For the first time ever, Victorians can have their say on a proposal to link more than 500,000 hectares of Victorian forests and conservation reserves – some badly damaged by fire and logging – into one vast, enclosed and protected National Park; the Great Forest National Park. 

A public consultation has been instigated by Engage Victoria to give Victorians a rare opportunity to support the park, which has already been endorsed by the likes of David Attenborough, Jane Goodall and Patagonia. There is now an urgent push for public support to conserve the Central Highlands State Forests, home to the world’s tallest flowering plant, the Mountain Ash, and one of Australia’s most endangered mammals, the Leadbeater’s Possum. 

“We are asking Victorians to help us shape the government’s decision so that we can not only safeguard the habitats of endangered species and protect these critical forests, but also secure the water supply for the five million people of Melbourne, lower the risk of catastrophic bushfires and boost tourism and employment for local areas,” says Sarah Rees, the Creative and Business Director of Great Forest National Park.

Melbourne, the so-called ‘garden state’, suffers a major park deficit. With its population almost doubling since the last park was declared in 1998, the government is neglecting investment in recreational space for Melbournians and lags far behind Sydney’s vast offering.

The Victorian Environmental Assessment Council has provided scientific basis for the development of a new park, declaring that the forest’s biodiversity, ecological, geological and cultural heritage is at threat, particularly from the impacts of climate change*.

Establishing the Great Forest National Park has the potential to add more than $70 million to the local economy annually, attracting an extra 400,000 visitors to the area each year and creating an additional 750 full-time jobs. “The park will employ more people with better, longer lasting jobs than those in wood production, with workforce opportunities in tourism, firefighting, invasive species management and forest restoration,” says Rees. 

State polling shows that Victorians want more access to and protection of parks, with 86% supporting a comprehensive network of National Parks and conservation reserves. One in three (36%) also said their state election vote would be influenced by policy around ending native forest logging**. 

The public now has the opportunity to reinforce their support by participating in the Engage Victoria consultation. Two surveys are open for submission, asking the public about the area – what is important to them about it, the experiences they’ve had and how it could be improved for the future.

By recommending the Great Forest National Park in the consultation, Victorians will be influencing the protection of the expansive outdoor experiences just 60 kms from Melbourne’s CBD, from camping and hiking to cycling and mountain climbing. Forming the park will also permanently safeguard the Central Highlands from native logging. 

“If they are not logged, Mountain Ash can sequester carbon, help modulate the climate and act as giant storage banks to absorb excess carbon for about 550 years,” says Professor David Lindenmayer, author of Forest Wars and world leading expert on forest conservation.  

He continues: “Whilst the recent logging ban from the Victorian state government is a huge victory, we know that a turn in government or future policy change can quickly reopen the land at risk of logging. We’re seeing the devastating result of this happening in Tasmania right now.”

Victoria is estimated to save $110-190 million per year by not logging Mountain Ash and Alpine Ash forests. “That industry operates at a loss, using taxpayer’s money,” says Rees. “Now, we have the opportunity to have a say on where our money might be better spent – supporting cultural priorities of First Nations people, preserving our native wildlife and maintaining Melbourne’s largest outdoor adventure parklands.”

The Engage Victoria’s Public Consultation period will close Monday, April 29. The data collected will inform the panel’s recommendations to the government for the future of state forests in the Central Highlands, land of the Gunaikurnai, Taungurung and Wurundjeri Nations.

About The Great Forest National Park
The Great Forest National Park proposes to add 355,000 hectares to the existing protected forests in Victoria’s Central Highlands and combine a number of individual national parks to form the Great Forest National Park.

It would link 1.1 million hectares of forest and conservation reserves into one vast, enclosed terrestrial system, from present-day Kinglake National Park in the west to Baw Baw National Park in the east, north to Lake Eildon National Park and south to Bunyip State Park – land of the Gunaikurnai, Taungurung and Wurundjeri Nations.

The proposal requires no buy-backs of freehold or leasehold land. Supporters of the Great Forest National Park’s creation include the Victorian National Parks  Association, WWF, Environmental Justice Australia,The Wilderness Society, Patagonia & many regional organisations.

Have your say on the Great Forest National Park proposal here.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *