By Meg Kennedy
A proposed national park has caused a fiery rift in the community, following the recent public release of the Victorian Environmental Assessment Council’s (VEAC) Central West Investigation Final Report.
The report, released to the public on Friday 21 June, detailed VEAC’s recommendations for a new Wombat-Lerderderg National Park, which would combine the current Wombat State Forest and the Lerderderg State Park into a new national park.
VEAC recommended a new 49,553ha area in a bid to protect water catchments, headwaters, and high value habitats for rare and threatened species.
Other recommendations for Moorabool Shire include two new regional parks in Spargo Creek and Blackwood.
Firewood collection would continue in proposed regional parks at designated areas, but a ten-year phase-out will be in place.
The recommendation has seen popular lobby groups in the area continue to butt-heads on whether a national park is the best option for the area.
Environmental lobby group Wombat Forestcare shared their excitement from the recommendations, noting the positive outcome for threatened and protected species in the area.
Convenor Gayle Osborne said the group is “exceptionally pleased with the VEAC recommendations,” and that the “protection of the [species] habitat is critical for their survival in the Wombat Forest.”
The recommendation follows a recent ABC Four Corners report that investigated Australia’s rapidly increasing rate of mammal extinctions, which is now the highest in the world.
“In the Wombat Forest, we consider that the combination of parks provides a balance between nature conservation, recreation and the access to firewood,” said Ms Osborne.
“We should be proud to have a National Park, to have all these wonderful creatures on our doorstep…we should also be proud that the Wombat-Lerderderg area is “amongst the most important for Victoria’s biodiversity.”
Although Wombat Forestcare welcomed the recommendations, another popular group has shared their deep concern and disappointment with the report.
A Wombat-Lerderderg National Park would mean that the activities of prospecting, hunting and domestic firewood collection would be banned entirely; with dog-walking, car rallies, horse-riding strictly limited to designated areas.
Bush Users Group United (BUGU) is comprised of regular bush users – majority from the Ballarat and Bendigo areas – and has seen a myriad of Facebook posts from angered members in the wake of the report.
In November 2018 the group ‘gate-crashed’ a dinner event in Buninyong that hosted Greens Federal leader Richard di Natale in protest of the draft proposal.
BUGU founder Bill Schultz passionately told the Moorabool News that it is a “human’s right” to be able to access the bush for use, and he believes VEAC hasn’t listened to many of the submissions put forward to the committee throughout 2018.
“It is public land for public use, and I mean all [the] public, not selected few or restricted. It’s open there for all,” said Mr Schultz.
“We can all work together and create a very good, healthy environment within the bush, without trying to turn it into a state or national park.”
Mr Schultz shared his anger that the park could become a significant bushfire hazard, comparing its danger to the recent bushfires in eastern Victoria earlier this year.
“If that gets turned into a national park…this is a bushfire waiting to happen,” he said.
On whether BUGU are as passionate about the conservation of the park as using its facilities, Mr Schultz said, simply, “we are conservation.”
“We are the eyes and ears of the bush,” he said, believing that risks and hazards in these areas – such as rubbish, fire hazards and wire – could be missed if these activities are banned.
“It is not just a concern for the group, it should be a concern for everybody.”
Local MPs have shared their thoughts on the new recommendations, with Member for Melton Steve McGhie telling the Moorabool he has, “had one member of the community contact me about their concern”, and that he will “work within the process” when the government considers the recommendations “to finalise a view”.
Member for Macedon Mary-Anne Thomas said she knows “these areas are well loved and important to our community – which is why I will continue to work closely with Minister [Lily] D’Ambrosio as these recommendations are considered over the next six months.”
“A number of constituents have been in touch with my office since the report was released,” she said.
“I encourage anyone who is interested to read the report, and to get along to one of the VEAC Community Information Sessions that will be taking place in July.”
The State Government has until late-February 2020 to consider the recommendations of the Central West Investigation Final Report.
More information on the Central West Investigation Report, including a list of public submissions, can be found at http://www.veac.vic.gov.au/news/r/central-west-investigation-final-report-released.
What are your thoughts on the proposed Wombat-Lerderderg National Park and new regional parks? Send a ‘Letter to the Editor’ to firstname.lastname@example.org or find us on Facebook at ‘The Moorabool News’.