Our parks are up for debate

OUR PARKS ARE CHANGING… The Greater Bendigo National Park is one of the parks recommended to change status, which could affect the ability for horse riding and prospecting. Photo: Supplied.

The activities that are currently available to users of Victoria’s national parks are up for debate following a two-year investigation from the Victorian Environmental Assessment Council (VEAC) into public land.

In a detailed report, VEAC has carried out a careful investigation of cultural and natural values, recreational activities and resource use on public land in central west Victoria.

The area covered in the central west investigation area includes 403,815ha of land in total, of which 161,215ha is public land. The investigation area is made up of three separate blocks, including The Mount Cole-Pyreness block, the Wellsford block east of Bendigo and the Wombat-Macedon block.

The report was released following concern for the alarming rates of extinction and habitat loss or degradation in Victoria. Further, recreation in natural environments and the associated tourism are now the major uses of public land in the central west investigation area. Residents and visitors enjoy a wide range of recreational activities here, including camping, horse riding, recreational hunting, trail bike riding, prospecting and much more.

With levels of recreational use in national parks expected to increase exponentially following rising populations in Melbourne and the state’s regional cities, the Victorian government called upon VEAC to file the report to ensure parks can continue to be enjoyed by all.

In the report, there are recommendations to change certain areas where particular activities are allowed in Victorian national parks, including retentions to some parks, extensions to others, plus the addition of new national parks.

Certain activities will see decreased availability in Victoria’s national parks, especially those that extract natural resources – recreational prospecting, firewood collection and hunting. Activities involving exotic animals, which may disturb the environment, wildlife or other recreational users, will also see a slight shift in areas available for use.

Many of these areas are changing in status, from bushland or nature reserve to national parks, conservational parks and regional parks. Each different land type procures its own laws and it’s the shifting of these allowed laws in particular parks which are currently aggravating recreational groups such as hunters, horse riders and prospectors.

The Bush Users Group United is unsatisfied with the investigation and is calling on those in regional areas affected by the proposed changes to take part in a ‘We Want Our Bush Back Rally.’ The rally is on Tuesday, August 27 and will start at 12noon at Treasury Gardens in Melbourne, where the group will then march to Parliament House.

Bush Users Group United founder Bill Schultz has submitted a petition titled ‘Inquiry in to Public Land Management’ to the Legislative Council this week to be looked at by the state government. The petition, which closes on September 5, has 1378 signatures at the time of writing. There are also petitions up on change.org and GoFundMe, which have 2,786 signatures and raised over $4,000, respectively.

According to the Bush Users Group petition, “political groups are playing with the Australian way of life and want to lock away huge tracts of land by turning many State forest and public land into closed National Parks.

“Bush User Groups United believes there is a better alternative. We need a multiple land use management systems which allows for protection of conservation values in sensitive areas whilst allowing for economic and recreational values to be utilised in less sensitive areas of public land.”

But according to VEAC, more than half of Victoria’s land has already been cleared – more than any other state in Australia. In order to have ongoing public nature and bushland available for everyone, sacrifices will have to be made.

The forests of central west Victoria – which includes the tail end of the Great Dividing Range – supports a relatively large proportion of Victoria’s plants and animals, including 380 rare or threatened species.

For many of these species, resources such as food and breeding sites in the right kind of habitat are already in short supply. Dry conditions, hotter weather and Victoria’s exponentially rising population are putting extra stress on habitats, individuals and populations.

The report will be in parliament on Tuesday, August 27; the same day as the ‘We Want Our Bush Back’ rally is in the CBD. For further information about the report, visit www.bit.ly/2YQldCT.

To learn more about the rally or to sign the petition, visit the Bush User Groups United Facebook page. For locals wanting to get involved in the rally, a bus will be leaving from Nathalia to take supporters to the event. Cost is $25 and the bus will leave from Nathalia at 8:00am. For further information, contact Murray on 0418 652 898.