The Andrews Government has locked in ten more years of taxpayer-funded logging in the central west. The decision to re-sign the Regional Forestry Agreements only weeks after the tragic summer bushfires is a giant leap backwards.

Instead of exempting native forest logging from federal environment laws, we need to protect these forests and the wildlife that won’t survive without them.

It’s impossible to overstate how important the unburnt forests of the central west are. They are essential for protecting significant headwaters of important rivers, for alleviating climate change impacts, and refuges for bushfire-affected threatened wildlife.

Tell Minister Symes that Victorians want thriving habitats and sustainable jobs in new western national parks, not native forest logging. A copy of the letter you’re sending is in green below.

I seek your support for the proposal for new national parks and protected areas on public land in Victoria’s central west, and in your responsibilities for forestry, to highlight my concerns around the increase in intensity of logging operations within these proposed protected areas, in the state’s west.

The new national parks and reserves proposed for the Wombat (near Daylesford), Wellsford (near Bendigo), Pyrenees Ranges (near Avoca), and Mount Cole Forests (near Beaufort), as well as significant areas of regional parks, primarily managed for recreation, would be a great asset to regional communities in the central west of the state, providing benefits for tourism and biodiversity.

We are concerned that the required response under legislation to the Victorian Environmental Assessment Council Central West Investigation final report is now overdue and in breach of the legislative timelines.

Mount Cole is one of the few places in the west of the state where damaging clear fell logging is still undertaken. I am gravely concerned about the increase in intensity for logging operations in areas proposed to be a national park at Mount Cole, which could have a significant impact on the popular regional attraction the Beeripmo Walk, and one of Victoria’s newest listed threatened species, the Mount Cole Grevillea.

Your government approved the listing of the Mount Cole Grevillea under the Flora and Fauna Guarantee Act in October 2019, and I thank you for taking leadership to protect this rare plant found only in specific areas of Mount Cole. The accepted recommendation lists the direct impact logging will have on the Grevillea, “On the basis of vegetation and land use patterns at Mount Cole, associated disturbances such as logging are strongly implicated in this decline.” 

If VicForests projected logging operations inside of the proposed park boundaries go ahead as published in the Timber Utilisation Plan 2019-2023, the entire future of this species will be at risk. We are seeing an example of this currently, outside of the park boundaries, with current logging operations occurring at coupe number 185-537-0104 directly where a Grevillea plant is located. 

The final VEAC recommendations for Mount Cole propose a new Ben Nevis Nature Reserve to the north (this area was never subject to logging) and a small addition and extension to the Mount Buangor National Park at Mt Cole (2784 hectares), carefully designed to protect the walk, the threatened Mount Cole Grevillea and the headwaters of Wimmera River.

In the region that Mount Cole and some of the Pyrenees Ranges sit, more than 55% of the landscape has been cleared. Public land makes up only 17% of that particular region, and just 4.4 % is in a park or reserve, the rest is state forest. 

A new national park for Mount Cole is far from compromising logging operations, as coupes available for logging outside of the proposed national park boundaries, still equate to 448 hectares. Even with VicForests current rate of logging of half of their allocated amount (4.7 hectares per year) that is enough for 90 more years of logging, and if they log their total allocated amount (10 hectares per year), it would still be enough for another 40 years of logging. Either way, well past the Andrews Government phase out deadline of 2030. 

Native forest logging in the west is small, declining and largely funded by our taxpayers dollars. Revenue of native forest logging in the west is around $700,000 per annum. State government funding to VicForests’ western “Community Forestry” in 2018–2019 was $678,000. A surplus of only $22,000 on behalf of Victorian taxpayers. 

Also proposed for new parks is the Wombat Forest, in your electorate of Northern Victoria Region. Significantly it is one of the strongholds for the Greater Glider across the state, and the only population of this threatened species west of the Hume Highway. It is estimated that the Victorian bushfires will reduce the already declining Greater Glider population (relative abundance) by 25%, in areas like East Gippsland, which has already seen a decline of 50%, in Greater Glider numbers, over the last 20 years. Saw log harvesting in the Wombat forest has been banned for some years already.

The Wellsford Forest, also in your electorate, has one of the largest and best condition Box-Ironbark forests in Victoria outside the reserve system, providing important refuge for many threatened species, such as the Brush-tailed Phascogale and Swift Parrot. A commitment has also already been made to not log the areas of ‘big trees’ in the east of the proposed new park, and VEAC recommendations has made allowance for gold mining to continue underneath the proposed park. 

I strongly support the final recommendations of the Central West Investigation, and ask for your support to urge the government to endorse the recommendations of the Final VEAC report and move promptly to create new national parks and reserves in the central west parks through the necessary legislation.

Yours sincerely,

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