PARKS Victoria has described policing and protecting its parks as an "enormous" challenge amid spikes in illegal dumping and a crippling collapse in biodiversity across the state.
Chief conservation scientist Mark Norman made the remarks on Thursday at a Victorian parliamentary inquiry into biodiversity decline, when asked if land managers had the resources to adequately enforce compliance in habitats in crisis.
"I think it needs a whole-of-government response and approach, but the problems of illegal behaviors on the parks estate and in Crown lands in general are certainly expanding, so we could always use more resources in that space," he said.
Dr Norman's remarks came months after a group of Bendigo residents separately called for more action from agencies managing bushland following a spike in illegal dumping during the pandemic.
The group included Colin O'Brien, who said he found eight different areas where rubbish had been dumped during one walk on the edge of the city.
"It's not up to us to solve the problem, but we want to see some greater coordination on this issue," he said.
On Thursday, Dr Norman told the inquiry the dumping of household and industrial waste, as well as illegal firewood harvesting, were issues across the state.
He said a significant number of staff were actively involved in compliance and that the emergence of Victoria's conservation regulator had been a boon.
Dr Norman also pointed to a review of how Parks Victoria manages compliance teams underway right now as ways of dealing with compliance when habitats are in crisis.
Compliance just one problem in forests at crisis point
Yet compliance is just one of a myriad of problems linked to a 250-year history of deforestation, extinctions and climate change.
"Clearly, ecosystem decline is going on in front of our eyes, in real time right now right across the state. The speed and severity of climate change impacts are being felt everywhere," Dr Norman said.
"So there's huge challenges in this space and we regularly hear of major transformations going on in our ecosystems, like major die-back of tree species."
A number of Bendigo groups have used written submissions to the inquiry to day they want more money for Parks Victoria, the conservation regulator and the Depart of Environment, Land, Water and Planning.
Kangaroo Flat's Crusoe Reservoir and Number 7 Park told the inquiry state authorities need more resources to police compliance in forests.
It blamed "serious budgetary shortfalls" and inadequate legislative frameworks for the failure to halt the "terrible and visible decline of Victoria's biodiversity".
Scientist believes plans to save habitats could be working
Not everyone agrees shortfalls are so severe, even as they back up claims that Victoria's biodiversity is in trouble with extensive scientific evidence.
The state's environmental sustainability commissioner Gillian Sparkes told the inquiry on Thursday that she was seeing "significant" funding for biodiversity protection, and that it was increasing over time.
"The funding for my office has increased too, to support all this work," she said.
Dr Sparkes' team provides independent policy advice to the Victorian government as it transitions to a sustainable future.
"We look at everything, the whole gambit, from research science, policy tools, management (to) regulatory impact," she said.
Deputy inquiry chair and Sustainable Australia Party member Clifford Hayes said during questioning that it seemed like there had been no real turnaround in ecosystem health since state authorities started reporting on it more than a decade ago.
"I'm just wondering if you see any way that ecosystem decline can be halted?" he asked.
Dr Sparkes replied that the Victorian government could only play a part in what was a national and global problem. But she did say the state had plans in place to help it play its part.
"We have a very strong climate change act and targets (and) we have very strong plans to transition to a low carbon economy."
Dr Sparkes said the state also had a very good biodiversity plan that took a 20-year view of how to fix issues, with regular reporting against benchmarks, the first of which would be published in 2023 and would show whether efforts were reversing the declines.
"Just anecdotally, we're seeing a lot of investment in the pillars and frames we need to implement that policy. We are not seeing any backing off of energy for delivering (it)," she said.