Dear Ministers of Cabinet,
Re: Protect the wonders of the west in national parks
I commend the efforts of the Victorian Government in responding to both the Covid-19 and bushfire crisis’ – it’s certainly been a challenging year so far.
While the health crisis is currently the priority, we understand that you as a core member of the Andrews Government, may need to make a decision to support the recommendations for new national parks in Victoria’s central west.
I understand under the Victorian Environmental Assessment Council legislation, that a response was required in early February 2020, regarding its recommendation to establish new national parks in the central west. Though that date has passed, I call on you to support new national parks in the central west, which will be great opportunities to build local economies and jobs through an increase in tourism and the protection of biodiversity.
Compounding this concern is your government’s recent decision to re-sign the Regional Forestry Agreements only weeks after the tragic summer bushfires. New logging coupes are within the boundary of the proposed Mount Buangor National Park and overlapping both the Beeripmo Walk and the Mount Cole Grevillea’s location.
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.
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.
Protecting our remaining unburnt forest is now more important than ever. As you know, over 1.5 million hectares of our landscapes have burnt, including sixty per cent of state forest in East Gippsland, and as summer continues, more are at risk.
Wombat Forest 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.
One of the most popular tourist attractions proposed for protection across the central west forests, is the Beeripmo Walk, winding through the forest of Mount Cole, near the regional town of Beaufort. Without protection in a new national park, this popular community experience, well known by many bushwalkers and locals, will be clear-fell logged.
There are eight areas directly over or adjacent to the popular Beeripmo Walk (seven within the proposed areas of the new national park) which if logged will destroy the amenity and ecology of this popular walk.
Many school groups and bushwalking clubs travel to the region for the Beeripmo Walk, providing benefits to the local regional economy. More broadly Victoria’s parks estate contributes $2.1 billion annually to the economy through park tourism and supports 20,000 jobs, and new parks would give opportunity to regional areas.
People need parks. As the Victorian community continues to grow, we need more natural areas for respite and recreation, and these new parks easily accessible to the west of the state are greatly needed, particularly for the western and northern suburbs of Melbourne.
The new park recommendations include almost 60,000 hectares of new national park and reserves for the Mount Cole and Pyrenees Ranges (near Beaufort and Avoca), and the Wombat (near Daylesford) and Wellsford (near Bendigo) Forests, where most recreational activities are actively encouraged including camping, bushwalking, horse riding and mountain biking. Generally the rules regarding activities, such as 4×4 driving, are the same as in state forests.This is in addition to 19,000 hectares of regional park allowing almost all forms of recreation, including dog walking, fossicking and prospecting.
In the context of the bushfires, making an area a national park makes no difference to fire management, where Forest Fire Victoria, an arm of the Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning (DELWP), controls fire management on public land, including in both national parks, and state forest.
It is now more important than ever to safeguard the forests left on public land, where biodiversity and recreational values are high. Supporting the decision to protect the forests of the central west in new parks is also essential for protecting the headwaters of many significant rivers such as the Lerderderg and Wimmera Rivers which are key water supplies.
This is a potentially momentous occasion for your government if supported, and would signify the largest creation of new national parks in over a decade.
Protecting Victoria’s remaining unburnt forests are increasingly critical for wildlife, water, climate, community wellbeing and tourism. I urge you to support the now overdue recommendations in Victoria’s Central West Investigation.