No ‘Happy New Year’ for Koalas in the Central Murray Valley

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

Further reading:

Myth and the Murray, Measuring the Real State of the River Environment, IPA Backgrounder,  December 2003, Vol. 15/5

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35 Responses to No ‘Happy New Year’ for Koalas in the Central Murray Valley

  1. Louis Hissink December 31, 2008 at 6:37 pm #

    There’s not an upcoming by-election or impending state one is there? This smells like pandering to the green vote for political purposes.

  2. Graeme Bird. December 31, 2008 at 10:11 pm #

    This is just upsetting. When will they ever learn? Damn their black hearts. Its like to these people only wilderness is a worthy goal. What is wrong with a bit of managed beauty and diversity? These people are philistines. They have no culture. And I don’t mean that in a small way. I mean that in a very big and appalling way. No human graces. These environmentalists are no good for the environment. They are like a blind man driving a giant bulldozer. They know nothing. They don’t want to know anything. Mass-sackings, mass-sackings, mass-sackings amen.

  3. Louis Hissink December 31, 2008 at 10:48 pm #

    If it gives you heart Graeme, Wolfe Creek Crater in the Kimberley is a national park, or some similar sort of thing – and displayed prominently on its information board is the mystery why the vegetation in the centre of the crater suddenly exploded in 1978.

    CALM have no clue but I do.

    Seems one of our prospecting teams had a Sunday off during November 2007 and being close to WC thought a BBQ in the crater would be a spendid thing. I am informed that the BBQ went as expected but that it subsequently got out of control and burnt all the vegetation in the crater.

    This caused the native flora to drop their seeds and after the following west season the cause of a proliferation of vegetation in the crater itself.

    CALM remain non the wiser nor do the Greens, but we in the mining industry, or at least some of us, continue to chuckle quietly while our ecological sustained twits in the cities remain delusioned.

    Once cannot take these clowns all that seriously but we must – some of us still remember what happened after the Great Depression last century.

  4. Louis Hissink December 31, 2008 at 10:50 pm #

    Whoops, November 1977, must be the bubbly being consumed for new year causing this chronological lapse.

  5. sod December 31, 2008 at 11:08 pm #

    there is nothing as exposing, as your own words Jennifer.

    just a few days ago, in the last topic, while defending the claim that “rich nations are better protecting the natural environment than poor ones”, you made claims about “protecting that natural environment” instead of “wasting money” on CO2 reduction.

    now, when offered an opportunity to “protect natural environment”, you of course change sides again.

    instead of allowing a TINY PIECE of “natural environment”, you are already again fighting on the sides of those, who oppose all “natural environment”.

    no surprise for me. again.

  6. sod December 31, 2008 at 11:27 pm #

    This is just upsetting. When will they ever learn? Damn their black hearts. Its like to these people only wilderness is a worthy goal. What is wrong with a bit of managed beauty and diversity? These people are philistines. They have no culture.

    yes, that monotonous wilderness! blessed be the diversity of managed land.

    behold the beauty!

  7. Timberati January 1, 2009 at 6:43 am #

    The idea that a hands-off approach is the apex of Best Management Practices is fallacious. I recommend “The illusion of preservation: a global environmental argument for the local production of natural resources” by Harvard University Press and printed in the Journal of Biogeography. It’s available online, well written, and peer reviewed; and better yet does not need ad hominem arguments to make a point.

  8. janama January 1, 2009 at 8:30 am #

    Cattle, agriculture and riverbanks don’t mix. When the first explorers came across the northern rivers of NSW they found white sand river bottoms and crystal clear water. It can still be seen at Red Rock (just north of Coffs) where the Corindi river runs mostly cattle/ag free to the sea. The murky Terranora lakes at Tweed Heads also used to be crystal clear white sand. The Clarence is a brown mud pool from cattle disturbing the river banks of it’s tributaries yet the Timbarra, one of it’s main tributaries still remains clear due to limited agricultural impact.

