Tuesday, June 22, 2021

Koondrook Development Committee: Victorian native timber closure

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A recent Koondrook Development Committee meeting included discussions surrounding the Victorian Government decision to close down native timber harvesting in the remaining red gum state forest within the Gannawarra Shire. The forests includes Gunbower, Guttrum and Benwell State Forests.

Native forest

The importance of the red gum industry to the Koondrook community and the Gannawarra Shire was acknowledged by the attendants at the meeting.

  • Economic impact – There is great concern for the loss of income to the communities within the Shire and the economic impacts to the businesses and allied trades that service the red gum industry.
  • Social impact – The social impacts of this forest closure decision will cause loss of jobs, which in turn will force younger families to move on, affecting numbers for schools, sporting clubs and community organisations.
  • Environment impact – Environmentally there are concerns for forest management and the health of the forest. 

Discussed at the meeting, the red gum forests prior to European settlement were more of an open wood land space. Since European management commenced in the 1860s the forest has gradually become a far denser bush, with less fire management practises. 

The role of the timber industry has been to thin out and reduce the number of trees, and maintain a healthy forest with values including flora and fauna, cultural and tourism all as high priorities.

Without the management and forestry practises, the forests will become overgrown. Fire tracks will be inaccessible and the community, being in close proximity, will be under threat from wildfire, that undoubtably will happen.

Another concern for the Koondrook community and many other residents within the Gannawarra Shire is access to firewood. A precedent has been set in the Barmah Forest where the government allowed firewood collection for a few years following the National Park decision, then closed the bush for firewood collection some years later, leaving the local community in the Moira Shire without options for firewood.

The matter of tourism was raised and it was agreed that tourism serves our community well when it adds to the economy of the community, though there are times when tourism fails due to a range of issues, including:

  • Floods that impact the forest, resulting in closed camping areas and tracks that are inaccessible for any tourism activities;
  • Extreme heat conditions, when it is far too hot in our mid-summer climates to be venturing out;
  • Natural disaster outbreaks, such as when mosquitoes and Ross River Virus is rampant; blue green algae breaks out and signs go up at forest entrances deterring campers from staying due to unusable water conditions; the COVID-19 outbreak restricts potential visitors from leaving their local areas and access to the area can be disrupted for periods of time due to lockdowns.

KDC members acknowledged at the meeting that the red gum timber industry operates the whole year round and additionally brings tourists to the Shire with the popular tourist-friendly walkway at Arbuthnot Sawmill. This is seen as an important attraction. The red gum statues have created a great deal of interest to visitors and it is important to recognise that the statues were an initiative instigated by the red gum industry.

The KDC members agreed that every possible action should be undertaken to overturn the Andrew’s Government Native Forest closure decision. One approach would be for Gannawarra Shire Council to join Timber Towns Victoria. Timber Towns Victoria is a group of councils from areas throughout the state that are affected by the forest closure decision.

Another key element to the meeting conversation was concerns that accepting transition funds (Local Development Strategy grants program funds from the Victorian State Government), would be seen as an acceptance of the forest closure decision. 

For this reason, a second motion was moved, seconded and agreed upon by all KDC members, that KDC resist any transition funding from the Department of Jobs, Precincts and Regions and for this decision to be reviewed at a later date.

The Koondrook and Barham Bridge Newspaper 20 May 2021

This article appeared in The Koondrook and Barham Bridge Newspaper, 20 May 2021.

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