Thirty environmental, scientific and recreation groups have called on the new Victorian government to create the Great Forest National Park.
The proposed park would add 355,000 hectares of protected forests to the existing 170,000 hectares of parks and protected areas in the Central Highlands of Victoria by amalgamating a group of smaller parks. The park would stretch from Healesville to Kinglake in the west, through to Baw-Baw plateau in the east and north to Eildon.
The Central Highlands of Victoria are home to the world’s tallest flowering plant, the mountain ash, as well as owls, gliders and one of Australia’s most endangered mammals, the tiny Leadbeater’s possum.
The Mountain Ash forests flourish where there is high rainfall. They harvest water from the air and help provide most of Melbourne's drinking water. Because of their rapid growth and relatively slow rates of decay, these forests are among the most carbon-dense forests on Earth. But they are threatened by clearfell logging and intense bushfires, such as the Black Saturday fires of 2009.
A new national park is needed not only to conserve possums and forests, but to protect carbon stocks, water supplies and lower the risk of bushfires.
The Wilderness Society has 10 great reasons why we need the Great Forest National Park.
1. THE PUBLIC WANT IT
Polling has shown nine out of 10 Victorians want the national park to be created. The public understand the value of the park. It is a no-brainer for the government to create it.
2. THE ANIMALS WANT IT
The park will mean protection of near extinct wildlife after decades of over-logging. Without the national park, Victoria’s animal emblem – the Leadbeater’s possum – is just a whisker away from extinction.
3. THE TREES WANT IT
The tallest trees on Earth were once found in these forests, but today they are cut down before they can reach full maturity. The tallest mountain ash was the Ferguson Tree, which measured 132.6 metres (and that was with the top broken off). Today, these forest giants are still integral to the whole forest ecosystem. Who wouldn't want these trees to reach their full potential?
4. THE PLANTS AND FUNGI WANT IT
Clearfell logging not only destroys the trees, it destroys all the little plants and fungi that depend on each other to survive. These ecosystems are so complex that many species there are still to be discovered. They can’t be found if they become extinct.
5. IT’S GREAT FOR OUR CLIMATE
These forests store more carbon per hectare than any other forest studied in the world. Too much carbon in the atmosphere puts the climate out of whack. Trees are the best carbon storing device we have. They're a safe, reliable and proven technology! Yet we're still logging them, making climate change worse. The park will keep the carbon safely stored and help buffer us from the effects of climate change.
6. IT’S GREAT FOR OUR DRINKING WATER
Due to logging in these forests, we lose 1000 litres of water a second from our rivers and dams.
Logging costs water because re-growing trees are like hungry, thirsty teenagers and need litres and litres of water to grow. The park will ensure protection of water catchments for Melbourne, and for the Latrobe and Goulburn-Murray river systems — the lifeblood of northern Victoria.
7. IT’S GREAT FOR TOURISM
More people visit the forests of the Central Highlands for a bush and nature experience, than they do for wineries. The area is one of Victoria's richest natural assets, yet these magnificent forests still haven’t been included in a state plan to encourage nature-based tourism. Rural towns want and need this, which is why there is such great regional support for the park.
8. IT’S GREAT FOR OUR ECONOMY
The opportunity for growth is not just for the trees. Ninety-six million people visit the Parks Victoria estate each year which includes 35 million people visiting our national parks, bringing in more than $1 billion to the Victorian economy. With nature-based tourism forecast to increase 10-30% over the next decade, we’d be mad not to cash in by creating a new Great Forest National Park.
9. IT’S GREAT FOR BUSINESS
Once the park is created, local businesses from Marysville to Eildon and eastwards to Erica will benefit from the increased tourism through the region. The park will create new jobs and opportunities for local communities across regional Victoria, including nature-based tourism, well-resourced parks management and in plantations and farm forestry. There’s no doubt the tens of millions of dollars saved from not logging native forests can be put to better use across the state.
10. IT’S GREAT FOR MELBOURNE
Imagine having 522,104 hectares of national park to play in, right on your doorstep! That’s 10 times the size of Wilsons Promontory. Compared with Sydney, Melbourne has a pitiful number of hectares of parks and reserves surrounding it. A great city needs a great national park.