    Janet Holmes a Court discovered at Pigeonhole Station that a grazing system of constantly moving cattle from paddock to paddock, as they would graze in the wild, totally altered the flora makeup of the paddocks.

    To sustain cattle responsibly the Red Gum region would require added water pipes, pumps and drinking tanks for the cattle and the area would have to fenced into various sized paddocks with a buffer between the cattle and the river.

    Otherwise you are just sending a bull into a china shop.

  9. jennifer January 1, 2009 at 8:48 am #


    I agree with you to a point. Indeed I have written much about the problems of overgrazing in the Macquarie Marshes including here

    However, I do not believe that cattle need to be excluded from the red gum forests of the mid-Murray. There does need to be controls on numbers.

    The forests, in their current form, are very much an artifact of “white fella” management over the last 150 or so years.

    These red gums are very fire sensitive. If there is a return to the indigenous way of management there will be many, many fewer trees.

    If a “hands off” approach is adopted to “micro-management” and at the same time an attempt made to control wildfires (to protect surrounding settlements etcetera) then the forests will end up full of weeds etcetera.

  10. janama January 1, 2009 at 9:48 am #

    Surely if the area is to be grazed the best animal to do it is the one designed for it – the kangaroo.

  11. janama January 1, 2009 at 9:52 am #

    If weeds are a problem then the best solution is humans with backpacks of roundup. Should fix it in 7 – 10 years.

  12. jennifer January 1, 2009 at 9:52 am #


    Why do you think the kangaroo was “designed” to graze the red gum forests of the mid-Murray?

    Your language suggests you believe in “a balance of nature” and some form of “intelligent design”.

    BTW I have seen kangaroos in the forests there.

  13. Max Rheese January 1, 2009 at 10:01 am #

    Environmental failures due to the current and proposed management model applied to the red gum forests of the Murray are self evident and can be seen here in more detail here VEAC recommendations fail the test of scrutiny [ It is fortunate that we can witness a glimpse of the future management of these forests to see what not to do. It is unfortunate that the government has chosen not to learn from these stark lessons of environmental failure. The local community and the forest will bear the brunt of these future failures.

    Premier Brumby’s announcement this week of the creation of four new national parks highlighted the fact that in some stretches of the Murray River up to 75% of the forests are stressed or dying. This was made known by a government funded study in 2007 [Cunningham, McNally et al] that found the red gum forests in the worst condition were in the Hattah-Kulkyne National Park bordering the Murray River. This park was gazetted in 1960, so these dying red gum forests have had the protection of national park status now for 48 years!

    Notwithstanding the fact that the Premier highlighted this alarming statistic, stating that these “iconic red gums cannot be allowed to die”, he then declared four new national parks 250 kilometres upstream from the most stressed red gum forests – national park status for forests that are in relatively good condition despite the drought. No protection was offered for the forests with “as many as 75% of trees are either stressed or dying”

    The disappointing feature of the announcement is that, as usual, the environment has played second fiddle to politics. This has nothing to do with protecting red gum forests and everything to do with sealing the backroom deal done with the five environment groups that make up the Environment Liaison Office. Grubby deals done in private, and announced in the holiday period because they will not stand public scrutiny.

  14. janama January 1, 2009 at 10:23 am #

    Ha ha Jennifer, no I agree with David Attenborough who suggests that’ we’ve been engineering this planet for thousands of years and the only way forward is to get better at it.

    So if we intend, for purely sentimental reasons, to keep an area of this country as a close to it’s original state as possible then there is no room for cattle.

    We could knock it down and build a Dreamworld water park, but for sentimental reasons I’d prefer to try and preserve it because it’s a wonderfull example of the uniqueness of this country’s fauna and flora.

    There are eastern greys that graze there. Ever seen a group of roos muddy up a billabong? I haven’t.

  15. Goodoo January 1, 2009 at 12:25 pm #

    There have been some good post but some seem to have no idea about the Barhma forest.
    It has been created and managed by people for 150 years. It is not a natural system, but the gov thinks it is so good that we need to stop those activities which created and maintained it.

