Stakes high for forests

A wedge-tailed eagle’s nest on Babbington Hill – where VicForests is currently undertaking 'salvage logging' works – identified by volunteers and reported as legally needing protection.

In the same week that the Victorian Government announced permanent protections for Victoria’s three new national parks, the government also flagged new penalties for anti-logging protesters.

Minister for Energy, Environment and Climate Change, Lily D’Ambrosio, last Thursday announced $4 million to establish the new boundaries for the parks, which will be created by linking existing state forests, parks and reserves.

The largest will combine the Lerderderg State Park and Wombat State Forest to create the Wombat-Lerderderg National Park, covering more than 44,000 hectares between Daylesford and Bacchus Marsh.

The long-awaited move has been welcomed by local forest activists who have campaigned for more than two decades to protect the threatened species that call the Wombat State Forest home.

Wombat Forestcare convenor, Gayle Osborne, said she was pleased that the surveying for the new Wombat-Lerderderg National Park boundaries was under way.

“We look forward to the national park being created, however it is three years since the Victorian Environmental Assessment Council’s recommendations were presented to the government and the delay in protecting the Wombat Forest has enabled VicForests to undertake environmentally destructive salvage works,” Ms Osborne said.

“The government needs to move swiftly and actually legislate the Wombat-Lerderderg National Park.”

For forest defenders like Ms Osborne, the promising news last week was sullied by the government’s introduction to Parliament of the Sustainable Forests Timber Amendment (Timber Harvesting Safety Zones) Bill 2022, aimed at detering protest activities within timber harvesting safety zones.

The Bill would see protesters slapped with fines of up to $21,000 or 12 months’ jail.

“We have a government that has a responsibility to protect the environment and is instead threatening to jail brave community members who are fighting to preserve essential habitat for all species, including threatened species,” Ms Osborne said.

Local MP and Minister for Agriculture, Mary-Anne Thomas, said the government respected the right to protest safely but wanted to make sure workers got home to their families each day.

“Protests are becoming increasingly dangerous – particularly for workers – which is why this legislation will support them to get on with their job and minimise disruption to the industry,” she said.

Meanwhile, the Victorian Greens have accused the government of trying to boot peaceful and non-violent protesters out of the way so it could log more, and have vowed to fight the Bill.