None of our natural wonders appear to be safe from the “development” agenda of the NSW Government. The aim of the National Party to return the Murray Valley National Park, the largest area of continuous red gum forest in the world, to state forest for logging shows how far we have fallen in the protection of nature.
Creation of the red gum national parks on the Murrumbidgee and Murray Rivers was one of the last acts of the last NSW Labor Government. In the run up to creating the parks, former Premier Bob Carr described logging the red gums as ‘vandalism’.
The creation of the red gum national parks was part of a 30-year effort from NPA, other conservation groups and traditional owners. NPA is proud to have been part of such a significant addition to the protected area network.
The red gum national parks are an outstanding part of the National Reserve System. These unique areas are floodplain forests, which makes them more similar to wetlands than forests in that water is the key factor that determines their health. This is why they are listed under the Ramsar convention as internationally significant wetlands.
These forests have enormous conservation value. They contain several threatened ecological communities and multiple threatened terrestrial plants and animals like squirrel gliders, superb parrots and southern bell frogs. In the watercourses there are important recreational fishing species like Murray crayfish and Murray cod. And they provide breeding habitat for migratory birds that are protected under international conventions.
A long history of logging and firewood removal has changed the character of the red gum forests from forests dominated by large old trees into one dominated by smaller-diameter pole trees. Fallen timber, an important ecological feature, is greatly reduced.
‘Ecological thinning’ trials have been going on in the Murray Valley National Park, ostensibly as a means to overcome some of the legacies of logging where dense stands have formed and to improve growth rates and development of key habit features. The thinned timber to have resulted from the trial, estimated at 3,000 tonnes by then Environment Minister Robyn Parker, was supposed to have been made available for firewood. But Deputy Premier, John Barilaro, announced in August 2017 that 15,000 tonnes of thinned timber had accumulated and would be made available to commercial sawmills.
In response to a recommendation from the 2012 Public Lands Inquiry for ‘tenure swaps’ to bolster timber supplies, the NSW Government said “the Government does not support logging in national parks and has no plans to allow it through the implementation of tenure swaps or other means”. Is this commitment now at risk?
The Murray River and its floodplain forests are part of the fabric of Australia for both European and Aboriginal communities alike. As national parks they belong to all Australians, protect Aboriginal cultural heritage and provide areas for all to enjoy. We should be looking at ways to maximise the benefits of the Murray Valley National Park to the whole community and securing water supplies. Instead, we’re risking tarnishing Australia’s international reputation by taking a significant step backwards in conservation.