A PROPOSAL to add half of Wellsford forest to the Greater Bendigo Regional Park and turn much of the remainder into a designated nature reserve has angered bush user groups, who have promised to fight the plan.
The draft plan from the Victorian Environmental Assessment Council recommended 3950 hectares on the western side of Wellsford forest be added to the regional park and 3160 hectares on the northern and eastern side to become nature reserve.
In the nature reserve firewood collection, prospecting, dogs, car rallies, timber harvesting and horse riding would be banned. Recreational hunting would also be banned, except pest hunting as part of an authorised control program. Camping will also be restricted.
As part of the Greater Bendigo Regional Park, firewood collection would only be allowed in areas where it would provide a positive ecological outcome. Recreational hunting will also be restricted to controlled pest management programs, and timber harvesting is banned.
The report was released for public comment and could be finalised early next year.
It also made recommendations for the Mount Cole-Pyrenees range and the Wombat forest-Macedon area.
It has drawn heavy criticism from the Bush Users Group United, which held a rally in Bendigo last month protesting greater protections being placed on Wellsford forest.
The group is demanding an independent inquiry into the effectiveness of state and national parks for tourism, the environment and local economies.
Group head executive Bill Schulz said a moratorium must be placed on further state and national parks until their proposed inquiry is complete.
“They say it’ll boost tourism, but where’s the tourism now? Changing the label to a regional park is not going to do a thing for tourism,” he said.
“All of our native animals will suffer if there’s no hunting. Wild cats and dogs, pigs, deer, they’re all going to congregate in these parks if they are protected from hunting.
“The towns will suffer as well. Towns like Avoca rely on bush user groups.”
Mr Schulz, also the president of the Prospectors and Miners Association of Victoria, said they would now consider stopping their practice of informing Parks Victoria when they come across large rubbish dumpings in parks.
“When we go out prospecting, we pick up and dispose of more rubbish than anybody,” he said.
“We notify Parks of any dumpings we see and get rid of tonnes of rubbish, and this is the thanks we get?
“We may not do it this year.”
The purpose of the VEAC plan is to protect 32 rare or threatened flora and fauna species in the Wellsford forest, as well as seven threatened woodland bird species.
More than 85 per cent of the forest is made up of Box Ironbark.
The draft report stated that adding the western portion of Wellsford to the Greater Bendigo Regional Park would “expand the recreational opportunities of this popular regional park”.
It recommended a nature reserve for much of the remainder to protect key species such as the pink-tailed worm-lizard, brush-tailed phascogale and the lace monitor in one of Victoria’s largest Box Ironbark forests.
Victorian National Parks Association executive director Matt Ruchel said recreational activities would remain largely the same, but prospecting and firewood collection would be restricted.
“A lot of parks in central Victoria are Box Ironbark which have been heavily utilised over centuries,” he said.
“Removing these extraction industries allows the forest to regrow, rebuild and protects their habitat features.
“A lot of the rules for recreational uses are still the same. Recreational hunting can still occur under the supervision of Parks Victoria, and changes to firewood collection allows it to be more targeted and scientifically informed.
“Supervised, strategic hunting programs have been successful elsewhere in Victoria, in particular the Little Desert National Park and in the Dandenong Ranges.”
The proposed changes would continue to allow beekeeping, bushwalking, four-wheel driving, trail bike riding and mountain biking in Wellsford forest.
Elsewhere in Victoria, VEAC proposed creating a Wombat-Lerderderg National Park over 52,853 hectares of existing state parks and forests. This would put in place similar restrictions as those proposed for Wellsford forest.
It also proposed a Hepburn Conservation Park for 2714 hectares northwest of Daylesford, a Hepburn Regional Park surrounding Daylesford, a 2532-hectare Cobaw Conservation Park east of Kyneton and changes to the Macedon Regional Park.
The matter could have political consequences with the state election approaching in November. A number of Liberal and National MPs – including Member for Ripon Louise Staley – have previously expressed their concern at further state or national parks in Victoria.