21 December, 2005

ARTICLE: Logging demise creates a saw point

Mark Poynter
The Age (Business section)
December 21, 2005

The Great Otway National Park is unlikely to live up to promises, writes Mark Poynter.

PREMIER Steve Bracks opened the Great Otway National Park last week, proclaiming it would protect old-growth forests and threatened species, and be a huge step for tourism.

The park was promised before the 2002 state election, primarily to resolve decades of community conflict over logging. Its declaration depended on the forced closure of the small local hardwood timber industry.

Although activists portrayed logging as a dire environmental threat, the industry had access to just 22 per cent of the Otway forests before the Government announced its phased closure in late 2002.

Dispersed coupes totalling 250-300 hectares were logged each year, a tiny fraction of the total 160,000 hectares of forest. This produced about 27,000 cubic metres of sawlogs, a figure a government-commissioned study in 2001 confirmed as sustainable.

The remainder of the Otway forests were in a moderately sized national park, three state parks, state forest special protection zones, some water supply catchments and code of forest practices operational reserves where logging was excluded.

These areas covered the region's old-growth forests and its significant recreational, scenic and ecologically important sites.

Despite the rhetoric, the existing high level of reserved forest made the new national park irrelevant to old-growth protection. And the park is unlikely to significantly improve other already well-protected environmental values.

Anti-logging activists have long claimed that national park expansion would spark an ecotourism bonanza with substantial economic benefits. The Otway Ranges are a well-developed part of the broader Geelong-Otway tourism region. They attracted almost 6 million domestic and international tourists in 2002 who spent more than $1.1 billion. But the region's primary attraction is its coast, where most tourist facilities are located. Visitor statistics for 2002 show that just 4 per cent of tourists visited a rainforest or bushwalked, despite an extensive network of easily accessible walking tracks and picnic facilities that have co-existed with other forest uses, including timber production, for more than 30 years.

According to a 2003 study for the Victorian Environment Assessment Council, the new national park may increase forest visits by up to 30 per cent. It also said national park tourism generates just $30 a visitor a day."

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