PARK WATCH Article June 2023 |

The government needs to live up to its promise of creating new central west national parks, says Nature Conservation Campaigner Blake Nisbet.

Anniversaries are cherished by most, but when it comes to creating new national parks, the Andrews Government seem to have forgotten the flowers.

This June marks the two-year anniversary of the government making an important promise to Victorians to establish 65,106 hectares of new national parks in the central west. This includes the Mt Buangor National Park, east of Ararat, that will protect the lush forests of Mt Cole/Bereep-bereep (the Djab Wurrung name for the area), a forest oasis that towers over the cleared agricultural land surrounding it.

Unfortunately for Victorians, this anniversary brings few celebrations, as the government is yet to follow through with its promise and legislate the Mt Buangor National Park.

Caption: Coupe adjacent the promised park right after being clearfell logged in 2018

Buried in the announcement’s fine print was a disturbing clause:  intensive logging could occur in certain sections of the park prior to legislative change. At the time there were about 23 logging coupes scheduled, and the government has just approved six new coupes this past May. The addition of the new coupes is a bit of a head-scratcher with the government announcing in the state budget that native forest logging in Victoria will cease at the end of 2023. VicForests has said that they remain focused on delivering timber for the rest of the year, so the threat of logging looms over the promised park for the next six months.

Together with the community, VNPA has been keeping a close eye on the overhanging threat of logging in the park, and whilst no logging has occurred in there since the park’s announcement, the impacts of any last minute logging would be devastating for Victorians and the local flora and fauna that relies on these forests.

As we cast our eyes over previously logged forests at Mt Cole, we see what the future looks like if government run agencies do log it. Once thriving forests turned to grassy paddocks of bracken and weedy thistles. A fragmented ‘national park’ with patches eerily like the monotonous agricultural paddocks that surround it.

VicForests has shown no willingness or competence in their legal obligation to restore these forests after logging. The failed regeneration at Mt Cole is consistent with a report co-published by 19 Victorian environment groups in 2021, including VNPA. The report revealed VicForests’ systemic failure to regrow logged native forests, with a whopping third of their coupes failing to regenerate after logging finished.

With the phase out of native forest logging brought forward to 1 January 2024, VicForests’ motivations for successfully regenerating these forests have clearly diminished.

The promised Mt Buangor National Park is critical to the survival of native wildlife. The Blue-winged Parrot (Neophema chrysostoma), for example, is one of Australia’s newly listed threatened species which VNPA recently observed in the canopies of these forests. Once common and widespread, the Blue-winged Parrot is now on the flight path to extinction, largely due to the current and past habitat clearing.

Caption: What the coupe looks like in 2023, five years later. All that has been regenerated is bracken and weedy thistles. (Mark Lamble:Evolve Films)

Threatened plants, such as the Mt Cole Grevillea (Grevillea montis–cole subsp. montis–cole) and the Grampians Bitter-Pea (Daviesia laevis), are also hanging out for the protection of a new national park. The government, on the advice of relevant experts, acknowledges that these critically endangered plants need additional protection from logging in the form of 200 metre Special Management Zones, but hasn’t completed the survey work required to put those protections in place. The government is also yet to release any details as to what restrictions will be placed on logging within these management zones.

Until the Mt Buangor National Park is legislated, the government’s promise simply remains an unmet commitment, and the integrity of this natural refuge remains under threat from logging. And that is nothing to celebrate.

We’d like the park to be filled with birdsong and large old trees. We’d like to seek refuge in the cool, shady forests of Mt Cole on those hot summer days in rural Victoria. That’s why we’ll continue to resist the proposed logging of Mt Cole Forest, and make sure Victorians get the park they are promised and deserve.