PARK WATCH December 2018 |

We are one step closer to protecting Victoria’s central western forests, says our Nature Conservation Campaigner Shannon Hurley.

VNPA has advocated for the protection of Victoria’s forests in the central west of the state for almost a decade, starting with the release of our report Better Protection for Special Places in 2010.

Now a critical moment for protection is right in front of us, with the Victorian Environmental Assessment Council (VEAC) recommending a series of new parks to protect these significant forests.

These central west forests have incredible natural value. This includes 375 threatened species, such as the powerful owl and the sugar glider, and eleven significant headwaters of important rivers including the Moorabool, Werribee, Lerderderg and Maribyrnong.

VNPA and local community groups believe that many of these special places are worthy of better protection under the National Parks Act 1975. If implemented, VEAC’s draft recommendations would fill many significant gaps in Victoria’s conservation estate and help us meet global biodiversity targets.

However, as always when new parks are proposed, there are those who voice their opposition. That’s why it is so critical we all voice our support of parks to counter this together.

Countering misconceptions

Some people believe that parks are ‘locked up’ and the public is ‘locked out’, but in fact the opposite is the case.

To correct any misunderstanding, we have created Exploring Victoria’s Parks, a guide to what you can and can’t do in national parks.

In most cases, national parks, state parks, regional parks, and conservation reserves are open 24/7, every day of the year, to the public. These types of protected areas allow and accommodate almost all recreational uses – bushwalking, camping (including dispersed camping), mountain biking, and 4×4 driving. The rules for 4×4 driving are exactly the same as in state forests and any other public land – licenced vehicles are allowed on declared roads.

Some activities that are not permitted in the national and state parks can still be enjoyed in adjacent regional parks, including domestic firewood collection, dog walking and horse riding. Horse riding is allowed in some national parks, determined after public input in to the management planning process which happens once the park has been established.

The case for protection

Opposition to protecting Wombat Forest originated when the Bracks state government first committed to a VEAC investigation into the area in the late 1990s. VEAC’s investigation, delayed until now, suffered stiff opposition. For 20 years there have been arguments that the forest should not be protected in a national park, to allow for a forestry management technique called ‘thinning’. Allegedly for ecological restoration purposes, this often just defaults back into logging operations. Twenty years later, no coherent ecological restoration plan has been initiated for Wombat Forest.

We all agree parks need good management, and a dedicated conservation agency needs funding for a proper scientifically-informed management and restoration plan – not more forestry.

It’s important to point out that while parks do need money to manage, they also generate many economic benefits. National park status can bring immense benefits to the state economy, increasing local tourism and jobs. According to the last Parks Victoria Annual Report, parks contribute directly over $2 billion annually to the Victorian economy through tourism alone and create 20,000 jobs, many in regional areas.

Forestry on the other hand mostly costs taxpayers. The Victorian Government is actually paying for logging operations to continue in the western forests through a grant of $678,000 per annum to its state funded logging agency VicForests.

Under the current lack of protection, industrial scale logging will return to many of these central west forests. There are approximately 50 planned logging coupes in the Wombat Forest alone. They are only on hold due to the Andrews Government pausing them while the VEAC inquiry is being held.

We need more parks

Victoria will need more parks now and into the future to meet demand from our growing population. Parks benefit people and nature by providing permanent protection for environments under threat from ever increasing urban expansion, and spaces for people to enjoy the great outdoors.

This is our chance to push Victoria towards being a leader once again in nature protection and parks creation, not a laggard.

We must ensure the Victorian Government implements VEAC’s recommendations. Thank you to our wonderful supporters who put in submissions before the due date of 10 December. Your voice has been critical to protect these special forests.

We now await the final VEAC recommendations which will be presented to the Victorian Government in March 2019. If the final recommendations are anything like those in the draft, we hope the state government accepts and implements these new parks.

We will certainly be continuing to work, with your support, to ensure this happens, to give our central western forests the protection they deserve.


Recap on proposed protections area by area

Wellsford Forest

Where: Just 15 kilometres north-east of the historic goldfields town of Bendigo.

VEAC draft recommendation: Wellsford Forest to include an addition of 3,950 hectares to the Bendigo Regional Parks, and the creation of a 3,160-hectare Wellsford Nature Reserve, covering almost half of the Wellsford Forest.

Biggest threat: Logging operations, with seven areas scheduled (including one with rare swift parrot records), and domestic firewood collection.

Why protect the Wellsford Forest?

  • The Wellsford Forest provides habitat for key threatened species including the brush-tailed phascogale, pink-tailed worm-lizard, lace monitor, Ausfeld’s and whirrakee wattles; and a range of woodland birds such as the swift parrot, brown treecreeper, hooded robin, speckled warbler and crested bellbird;
  • Dominated by eucalypts, wattles and wildflowers, it is a place to explore and enjoy Victoria’s box-ironbark forests as they recover from a long history of logging;
  • The proposed nature reserve is important for protecting the last few remaining large trees in this block.

Wombat Forest

Where: Located between Daylesford, Woodend and Ballan.

VEAC draft recommendation: Wombat Forest to have significant additions, with an increase in size of 28,692 hectares making a new Wombat-Lerderderg National Park. Also a new regional park located in two parts, totalling 9,149 hectares. There is also a new Cobaw Conservation Park (2,453 hectares); Hepburn Conservation Park (2,714 hectares), and Long Forest Nature Reserve.

Biggest threat: Logging operations, with 50 areas scheduled, which will go ahead if not protected in a national park, and potential for commercial mining.

Why protect the Wombat Forest?

  • The Wombat-Lerderderg National Park and new regional park if implemented would protect seven rivers – Loddon, Coliban and Campaspe, Moorabool, Werribee, Lerderderg and Maribyrnong;
  • Its forests provide habitat for a diversity of flora and fauna, with 99 rare or threatened species recorded here, and a further eight species that form part of the threatened woodland bird community;
  • There are many recent records of the threatened brush-tailed phascogale in the heathy dry forest north-west of Daylesford;
  • There are good numbers of the greater glider recorded in the wetter forests of the central Wombat Ranges – the only population of this threatened species west of the Hume Highway. This species requires very extensive areas of forest to provide an adequate food source.

Pyrenees Forest

Where: 180 kilometres from Melbourne and 70 kilometres north-west of Ballarat in the popular wine region.

VEAC draft recommendation: Pyrenees Forest be upgraded to a new Pyrenees National Park of 16,076 hectares, and a new regional park of 4,160 hectares.

Biggest threat: Logging operations, with 18 areas scheduled (including one which includes powerful owl records).

Why protect the Pyrenees Forest?

  • The Pyrenees gum is only known to be distributed in the eastern side of the Pyrenees Forest;
  • Box-ironbark forest on the northern side of the Pyrenees Ranges provides habitat for species in the threatened Victorian temperate woodland birds community – including the painted honeyeater, blackchinned honeyeater, diamond firetail and brown treecreeper;
  • The endangered swift parrot relies heavily on flowering box-ironbark forests in autumn and winter, and has been recorded at the Landsborough end of the park. 

Mount Cole Forest

See full article ‘A ‘Peak’ of Interest’ in Park Watch December 2018.

More

Previous coverage: Detailed breakdown in ‘Forests of the Central West’ in September 2018 Park Watch.


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