  16. David Joss January 1, 2009 at 3:48 pm #

    It has been managed by humans for much more than 150 years Goodoo. According to some experts the river red gums only invaded the area about 6000 years ago. That’s well within the time of human habitation.
    This is a forest that has been managed and manipulated by man since the first trees began to grow. It has never been a wilderness. The firestick farming regime of the first forest dwellers was far more aggressive than that of the Europeans.
    According to Professor Haikai Tane who researched the forest for the Murray Darling Basin Commission some years ago, the aborigines actually created their firewood supply by ringbarking trees with fire to kill them. They only allowed a few trees per mile of river frontage.
    Yanga forest in NSW, logged for decades but now a national park, is of even more recent origin. It is said to have appeared only after the nearby Redbank Weir was built on the Murrumbidgee. The NSW Government promotes it as an excellent example of a RRG forest but it will be interesting to see if they manage it as well as the professional forester who looked after it previously.

  17. Bill Burrows January 1, 2009 at 4:00 pm #

    In my 40+ years of studying the ecology of Australian woodlands I found 2 quotes especially insightful – “Aboriginals lit fires anytime it wasn’t raining” & ” Aboriginals managed the country by burning it in either of 3 ways – frequently, regularly or often”. I’m sure experienced ecologists in the various environment/national parks departments understand this very well too. But unfortunately they cannot manage the national parks accordingly because either inadequate funding or bureaucratic zealots will not allow them to do so. This is compounded by the fact that most administrators and visitors to to-day’s parks falsely believe the vegetation they are seeing mirrors the so called remnant or pristine vegetation, present when europeans first displaced the indigenous people. However elegant (and published!) research utilising soil carbon stable isotope signatures has shown that the composition and structure of e.g. Queensland woodlands has changed markedly over the past 150 years as a result of tree/shrub “thickening”. This phenomenon is not unique to Australia and is readily demonstrated in most parts of the world where europeans, with their grazing animals and comparative aversion to the use of fire, have displaced hunter-gatherer societies. Since our vegetation developed its pre-european structure under a regular burning regime it does remain remarkably resilient to the ‘holocaust’ fires we now impose on it in many NP’s & “reserves” – but personally I doubt the native fauna is as resilient to such intense fires. Incidentally many ‘southern’ eucalypts require fire to provide the sterile seed beds to enable seedlings to establish (avoid seedlings being decimated by ubiquitous root rot fungi). Coolibahs (and river red gums?) likewise establish after a flood has sterilised the surface soil of root rot fungi. [This emphasises the significance of the previous quotes – once a eucalypt seedling, with its pronounced lignotuber, is >2 years old it is very resistant to “normal” fires.]When you allow the woody plants to thicken in savannas or riverine woodlands you also substantially alter the ground flora composition and overall structure of the vegetation. And this not only alters the density and composition of the arboreal fauna but the ground fauna as well e.g. the balance of insectivorous vs granivorous birds, koalas & possums vs kangaroos & wallabies etc etc

  18. bronson January 1, 2009 at 5:33 pm #

    Better hope they take lots of pictures of the red gum and while their at it the piliga to, because we’ll need something to remind us what they both looked like after the next few decades of ‘protection’.

  19. Graeme Bird. January 1, 2009 at 7:48 pm #

    You total moron sod. What is your point?

  20. sod January 1, 2009 at 10:51 pm #

    You total moron sod. What is your point?

    it is easy. you obviously hate nature. you would prefer a parking lot to a reservation and if that means cutting down 500 year old trees, well, they make good fire wood.
    your position is stupid, but at least honest.

    the situation with Jennifer is different. she always PRETENDS to favor the environment. she just supports a slightly different version of how preservation is planned. so she opposes things. basically she opposes EVERY PRESERVATION.

    if she was honest, she would of course applaud the foundation of the reservations. she would call for additional funds, if she was worried about fires. she would try to add concrete ideas, about how to make it even better.
    if she really thought, that cattle and wood cutting are the best way to preserve the land, she would bring up scientific evidence to support her claims. what i ve seen so far, is weak at best.

    sorry, but if you think that cattle owners, woodsmen and whalers make the best stewards of their prey, then you need better FACTS to support your views…

  21. janama January 2, 2009 at 6:38 am #

    I see Max Rheese has written to the Age claiming

    “The Department of Sustainability and Environment completed an ecological grazing strategy in 2005 for the red gum forests that recognises controlled grazing as a useful tool in controlling weeds and fire. Other studies endorse this management approach.”

