PARK WATCH September 2020 |
We are increasingly alarmed by the Andrews Government’s delay in approving new national parks – especially as it continues to make decisions to the detriment of nature conservation, writes Executive Director Matt Ruchel.
The impact of bushfires and COVID-19 are rightly high priorities for the state government. But long-outstanding nature conservation decisions are in the meantime stalling for no decent reason.
One year on from being tabled in the Victorian Parliament, the Victorian Environment Assessments Council’s report recommending the creation of new national parks in the Central West gathers dust on a Minister’s desk. The Andrews Government is now six months past its legislated deadline to release the decision on the expert formal proposal for 60,000 hectares of permanent protection for the Wombat, Wellsford, Mount Cole and Pyrenees Ranges forests.
The delay in a decision to approve the new national parks is putting the future of these unique forests and the threatened species that live in them at real risk. Alarmingly, mining exploration and logging are escalating in the very same areas proposed for protection, prompting outcries from conservation groups and the community. Locals in the Central West region have led direct action protests and gathered over 5,000 signatures on an online petition.
Yet in this same period of time that the Andrews Government seems to be finding it impossible to decide on these new national parks, it hasn’t stopped making other decisions to the detriment of nature conservation. This notably includes re-signing the Regional Forest Agreements to continue logging Victoria’s native forests for another ten years (see coverage in the June edition of Park Watch), and initiating a review of the key regulatory document for managing native forest logging the Code of Practice for Timber Production, which seems rather concerned with the meeting of supply commitments of the state-funded logging agency VicForests. (See the Premier’s media release)
It is also not just the Central West national parks proposal that has languished; protection for other native forests across the state have not progressed as previously promised.
As part of the Victorian Forestry Plan to phase out native forests logging by 2030 announced in November 2019, the Andrews Government stated they would introduce immediate exemptions from logging for 96,000 hectares of forest across Victoria, including areas in the Strathbogie Ranges, Central Highlands, Mirboo North and East Gippsland, as well as areas in the Rubicon Valley. The government clearly committed to this “biggest addition to our reserve system in over 20 years”. The briefing note on the Department website still states that “In early 2020, we will announce the process for consultation … This consultation process will help guide decisions on the best way to permanently protect the Immediate Protection Areas”.
While much of the East Gippsland ‘Immediate Protection Areas’ were impacted by the bushfires last summer, communities around the Strathbogie Ranges, Central Highlands and Mirboo North, like those in the Central West, are still waiting for these “immediate” protection areas, or at least some sort of process to protect their local forests.
We, like everybody else in the Victoria community, understand that the COVID-19 emergency has been the focus for government. But when the community came out of the first lockdown, people flocked to our parks for respite and recreation, with many of our existing parks overflowing with visitors. So many Victorians are again patiently waiting for their next bushwalk or camping trip. The community’s desire and value for nature is high. Now is time for the state government to get back on track and commit to nature and create these new national parks.
In a time when we need a bit of hope, the government priorities allowing native forest logging rather than protecting nature for everyone to enjoy is a great shame for our state.
We need these decisions made and clear timelines put in place for permanent protection. A parks creation package would give us all something to doubly celebrate
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