Claire Miller, Environment Reporter
The Age (article), 29/1/2001
The Victorian Government has put on hold controversial plans to clearfell the forest surrounding the Sabine Falls in the Otway Ranges this summer.
Logging has been deferred pending a review by the community-based Regional Forest Reference Group for the Otways. The group, convened by the government in the face of mounting opposition to logging in the Otways, consists of 16 representatives from conservation groups, universities, local government, tourism bodies, water authorities and the timber industry.
Environment and Conservation Minister Sherryl Garbutt said in a statement that immediate plans to log the area around the falls were on hold while the group considered the issue of clearfelling and the development of the area for tourism and walking tracks.
The 130-metre Sabine Falls - the highest in the Otways - have become a rallying cause for a broad coalition of conservationists, bushwalkers, doctors, councillors and local business people alarmed at the impact of clearfelling on water catchments, tourism and wildlife.
The government's handling of forest issues is also causing increasing disquiet in ALP ranks, with about 100 people yesterday attending a meeting of the ALP Otways Ranges Interest Group in Airey's Inlet.
This group, formed last year as a non-factional network, seeks an end to clearfelling in the Otways, implementation of ALP eco-tourism policies and monitoring of future native forest industry developments in the region.
Yesterday's meeting at Airey's Inlet attracted representatives from country and Melbourne branches, including marginal regions such as Geelong, Bendigo and Ballarat. Speakers included Geoff Kennedy, president of the Otways Ranges Walking Track Association, and Peter Loney, ALP member for Geelong North. It was followed by a picnic at Sabine Falls.
The group's representatives declined to comment yesterday, but Mr Kennedy said the network was a positive move on behalf of the ALP grassroots. "From our point of view, it can only help our cause," he said. "It has been a battle for us and other groups to be heard by the minister, and this group is hoping to influence her."
The Otways Ranges Walking Track Association wants a 70-kilometre Trans Otway Walk. It would link the Surf Coast Walk, ending at Lorne, and the Great Ocean Walk starting at Apollo Bay. The government supports such flagship walks to promote nature-based tourism along the Great Ocean Road.
But clearfelling 77 hectares across the Sabine Falls' headwaters and down a ridge to its west would cut a swath through the only possible route for the Trans-Otway Walk in that section. It would also destroy the view for proposed short walks through the Sabine area's gorges.