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Park expansion seen as ‘move to appease the green’

The Brumby Government has introduced legislation to significantly enhance Victoria’s National Parks and reserves system but in some quarters it is seen mainly as a move to appease some of the Government’s greener friends.

Environment and Climate Change Minister Gavin Jennings said the National Parks and Crown Land (Reserves) Acts Amendment Bill 2008 would protect almost 30,000 hectares of habitat and create the Cobboboonee National Park and Forest Park.

“The Brumby Government is taking action to protect Victoria’s landscape and biodiversity and, since 2000, we have added more than 260,000 hectares to Victoria’s parks and reserves system,” Jennings said.

However, according to Timber Communities Australia – the grassroots organisation for the nation’s forestry and timber regions – the area in question was put up by both parties at the last State election as a trade-off to appease some of the Government’s greener friends.

“Both parties thought there would have been little reaction to locking up the forest as it was so far away from Melbourne and no-one would care. How wrong they were,” said TCA Victorian State manager Scott Gentle.

“There has been strong objection from the locals and to their credit they have pegged back quite a bit of ground on the original proposal. That’s not to say that many of the locals are still happy about it,” he said.

The area has been State forest for a number of years and included some fauna reserves.

“There hasn’t been any commercial operation in the forest for quite some time so from an industry perspective there wasn’t much to worry about. From a community point of view there have been a lot of issues, mainly around access,” said Gentle.

Firewood for the locals has also been a concern but the Government has changed some of the boundaries to allow for the collection of firewood.

The Environment and Climate Change Minister said that almost four million hectares, or 17% of Victoria, was already protected in parks and reserves.

The protected areas include 40 National Parks, 27 State Parks, three Wilderness Parks, 13 Marine National Parks, 11 marine sanctuaries, a number of other parks, more than 400 nature conservation reserves and more than 2000 natural features reserves.

Jennings said the Cobboboonee forest was a significant area of lowland forest near Portland and Heywood in far South West Victoria.

The Cobboboonee National Park will cover 18,400 hectares, adjoining the 27,300 hectare Lower Glenelg National Park. Along with Mt Richmond National Park (1733 hectares) there will be 46,433 hectares in South West Victoria.

According to the minister, it contains endangered and vulnerable vegetation types, including many wetlands, has threatened plant and animal species such as large forest owls, a number of small marsupials, and a species of skink.

However, TCA says the real issue was about locking up forests for the sake of calling them National Parks.

“The area could have been left as it was but for the sake of city votes and it was seen as a positive to create a new park,” said Gentle.

“Once again rural communities must bear the consequences,” he said.

The Government said the decision on the location of the park boundaries was based on extensive community consultation and research by the Department of Sustainability and Environment (DSE) and Parks Victoria, supported by a small advisory panel.