PARK WATCH March 2020 |
VicForest’s plans for clearfell logging in areas of proposed national park must be halted, argues Matt Ruchel.
Community assets and natural values protected – or not?
The Mount Cole range forms the western extremity of the Great Dividing Range. Rising to almost 1000 metres, it contains species and communities found more commonly in the cooler and wetter eastern highlands of Victoria. There are extensive patches of montane woodland dominated by Snow Gum and tree ferns. It is home to the westernmost population of Mountain Brushtail Possum.
Due to its height and location, Mount Cole will be incredibly important nature refuge in a changing climate.
VEAC recommended for this area a new Mount Buangor National Park – expanded from the existing Mount Buangor State Park and an addition of 2784 hectares from Mount Cole state forest.
Also recommended is a new Ben Nevis Nature Reserve to the north, and new heritage river designation in the upper reaches of the Wimmera River within Mount Cole.
This new Mount Buangor National Park would include the popular Beeripmo Walk, a 21-kilometre walking trail which can be done in sections or over two days.
It would also protect the Mount Cole Grevillea – a spectacular flowering shrub entirely restricted to the Mount Cole Range, where it occupies an extremely narrow and rapidly declining area. It was officially listed as a threatened species under the Flora and Fauna Guarantee Act (after nomination by VNPA) just a few months ago on 25 October 2019. It is recognised as being vulnerable to logging.
While proposals for these new parks have been developing for some years, to the point that the VEAC final report recommending them had been tabled in Parliament – the state government’s logging agency VicForests decided in November to increase the number and intensity of proposed logging in this area.
They plan four new logging coupes, and for three existing to have increased intensive clear fell (even stand management); a total area of over 200 hectares. This would be logging forests within the boundary of the proposed Mount Buangor National Park and overlapping both the Beeripmo Walk and the Mount Cole Grevillea’s location.
VNPA made a submission opposing these new coupes, especially as a decision on creating the new parks is imminent. But our submission appeared to be ignored, and two weeks later on Christmas eve the Timber Utilisation Plan 2019–2023 was released seemingly without change. We worked with The Age on a piece on 28 December highlighting the concerns about the impact on logging on the Beeripmo Walk and proposed park.
Victoria is the most cleared state in Australia, and much of our key habitat remains on public land. While public land only covers 40 per cent of the state, it contains 70 per cent of the highest biodiversity values. In the region that Mount Cole and some of the nearby Pyrenees Ranges sit, more than 55 per cent of the landscape has been cleared. Public land makes up only 17 per cent of that particular region, and just 4.4 per cent is in an existing park or reserve – the rest is unprotected state forest. Given this, clearly there is a need to better protect more of our public lands, particularly in the central west.
Native forest logging ending – or not?
Park Watch readers would know that the Andrews Government in November 2019 announced it will end native forest logging by 2030. However, this announcement is incongrous with VicForest’s plans to log Mount Cole. VicForests argued in The Age that it only logged 4.7 hectares of its total 10-hectare logging allocation for the Mount Cole region in 2018/19. Immediately outside the proposed park boundary at Mount Cole there are 448 hectares of logging coupes listed on the new Timber Utilisation Plan 2019-2023 (this is approximately 186 MCG fields in size). If the figures are right, that is enough for 40 years of logging at 10 hectares a year, or 90 years at 4.7 hectares per year – well past the Andrews Government phase out deadline of 2030. Even if they log half the area allocated, it is still well more than enough to supply the small western logging industry past 2030.
The native forest logging industry in the west of Victoria is small, declining and largely funded by our taxpayer dollars. In 2014 VicForests received a $3.3 million government grant in advance to run the so-called ‘Western Community Forestry’. In their 2018-19 Annual Report, VicForests reported total revenue from the western native forests (a huge area covering west of the Hume Highway to the South Australian border) was around just $700,000. State government funding to VicForests’ ‘Western Community Forestry’ in 2018–2019 was $678,000. That’s a surplus of only $22,000, on behalf of Victorian taxpayers.
The grant for the ‘Western Community Forestry’ is due to run out at the end of this financial year, and in keeping with the Andrews Government’s announcement to end native forest logging, this subsidy should not be renewed. If small scale forestry is to be undertaken, its management should be returned to the Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning (DELWP) rather than VicForests – but ideally it should not continue at all.
Mount Cole is the only place in the west of the state where destructive clearfell logging still occurs. While it claims to be ‘community-focused’, if the planned coupes proceed in the areas proposed to become a national park, they will in fact destroy the amenity and ambience of the long-term community asset the Beeripmo Walk, not to mention the impact on threatened species such as the rare Mount Cole Grevillea.
It seems provocative to schedule new logging coupes in an area well-known to be proposed national park. The motivation from VicForests is unclear. They deny it is a pitch for compensation if a new park is created. They have committed to “… comply with any determination made by the Victorian Government in relation to this matter” – not that they really have a choice once legislation is passed.
VicForests have agreed to give VNPA two weeks’ notice of proposed logging in Mount Cole and the Pyrenees Ranges until mid-year. The first logging was expected to commence in early April at Mount Cole in areas outside the proposed park – all locations where the Mount Cole Grevilliea is found.
Ask the Minister responsible for Forestry, Jaclyn Symes, to protect the rare Mount Cole Grevillea, support sustainable jobs and choose thriving habitats in new parks – not native forest logging.
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