The Victorian Environmental Assessment Council (VEAC) final report on its Central West investigation gives with one hand and takes away with the other. If implemented, the recommendations would open up access to Mt Cole, near Ararat to deer hunting for the first time, only to remove nearly half of that access with the creation of a restrictive National Park.
In 2017 the Victorian Environment Minister requested that VEAC carry out an investigation into public land in central west Victoria.
The investigation focused on public land in the vicinity of the Wombat, Wellsford, Mount Cole and Pyrenees Range Forests and it was apparent from the outset that the creation of new National Parks would be on the agenda.
If implemented in full the final recommendations would turn a staggering 77,377ha of State Forest into either National Parks or other similarly restrictive land classifications, leaving just 11,901ha of State Forest for active recreational users in the region.
From the outset the VEAC investigation betrayed a fundamental lack of understanding of hunting and what looks for all the world like and ideological bias against it. Indications of this are the erroneous classification of hunting along with industrial uses of the forests and the contention that recreational hunting is somehow not compatible with the objectives of National Parks and other similarly restrictive reserves.
Those objectives typically include:
- Permanently protect the natural environment and natural biodiversity along with underlying ecological structure and supporting environmental processes
- Protect the rights and interests of Traditional Owners, native title holders and Aboriginal Victorians, and their cultural values
- Protect historic sites and values
- Provide for ecologically sustainable scientific, educational, inspirational, recreational and visitor opportunities consistent with conserving those values
Recreational hunting, and other active uses of public land are compatible with all of those objectives.
All of this in forests which, by any estimation, are of low ecological value. It may well be appealing to believe that simply changing the status of that land and locking users out will predicate a significant improvement; the reality of decades of increasing protected areas combined with decreasing budgets in real terms tells us that is not likely to be the case.
We cannot help but wonder if the political motivation for this investigation is to satisfy the thirst for more National Parks whilst avoiding the more politically contentious and complex issues of the Central Highlands.
We will continue to advocate for the role of hunters and other active users on all public land where there is no good reason for our exclusion.