    Interesting – I wish he could have given a reference to this claim because all I can find are reports of the detrimental effects of grazing. How the hooves of cattle compress the peat soils of wetlands, how they spread weeds and the fact there is NO evidence that cattle grazing lessens fire.

    Can someone point me to this Department of Sustainability and Environment 2005 report?

  22. Graeme Bird. January 2, 2009 at 9:12 am #

    Look why is a reference here all that necessary Jamama? Do you mean to say that we need to spend money on a bunch of parasites in order to confirm the bloody bleeding obvious? How about a bit of a priori thinking here? A reference may be good practice but its entirely unecessary in this case. Cows each gear that would otherwise become fuel at ground level when conditions turn dry. Keeping up so far?

    Many dopey ideas in contemporary epistemology amount to make-work scams for taxeaters and consultants.

  23. Graeme Bird. January 2, 2009 at 9:21 am #

    “it is easy. you obviously hate nature. you would prefer a parking lot to a reservation and if that means cutting down 500 year old trees, well, they make good fire wood.
    your position is stupid, but at least honest.”

    No no you are just lying. Your picture didn’t show that and in fact your picture didn’t show any damn thing. The results of your picture were attained from government action. Largely to do with Brazilian/Argentinian beef rivalry. There was no fundamental reason why the Brazilians needed to grant property titles horizon to horizon in this way. If anything the picture confirms the notion you poured scorn on (in your obssessional campaign of idiocy) about poor countries being more flippant towards the environment then rich countries.

    So lets go over it again and you tell me what your lying point was? Or are you going in for another weeks-long filibuster of dishonesty like the one you went in for on the David Evans thread? You filthy dog. You haven’t apologised for that one yet. This is because you are lying filth.

  24. Ian Mott January 2, 2009 at 9:38 am #

    What a pleasure it is to read the wisdom of Bill (Sir William) Burrows again. But it all went right over Sod’s head, as usual.

    The real tragedy is that the environment will have to get a whole lot worse before the public even begins to link the degraded conditions to the degraded green ideology that produced them. And the more skilled the greens get at manipulating the flow of information to the public, the worse the environmental conditions will need to be before real change and restoration can take place.

    And the rest of us will just have to put up with the environment the greens and the punters deserve.

  25. janama January 2, 2009 at 9:57 am #

    Cows each gear that would otherwise become fuel at ground level when conditions turn dry. Keeping up so far?

    no I’m not keeping up Graeme – the main fuel that sustains fires when conditions turn dry is not grass, it’s the fact that aussie gum trees continually drop branches and cattle don’t eat branches!

  26. Goodoo January 2, 2009 at 1:56 pm #

    Sod you are believing the Vic Gov propoganda. The trees are NOT 500 years old. The area was cleared in the 1860,s for wood for fuel and for the mines around Bendigo. Since then it was alowed to regenerate and and has been well managed to be the place it is now.

    I thought Graeme’s coments were a little harsh so re-read your posts and now agree with him.

  27. cinders January 2, 2009 at 4:21 pm #

    Have we as a nation got our priorities right when we spend more on fireworks on New Year’s Eve, than the money to support timber workers that will have their jobs destroyed by this decision to create 4 new national parks and umpteen conservation areas and extensions.
    Sydney fireworks $5 million, Adelaide, with no plastic bags to take shopping home, a couple of million, Victoria probably $3 million all up.

    The Victorian Labor Premiers, a representative of working families, has allocated just $4.5 million assistance package for the 55 timber workers affected and we will also seek to maximise training and re-employment opportunities, from the $38 million package (reallocated from Healthcare, schools and vital infrastructure) for the Parks.

