international biodiversity benchmarks across the state.
Looking ahead, better protection for Mount Cole becomes even more critical. It has among the highest condition native vegetation in the area and rises almost 1,000 meters from a relatively flat plain. This will make it an important climate change refuge for species movement and survival.
Now, with the public submission period closed, we await to see the final recommendations for Mount Cole. We hope better protection for this special forest is considered in VEAC’s final recommendations to the Victorian Government.
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