A GROUP of Hepburn Shire residents are worried that despite the state government's recent announcement to protect forests across Victoria, the Wombat Forest could again be logged if it is not made a national park.
In early November Premier Daniel Andrews announced a phaseout of logging in native forests by 2030 in order to reduce carbon in the atmosphere and to protect the habitat of greater gliders, leadbeater possums and other threatened species.
But in a map recently released by The Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning, parts of Wombat State Forest are highlighted as available for timber harvesting until 2030 as part of the Native Forests Transition Package.
The state government is continuing to contemplate the Victorian Environmental Assessment Council's Central West Investigation report, requested by Environment Minister Lily D'Ambrosio in 2017, into how to better protect, conserve and enhance the cultural and natural values in the Wombat, Wellsford, Mount Cole and Pyrenees Range forests.
The report was tabled in Parliament in August 2019 and the government has six months to respond. But until a decision is made about whether the proposed Wombat-Lerderderg National Park will be formed to not only protect the forest but the endangered greater glider and powerful owl, residents are waiting anxiously.
In addition to the national park, conservation and regional parks would also be formed to continue to allow for a swathe of activities including four-wheel driving, trail, mountain bike and horse riding.
In its initial submission to the VEAC process in 2017, VicForests states an intention to re-log the forest. In its submission it states that in 2013 the Department of Environment and Primary Industries commissioned a review into commercial forestry management in Western Victoria, finding that after a decade of reduced activity, the Wombat Forest could sustain an ongoing sawlog yield of more than 10,000 cubic metres per annum.
"Over time, VicForests would be interested to explore a sustainable harvest of high quality sawlogs from the Wombat State Forest - within limits acceptable to the community. This type of operation would be able to support one or more small sawmills and value-adding businesses," the submission reads.
In its more recent submission, VicForests states a part of the Wombat-Macedon block could be retained as state forest to allow for logging.
Forty members of Wombat Forestcare travelled to Parliament House in Melbourne on Thursday to join 45 other environmental and community groups from across the state to call for urgent and bold action from the state government to protect biodiversity and native wildlife.
One of these members was Ruth Anaba, who lives on the edge of the forest near Trentham and regularly enjoys walking through the forest at all times of year.
"It is really important for me to support the protection of forests into the future and to support the expansion of national parks in Victoria, particularly the Wombat-Lerderderg," she said.
I think it's important that people's voices are heard about nature and particularly children's voices. In the midst of an extinction crisis, we need to speak up for nature because if we don't, then who does?Ruth Anaba
From their home, her family - including her nine-year-old children - can hear animals such as the call of the powerful owl.
"My children love the forest and have grown up in it. They are lucky to have that experience and to have grown up around wildlife.
"It is a really lucky experience that I hope children in the future will have the opportunity to have too."
The Victorian National Park Association's Executive Director Matt Ruchel said the only way to protect forests from commercial forestry and mining was to change the forest designation to park status of either national park or other types of conservation reserve.
"We are concerned that maps released as part of the State Government's recent native forest announcements show the Wombat and other central west forest will still be available for logging until 2030," he said.
Mr Ruchel said generally areas for logging would be planned through logging schedules such as Timber Utilisation Plans in the west of the state or Timber Release Plans in the east of the state, but it is not yet known what the recent announcements mean for the future of logging in the Wombat and other central west forests.
He said the VNPA supported the VEAC recommendations for the permanent protection of not only the Wombat but other central west forests.
A state government spokesperson said it was carefully considering the report.