Insignificant wins for East Gippsland

When Labor announced it would protect all ‘significant stands’ of old growth, they must have been using their special parliamentary dictionary. In Eastern Victoria, Mr Bracks protected only 5% of areas identified as critical to extinction-proof native species and protect domestic water catchments. The Forest Alliance had carefully mapped and scientifically validated these areas.

Wins –

The good news is that Labor has promised to add 37,000ha of Victoria’s forests into National Parks. This includes East Gippsland’s Goolengook, some parts of Yalmy, a 5,000ha link between the Snowy River and Errinundra National Parks, the remains of Dingo Creek, small extensions to Martins Creek reserve as well as small and oddly positioned spots on the map. The long-suffering Cobobbonee forest in western Victoria has 27,000 ha protected, but not a scrap of forest in the Central Highlands or Melbourne’s water catchment.

And losses –

So it’s great news for Dingo Creek and Goolengook. It’s not so marvellous for other places though. After squinting for hours at the tiny map we were given, it seems that many of these newly protected areas have already had a good part of them logged, are existing protection zones anyway or have limited values.

Bracks gave the draft map to the logging interests within government for a final chop and hack. Not surprisingly many areas make no ecological sense. Other areas of importance have been cut in half such as Brown Mountain’s old growth and Stony Creek catchment. Joy’s Creek rainforest has been left in a logging zone.

No wonder the industry was so full of praise for the announcement – they got 90% of everything we wanted. Gippsland’s important water catchments, unprotected old growth and endangered species habitat is still all there for the woodchippers. And Bracks gives the loggers another $1 million dummy to suck on!

His government chose to talk and deal with known industry sympathisers (Gooding and Steedman) and an ill-informed, easily pleased outsider who does not know Eastern Victoria’s forests but loves to feel important while making compromises. They did not consult directly with anyone in East Gippsland.

Mr Bracks stated there would never be any more reserves created in East Gippsland after this. Also, that protecting these areas should be ‘within the spirit and terms of the RFA’. Does he forget that environmental promises in that Agreement have never been honoured?

Liberal’s offer on forests

The Libs made a very similar offer, but they also suggested that the Vic Environmental Assessment Council look at the feasibility of corridors and links between significant areas as well. That would be excellent if there was a moratorium on the studied areas meanwhile.

Government offer also included: $24.9 million over 4 years to expand the number of Park Rangers across Victoria by 15; $2.7 million for retraining workers when all logging in the Otways Forest ceases in 2008; $1 million investment for new mill equipment in East Gippsland to use smaller logs from thinning out regrowth; and $500,000 over two years to get the old Industry Transition Taskforce dusted down, to reassure the loggers that there really is a thing called job security and that the Tooth Fairy does exist. Oh – and give over $250,000 to the CFMEU to pay someone to tell the Government what it wants (commonly called ‘shut-up money’).

The new combined Errinundra and Snowy National Park is to be called the ‘Great Victorian Alpine National Park’. We’re not sure what colourless bureaucrat came up with that one in a hurry but everyone I know hates the name.

New tourist walks

However – long, unimaginative and unmarketable names aside, Bracks has offered $1.8 million to get new tourism plans happening. It’s an insultingly piffling amount but it’s a start. The Great Short Walks project for EG has $750,000 shared out between five new walks: an estuary walk near Marlo, Snowy River lookout walk, Mallacoota coastal walk, Lochend-Watt Watt rainforest walk and an old growth walk at Brown Mountain (yay!). Only problem with that one is that they have omitted the ‘Valley of the Giants’ on Brown Mt. from the new protected areas where the walk is planned. The foresters didn’t realise that when they cut it off the final map. Then there is $250,000 – not to build – but to ‘identify two eco-lodge accommodation sites’. Expensive consultants huh? These sites will then be offered to any private developers who want to build lodges at Lake Tyres south of Nowa Nowa and Tulloch Ard Gorge north of Buchan.

Tullock Ard and Buchan score again with $300,000 to build a viewing platform. That’s good. Still no air walk for Errinundra though.

Bracks has also promised to put together a Biodiversity White Paper by an ‘independent’ Task Force, modelled on the consultation process for his previous Our Water Our Future White Paper (that did a fat lot of good didn’t it!). No money or timeline was assigned to that one.

Jill

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