09 September, 2007

LETTER: Forest of the future

MATT RUCHEL, executive director, Victorian National Parks Association

The Age, 9/9/2007

The draft proposals of the Victorian Environmental Assessment Council (VEAC) will greatly benefit the environmental and economic wellbeing of the Murray River and its communities. Creating national parks along the Murray and its tributaries will preserve around 400 threatened or near-threatened plants and animals, while providing the first Victorian park jointly managed with traditional owners.

National parks in Victoria generate hundreds of millions of dollars every year to regional economies from job creation, visitation and flow-on benefits. Compare this to taxpayer-subsidised logging and grazing of public land along our northern rivers, which represents less than 0.1 per cent of the region's economy.

Department of Sustainability and the Environment figures show that logging is up to 60 per cent over sustainable limits. This logging is occurring in river forests and internationally recognised Ramsar wetlands, which state and federal governments are trying to "save" from lack of water due to over-allocation to irrigation. It makes no sense to log them during the worst drought on record. National parks will not only secure the investment of governments, but also secure these wetlands and the myriad threatened species they support.

A report by PricewaterhouseCoopers found the Grampians National Park contributed more than $171 million to the regional economy and the new red gum forests are likely to do the same over time. Support will of course be needed to help affected logging businesses, and governments must provide adjustment and exit packages.

VEAC is seeking public comments on its proposals, and I would encourage anyone interested in protecting these magnificent wetland forests to go to the VEAC website to put in a submission. Alternatively, go to our website at redgum.org.au and have your say for the future.

LETTER: Save water, thin trees

The Age, 9/9/2007

The implication in Carmel Egan's article, "Warring parties turn sights on river red gums" (2/9), is that somehow the creation of a national park will deliver water to flood the forest.

Flooding the forest would require water, not national park status. In turn, having sufficient water available for flooding would require a return to a cycle of wetter weather, something that is not in our immediate control. It would also require (among other actions) Premier Brumby to abandon plans to pump Goulburn River water to Melbourne.

In the interim, it is rather obvious that parts of the forest require thinning so that there would be less trees competing for water and nutrients. The thinnings could be used as a renewable energy source — firewood. If the thinning was done commercially, it would not cost the taxpayer.

Creating national parks did not save the hundreds of millions of native animals that died in the fires of 2006-07 and the earlier fires of 2003. It is arguable that the reverse was the case, as national parks are essentially abandoned land.

There is little doubt that the red gum forests will suffer the same fate under a parks regime, as the current parks are neglected and overgrown disasters waiting to happen. More parks will add to our environmental problems. Parks as an environmental measure are a myth.