Active management, not neglect is the answer for state forests – Op Ed

The Nationals are opposed to the creation of new national parks and believe that the Victorian Government should focus on taking care of the existing ones.  We argue that public access to state forests should be maintained.

The Victorian Government has disregarded the interests of bush user groups and traditional recreational activities such as hunting, 4-wheel driving, horse riding, trail-bike riding, camping, dog walking, and prospecting and fossicking.  These activities not only contribute to the revenue of rural towns and regional centre’s but also have a positive impact on people’s well-being.

The decision to shut down the native timber industry was socially, economically, and environmentally irresponsible and immoral. The Allan Government is now holding public consultations post that closure. Despite the rhetoric, sceptics among us know this is code for ‘lock up’ our state forests. Recently 250 frustrated Victorians voiced their opposition to new national parks in Drouin. Bush users provided the ‘Great Outdoor Taskforce Eminent Panel Chair’ a clear directive – No further restrictions on access to our state forests!

The Department of Environment, Energy, Climate Change and Water (DEECA) has a majority of its workforce based in metropolitan Melbourne, which raises concerns about the neglect of public land. The annual report indicates that 60 percent of DEECA staff are located in Metropolitan Melbourne, only 11 percent are field officers. We need less suits and more boots.

Neglecting public land leads to overgrown tracks, the proliferation of invasive weeds, and feral pests, which degrade the environment and pose a threat to vulnerable species.  Locking up public forests increases the risk of bushfires coupled with the loss of experienced native timber harvesters and their specialist equipment, placing our regional communities and environment in greater peril.

The Labor Government, in collaboration with the Victorian Environmental Assessment Council, has a history of disregarding public sentiment. 

The mental health benefits of engaging in outdoor activities and connecting with nature are well-documented. Restricting access to traditional recreational areas can have negative impacts on people’s mental and physical well-being, leading to increased presentations to hospitals and clinics.

Sensible Victorians recognise the need for balance between conservation, recreation, and productivity in public estates.  The current government is driving further imbalance.

As The Nationals Member for Eastern Victoria, I have advocated the merits of our regional industries, the rights of bush users and responsible access for all Victorians.

I will continue fight for public access to public land.  

Melina Bath is The Nationals Member for Eastern Victoria and Shadow Parliamentary Secretary for Public Land Use.