THE Victorian Premier, John Brumby, has waited until New Year’s Eve to announce the end of timber harvesting and grazing in 83,000 hectares of red gum forest in the Central Murray Valley in north western Victoria, Australia.
The creation of new national parks was a 2006 election promise to secure inner-city votes but is based on a lie – on the false belief that by declaring an area a national park you can somehow “save it”.
In reality the red gums of the mid-Murray need water and thinning and a national park declaration will achieve neither. The national park declaration will simply increase the risk of wild fires and the death of koalas.
The Rivers and Red Gum Alliance, representing local forest users, provided the government with a well research plan whereby 104,000 hectares could be managed under the principles of the internationally recognised Ramsar convention.
As Peter Newman, chairman of the Alliance, explained yesterday, “The forests exist in a highly modified landscape surrounded by farmland and need active management to maintain forest health. This includes fuel reduction through controlled grazing and thinning of the red gum trees to keep the forest open and in a healthy state.”
But the alliance plan was ignored in favour of city votes.
Announcing the plan to convert the forests to national park and effectively exclude active management, Premier Brumby falsely claimed trees in the forests are more than 500 years old: “You’re talking about trees that are more than 500 years old. And they are ancient, they are part of our history and they need to be protected.”
This is incorrect. During the late 1800s, large quantities of timber were harvested from these forests for building and operating river boats, gold mining and as sleepers for local and overseas railways. The extent of the logging, including along the entire river frontage to a distance of approximately three kilometres from the River bank, resulted in concern that the forest would be entirely cut out. A Conservator of Forests was appointed in 1888. His focus was on protecting the forest from over-cutting, controlling over-grazing, introducing silviculture treatment and protecting the forest from fire.
The current extent of the largest of the mid-Murray forests, the Barmah forest (23,000 hectares), is thought to be a result of the extensive regeneration that also occurred at this time, in part a consequence of wet years during the 1870s coinciding with the decline of Aboriginal burning practices and preceding the introduction of sheep, cattle and rabbits.
Significant quantities of timber continued to be harvested from the Barmah forest during the 1900s. There was an official assessment of the Barmah forestry resources in 1929–30 and then again in 1960–61. The 1960–61 assessment indicated a considerable increase in growing stock and total sawlog volumes, notwithstanding the significant volumes harvested in the intervening period and despite the fact that river regulation since the construction of the Hume Dam in the 1930s had changed flow regimes.
The Murray River is now flowing strongly with water from this dam, but the water is passing the forests on its way to South Australia. Some of this water could be diverted. It could be pumped into the forests, but the Victorian government is intent on waiting until there is a large flood event.
The mid-Murray forests really just need some water and some thinning now. Yesterday’s announcement by Premier Brumby will secure neither.
Photograph of the burnt koala taken in Barmah Forest, in the Central MurrayValley, October 17, 2008 by Peter Newman.
Related blog posts:
A New Plan for the Red Gums of Northern Victoria, August 1, 2008.
Thinning Red Gum Forest at Koondrook, November 9, 2007
After the ‘Top Island’ Fire in the Barmah Red Gum Forest, November 10, 2007
Myth and the Murray, Measuring the Real State of the River Environment, IPA Backgrounder, December 2003, Vol. 15/5 http://www.ipa.org.au/publications/449/myth-and-the-murray-measuring-the-real-state-of-the-environment