PARK WATCH December 2019 |

The Andrews Government should immediately cease logging within proposed new national parks and reserves in Victoria’s central west, says our Nature Conservation Campaigner Shannon Hurley.

The announcement to end native forest logging across the state by 2030 can’t come soon enough for the forests of the central west.

Consider this: the total revenue generated from by VicForests’ Community Forestry operations in 2018–19 in western Victoria was approximately $700,000. This was supported by taxpayers through a grant from the Victorian Environment Department of $678,000. Which actually means that they generated a net surplus of only $22,000. This paltry revenue highlights that these areas would be far better off as national parks and reserves, with the associated tourism economic benefits, not to mention the value of the water, carbon storage and wildlife protected.

There is still no decision by the Andrews Government about creating national parks and reserves in Victoria’s central west – and in fact some of the maps released in its recent forest announcement(read article An end to logging of Victoria’s native forests?) show these areas will still be open for logging, including in Wombat (near Daylesford), Wellsford (near Bendigo), Pyrenees Ranges (near Ararat) and Mount Cole (near Ballarat) forests.

Part of the Andrews Government’s motivation for the establishment of ‘Immediate Protection Areas’ in the east of the state as part of its forest announcement is to protect Greater Gliders and other forest-dependent threatened species.

The forests of the central west are rich in biodiversity, with 380 rare or threatened species. A statewide analysis showed the proposed Wombat-Lerderderg National Park “…to be among the most important for Victoria’s biodiversity…” and is also an important refuge for Greater Gliders, representing the western limit of their range as well as being the only population west of the Hume Highway. Nearby to Wombat Forest, Greater Gliders appear to have disappeared from Hanging Rock and have not been seen at Mount Macedon for many decades. Wombat Forestcare has been surveying the Wombat Forest for a number of years for Greater Gliders and have entered over 200 recorded sightings. In some areas the densities have been impressive, for example, eleven gliders observed in 250 metres.

For this reason alone, these areas should be worthy of ‘Immediate Protection Areas’ designation, and ultimately permanent protection in national parks.

The forests of Mount Cole are also in dire need of higher protection. Most Victorians would not know that clearfell logging still occurs in the west of the state. But this is the unfortunate reality for the forests of Mount Cole,  just two hours’ drive north-west of Melbourne, where snow gums tower on its peaks, at least 130 different species of native birds make their home, the only place in the world the Mount Cole Grevillea grows, and visitors enjoy the popular Beeripmo Walk.

Although Mount Cole is the only place where clearfell logging continues in western Victoria, there are also 89 coupes scheduled for various other types of logging within the proposed new national parks and reserves in the central west, including the Wombat, Wellsford and Pyrenees Ranges forests.

With Victorian Environment Assessment Council’s (VEAC) recommendations for new national parks and reserves for these central west forests currently under the state government’s consideration – we believe a commitment from the Environment Minister to rule out logging within the proposed new park boundaries is warranted.

Ruling out logging in parts of these forests is not a unusual concept – in fact it occurred as recently as August this year, when the Wellsford Forest Conservation Alliance received confirmation that VicForests (the state’s logging agency) would not log within particular areas of Wellsford Forest, particularly in the areas where the few remaining “big trees” are located. Similarly, a “no sawlog harvesting” commitment has been in place in the Wombat Forest since June 2017, due much to community pressure.

Many of the scheduled logging coupes within the proposed national parks and reserves contain records of threatened and rare species, including the below:

  • Wombat Forest

Number of logging coupes within proposed new park: 59

Number of coupes not yet logged: 43

Values: Coupes have records of threatened species including the Powerful Owl, and the rare Wombat Bush-pea, Yarra Gum and the Wiry Bossiaea.

  • Wellsford Forest

Number of logging coupes within proposed new park: 7

Number of coupes not yet logged: at least 3

Values: Most coupes have records of threatened species including the Swift Parrot, Brolga and the Growling Grass Frog.

  • Pyrenees Ranges Forest

Number of logging coupes within proposed new park: 9

Number of coupes not yet logged: 6

Values: Records of the threatened Powerful Owl.

  • Mount Cole Forest

Number of logging coupes within proposed new park:14

Number of coupes not yet logged: 9

Coupes scheduled for clearfell (even stand management): 5

Values: Coupes have records of threatened species including the Regent Honeyeater, Powerful Owl, Candy Spider-orchid, and the rare Mount Cole Grevillea.

While native forest logging is in decline in the west of the state, there remains a VicForests and logging industry ambition to continue to develop logging for commercial firewood and speciality uses.

In one of their submissions to VEAC, VicForests stated: “the Wombat State Forest could sustain an ongoing sawlog yield of over 10,000 cubic metres per annum.” This would equate to approximately 3,500 large trees a year. The subsequent regrowth would have a significant impact on water yield. VicForests state in their final submission that “while only firewood is currently produced, VicForests has been approached to supply a small quantity of sawlog for a local sawmill as well as another high value adding business”.

Ruling out logging in these central west forests, or at least establishing ‘Immediate Protection Areas’ like those announced in the east, while the VEAC recommendations are still under consideration is important for the short-term protection of a number of threatened species and their habitats – many of which would eventually be permanently protected if the Andrews Government agrees to create the new parks. But better protection needs to begin now, not later.

Future process for new parks

Once the Andrews Government agrees to create the new parks (this needs to be done by the end of February 2020, depending on parliamentary sitting days), legislation will need to be drafted and then passed by both houses of parliament. Declaration of a new park is usually associated with an implementation funding package to build appropriate infrastructure (such as signage, campgrounds and picnic areas), conduct urgent pest control, employ park rangers, and develop a park management plan. This can take some years to complete, and the sooner the resources are available, the better.

We are urging the Andrews Government to:

1. Publicly support all of the final VEAC recommendations.

2. Move quickly to create the new national parks and reserves, well within this term of government.

3. Provide appropriate resources for park establishment and management, including:

  • new staff/park rangers and existing staff transition;
  • parks infrastructure, such as relevant signage, campgrounds, tracks, and picnic areas;
  • park planning and ecological management, such as fox and deer control;
  • regional marketing and promotion; and
  • support for logging industry transition if necessary.

Take Action

VNPA and local community groups have requested the Environment Minister make a commitment to rule out logging in planned coupes within the proposed new national parks and reserves in Wombat, Wellsford, Pyrenees Ranges and Mount Cole while the state government considers VEAC’s recommendations.

Supporting the new national parks and reserves is the most important thing you can do to help protect these unique forests.

The Andrews Government needs to make the decision to create these new parks by February.

Hard copy letters are currently gaining the most attention in the Premier’s office. Enclosed with this issue of Park Watch is a letter to the Victorian Premier, calling on him to approve these proposed parks. You can find a pre-written letter here

 


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