Victoria's last wilderness endangered in regional forest agreement

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Victoria's last wilderness endangered in regional forest agreement

Victoria's last wilderness endangered in regional forest agreement

By Vannessa Hearman

MELBOURNE — The Wilderness Society is campaigning to keep the Wongungarah area in north-eastern Victoria, which is currently subject to regional forest agreement (RFA) negotiations, safe from clear-felling. Recently Gavin McFadzean, state campaign coordinator of the Wilderness Society, spoke with radio 3CR's Natalie Woodlock about the future for this area.

McFadzean said: "Wongungarah is known as Victoria's last wilderness area. It's been classified by the Land Conservation Council, an arm of the Victorian Department of Environment, in 1992. It was deemed to be of sufficient size and remoteness to maintain its gene pool and its biodiversity.

"It consists of 25,000 hectares of old-growth forest, mostly old-growth alpine ash forest, about 10 kilometres from Mount Hotham ski resort. It will be covered by a proposed RFA for north-eastern Victoria. There is pressure from the logging industry for it to be opened up to clear-felling."

As the alpine ash there is old growth, it is quite rare and would be a lucrative resource to the timber industry. Since 1992, the area has not been logged at all because conservationists found the critically endangered spotted tree frog in a lower catchment area which is protected by the forests higher up.

Natural resources and environment minister Maree Tehan has said that the area will not be logged until the regional forest agreement process is completed. McFadzean said, "The RFA is due to be decided in the coming weeks. We're waiting to see the report on this."

However, he added, "Going by the RFAs in the central highlands and east Gippsland, it's understandable that we can't be too optimistic. However, we do feel that this is Victoria's last protected wilderness area, and as the industry had not relied on this area as a resource in the past, we don't feel that their claims can be justified. It can't claim that the future of the industry is reliant on this."

McFadzean explained the campaign the Wilderness Society has waged: "We've been conducting a broad-ranging campaign on this RFA. We have decided, unlike with other RFAs, to remain in the process because Wongungarah stood apart as an area that we wanted. There were 10,000 postcards which have been distributed throughout Victoria: we hung up streams of the postcards in the minister's foyer. There has also been a letter writing campaign and direct actions in the minister's office, and dropping huge banners off freeway overpasses in peak hour."

Environmentalists will step up the public campaign if the RFA report does not favour protecting "Victoria's last wilderness", particularly in the eight-week consultation period after the report is made public.