Upgrading Wellsford State Forest to national park status will make it a “tinderbox”, local prospector says

Upgrading the Wellsford State Forest to national park status will make it a “tinderbox” and heighten the bushfire risk of the area, the head of a local prospecting group has claimed. 

A state government-initiated investigation is underway to assess the most appropriate use of a number of forests in the region. 

Councillors on Wednesday voted to endorse a City of Greater Bendigo submission to the investigation which requests the forest be upgraded in status to be protected under the National Parks Act 1975.

Related: Investigation launched into uses of public land in Bendigo region's state forests

Aside from restricting recreation activities, the increased protection of the forest would restrict timber collection, making it a more dangerous bush fire risk, according to President of the Prospectors and Miners Association of Victoria, Olly Oleszek.

“Because there is so much undergrowth, it will make it very difficult for fire brigades to access areas of the forest,” he said.

The Golden Triangle would also become devoid of tourists, meaning many small surrounding towns “will die”, he said. 

Prospecting, dog walking, horse riding, timber harvesting, eucalyptus oil production, four-wheel driving, dirt bike riding would all be banned if the forest became a national park, Mr Oleszek said.

Forest Fire Management Victoria Murray Goldfields District manager, Paul Bates, said altering the status of the forest to a national park will not change FFMV’s management approach in the area. 

“FFMV intends to carry out about 450 hectares of planned burning to reduce fuels in the Regional Park near the Wellsford Rifle Range over the next two years,” the spokesperson said.

“Fine fuels on and near the forest ground, such as leaves, grass, shrubs and twigs, allow fire to spread and are the main risk for bushfire in the forest. 

“Logs and timber lying on the forest floor will burn in a bushfire, and for a longer period of time relative to fine fuels, however fine fuels and burning embers from bark and leaves are more likely to spread fire.”

CFA district 2 operations officer Chris Jacobsen said the organisation worked in conjunction with the land managers – the Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning and Parks Victoria – but was not responsible for fire-prevention measures on public land.

Councillor Jennifer Alden said since its classification in the 1970s, an unlicensed and unsupervised fire wood collection “bonanza” has had a “massive impact on the environment” in the forest.

“For those who claim protecting the forest is locking it up – it couldn’t be further from the truth,” she said.