10 October, 2010

Support the supporters

Simon Birrell, Victorian Rainforest Network
The Age (letter), 10 October 2010

On October 1, I went to East Gippsland with former forest activists to see Environment Minister Gavin Jennings proclaim the protection of high conservation forest areas in East Gippsland. These forests included Goolengook, Yalmy and Dingo Creek. It was a great day for the thousands of people who worked very hard for well over a decade to finally see important rainforest and old-growth forest protected.

The sacrifices to achieve this have been huge. Between 1997 and 2002, about 250 people were arrested trying to stop clearfell logging at Goolengook. A bitter court case was successfully fought by a few individual activists to prove logging at Dingo Creek was unlawful. For the thousands of people who made a stand for the forests in East Gippsland, I say very well done.

However, some peak conservation groups are unhappy, as they want to see a total ban on all native forest logging. The Wilderness Society described the protection as ''a very good step'' but at the same time belittled the significance of the outcome with dubious arguments.

For example, the Wilderness Society claims a cow paddock has been protected. This is in reference to a field a bit bigger than just a few hectares included within the 45,000 hectares the state government has now added to the existing East Gippsland reserves. So what? Maybe a good location to have a picnic and kick a football?

The Wilderness Society also falsely claims that the forest within ''special protection zones'' is safe from logging. These informal reserves have no legal protection. They can be unlocked for logging based on a recommendation from the minister of the day. A review of the informal reserve system in East Gippsland is occurring right now. The loggers want more of the zones unlocked for logging and they have support from the Coalition to do just that.

It was also disappointing to hear MP Greg Barber, on behalf of the Victorian Greens, declare in Parliament that the legislation to protect Goolengook and Dingo Creek is nothing more than a broken promise. In his half-hour parliamentary speech last December, Mr Barber made no reference to the huge personal effort made by thousands of people to protect these areas. It would be nice if the Greens, every now and then, could give credit and recognition where it is due.

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