The latest in a series of rallies against a state government investigation into land use in central Victoria will take place in Bendigo this weekend.
The Victorian Environmental Assessment Council is in the midst of a two-year investigation into public land in and around the Wombat, Wellsford, Mount Cole and Pyrenees Range state forests.
VEAC was expected to release a draft proposals paper by the end of July, but has since re-evaluated an expects to have a document available by the end of this month.
The purpose of the investigation, according to VEAC, is to “identify and evaluate the condition, natural and biodiversity values and cultural, social and economic values and the current uses of public land in the specified area, and make recommendations for the balanced use and appropriate management arrangements to conserve and enhance the natural and cultural values”.
Many bush user groups harbor fears VEAC intends to reclassify state forests to national parks which will impact recreational pursuits, prospecting and wood collection, among others.
Prospectors and Miners Association Victoria Central Goldfields Branch president Bill Schulz admitted the user groups weren’t fully aware of the intention of the investigation.
“VEAC are bound to change something,” he said.
He did however suggested fears state parks could be turned into national parks were legitimate, if a little hypothetical at this stage.
State member for Ripon Louise Staley will be speaking at the rally in the Queen’s Gardens at 11am on Saturday, as will Nationals candidate for Bendigo East Gaelle Broad.
Politicians from all parties were invited to the rally, Mr Schulz said.
The gathering is the fourth show of support for bush user groups after recent rallies in Beaufort, Avoca, and Maryborough.
Mr Schulz suggested the general public had a minimal level of understanding of the investigation, which the rally was in part aimed at addressing.
“State forests in that area are where people, elderly people, still collect wood. A lot of them can't afford electric or gas heaters. You can't collect firewood in national parks,” he said.
A further rally will take place at parliament house on Wednesday.
Minister for Energy, Environment and Climate Change Lily D’Ambrosio said in April 2017: “We recognise the passion and care Victorians have for our forests, that’s why their input is going to be so crucial to this investigation.”