PARK WATCH Article June 2022 |

The campaign to defend the Yarra Ranges National Park, on Wurundjeri Land, from kilometres of inappropriate mountain bike track rolls on, writes Campaigner Jordan Crook.

In mid-April, the public inquiry into the Warburton mountain bike tracks concluded four weeks of hearings from expert witnesses, community members, concerned organisations and mountain bike enthusiasts. 

What came through loud and clear from the verbal submissions on the Environment Effects Statement to the Inquiry and Advisory Committee (IAC) is that the track network within the Yarra Ranges National Park (approximately 12 per cent of the total proposed tracks proposed for the project) is both a great risk to the park and the values it protects, and is not supported by community members, ecologists and land managers. 

Instead of dealing with a raft of issues raised by the VNPA as well as Melbourne Water, Parks Victoria and the CFA in its closing submission, the Yarra Ranges Council got personal.

Issues such as the risk of Myrtle Wilt infection impacting one of the best intact stands of Cool Temperate Rainforest in the state, intrusion into the closed water catchments and impact on the critically endangered Mount Donna Buang Wingless Stonefly were brushed aside as the Council attacked expert witnesses, government departments, and even its own experts.

The closing statement by Council was an almost hysterical attack on anyone who in any way questioned the project and the need for a small group of cyclists to speed down a hill at any ecological cost.

The Council’s pleas of ‘trust us, and if damage occurs, we will fix it – even if it knocks out the last remaining individuals of a critically endangered population’ showed they really don’t understand the fragility and importance of the area they are seeking to clear and build their track.

This was further demonstrated by the fact that the impact of climate change was hardly mentioned in any of the Council’s expert reports. The national park is already feeling the stress of a warming climate. Yet the summit of Mount Donna Buang can be a climate refuge for a range of species and ecosystems if it is managed appropriately. But that doesn’t include putting a bike track right through it. That would also only contribute even more stress brought about by the fragmentation of intact areas of habitat, the introduction of new pathogens, the spread of pest animal species like foxes and cats along tracks, and damage to water quality.  

The Council has spent hundreds of thousands (if not millions) of taxpayer and ratepayer money so far to plan tracks that only a handful of people will use inside the park due to the track’s “heroic” and steeply downhill nature. 

We have been telling them since 2015 that the plan was not appropriate in this section of the national park and that the legislation and park management plans have always clearly shown that to be the case.  

To continue to push for tracks within the Yarra Ranges National Park, clearing significant amounts of Cool Temperate Rainforest and the range of other issues they will create, is disappointing and tarnishes the great work the Yarra Ranges Council does in other environmental areas.

Breaking into a protected area, damaging its natural values, and potentially causing the extinction of endemic wildlife for a quick thrill and a quick buck is not appropriate in 2022. The rest of the 144-kilometre track proposed for outside of the park is viable and can likely proceed, but there is a stubborn persistence to try an encroach into the national park, seemingly at any cost.

VNPA has put in significant effort and resources to defend the Yarra Ranges National Park. At the hearings, our legal team, backed up by expert witnesses, clearly demonstrated that the Council’s proposal to force bike tracks into the national park: 

  • Doesn’t align with the Yarra Ranges National Park Management Plan or the reasons the park was given national park status.
  • Didn’t address the increased threats and impacts climate change will have on the park and its wildlife.
  • Conflicts with the role of the National Parks Act 1975 in protecting ecosystems and facilitating passive recreation in the park.
  • Will likely cause damage and harm to the critically endangered Mountain Donna Buang Wingless Stonefly and one of the most intact patches of Cool Temperate Rainforest in Victoria.
  • Will encroach into Melbourne’s long-closed water catchments.

Right now, the Inquiry and Advisory Committee (IAC) is making its way through thousands of written submissions and reports about the proposed track network. It will deliver its findings to the Victorian Planning Minister Richard Wynne within 40 days after the closing of the hearings on 7 April. After that the Planning Minister will have 25 days to make his decision.

But it doesn’t stop there. Even if the Planning Minister gives the project the go-ahead, there are still more steps necessary. A new park management plan would be needed to be developed and a clear decision by Park Victoria’s Board, and ultimately approval from the state Environment Minister Lily D’Ambrosio on the advice of the National Parks Advisory Committee to allow the track. It also needs additional funding and possibly a legislative change to weaken the National Parks Act. 

Stage 2 of the project, the section of track proposed in the park, is still unfunded. If it proceeds, it will, according to Parks Victoria, require both permits and a lease under the National Parks Act. A lease will essentially carve a strip through the national park to be managed by the Yarra Range Council using ratepayers’ money for up to 20 years. If the management of the bike track is outsourced to a private operator or fees are charged for use, that will open up even more issues around existing government policy on the privatisation and commercialisation of national parks. The process and project have already set very bad precedents for national park management and should never have gone this far. 


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