    According to my calculator that $81,818.18 cents each. Perhaps half going to the trainers, and a quarter in subsidies to new employees. This is back to the future stuff, in NSW in the 80s or was it the seventies, the government came to the sawmill to close it down to create some national parks to win green votes in the city. The workers were told “You’ll all have jobs in tourism, tourisms the go”. Not one timber worker got a job serving cafe lattes.

    Since that time National parks have been under funded, under resourced, their management has been highly questionable, many have become weed infested, home to feral animals and of course tinder dry. Not one cent of the Wilderness Society’s $12 million budget is spent on helping our National Parks.

    Thats not saving the environment, thats a proven recipe for disaster. Yet it is also the spring board for the next campaign for the greens to create even more national parks.

  28. Grame Bird January 2, 2009 at 9:13 pm #

    “no I’m not keeping up Graeme – the main fuel that sustains fires when conditions turn dry is not grass, it’s the fact that aussie gum trees continually drop branches and cattle don’t eat branches!”

    Are you claiming that the cows don’t eat ANY fuel??? If not what is your point? They eat SOME fuel do they not? No-ones putting cows up as fire-fighting machines dopey. Get it together.

  29. janama January 2, 2009 at 10:33 pm #

    no – the amount of grass they eat does not make a difference. get it?

    please show me the report that shows that cattle improve the ecology of the forests, or any land for that matter.

  30. jennifer January 2, 2009 at 10:44 pm #

    Janama, I’ve just had a search for the relevant report – unsuccessfully. But I am sure its online … I will email Max for the url.

  31. Murray Macullochella January 3, 2009 at 10:41 am #

    I can show you 900 year old trees at barmah
    Regards Murray

  32. bronson January 3, 2009 at 12:32 pm #

    Janama, Jennifer
    there is a grazing strategy document for the NSW side of the boarder –

  33. janama January 3, 2009 at 1:35 pm #

    Thanks Bronson – that gave me a place to look.

    “Cattle grazing obviously has advantages for reducing fuel for wildfires but it can also be used to reduce annual weeds in these forests. (Note: no evidence to support the statement)

    “It is all about timing. The cattle are moved into these areas when the introduced annual weeds are growing in winter. The cattle eat the weeds before they have a chance to flower and seed.

    “Grazing is ceased in spring when the native species are growing and seeding. Cattle have the added advantage of slightly disturbing the soil to create perfect conditions for native grasses and shrubs to regenerate.”

    The report recommends grazing cattle ONLY in the autumn/winter and removing them for spring so the annual Barmah Muster should be moved from April to September and the lyrics altered for the Barmah Muster Song


    We’re mustering cattle at Barmah one more
    It’s that time of the year once again
    Winter is over and spring is here
    As we meet for the muster each year


    On Sunday night as the nights shadows fall
    We meet at the old cattle yards
    The boys are excited as they all have their say
    As they plan for the muster next day

    The morning is chilly as the sun comes up
    As we saddle our bronks for the day
    With tucker bags full and our stockwhips in hand
    We ride through the tall timber land


    Old Sticher the cook he is with us no more
    But his spirit will be there this year
    As we meet with the boys for a yarn and a beer
    And we join this great atmosphere

    We muster the cattle these cattle each day for the week
    But when Saturday night it comes round
    We kick up our heels and we all clap our hands
    To the beat of a good country band


    We’re mustering cattle at Barmah once more
    That time has past for the year
    But I bet its for certain we’ll all be back here
    When we’ll meet for the muster next year .

  34. sod January 3, 2009 at 6:03 pm #

    I can show you 900 year old trees at barmah
    Regards Murray

    please don t. they ll use it as firewood.

    The report recommends grazing cattle ONLY in the autumn/winter and removing them for spring so the annual Barmah Muster should be moved from April to September and the lyrics altered for the Barmah Muster Song

    nice find. still waiting for Jennifer…


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