Understanding is key to future of natural areas

AVOIDING TRAGEDY: The Nolan's Creek Picnic Ground, which would be in the proposed Wombat-Lerderderg National Park, is among areas that need protection.
AVOIDING TRAGEDY: The Nolan's Creek Picnic Ground, which would be in the proposed Wombat-Lerderderg National Park, is among areas that need protection.

Recently, white and red stencil signs have appeared in people’s backyards in Daylesford and surrounds declaring “Tell VEAC No Wombat National Park”.

To my surprise, last week I had a lovely conversation with a young woman who turned out to be one of the people who helped stencil these signs. This conversation inspired me to share my thoughts on the Victorian Environmental Assessment Council proposal as I figured this woman, who had some legitimate concerns, may be voicing those of others. Let’s call her Nina.

Nina asked what I thought of the national park proposal, as the author of Daylesford’s Nature Diary and Hepburn Advocate nature columnist. I replied I was all for it and felt the proposal was excellent for greater gliders and other animals, and also a wonderful opportunity for nature-based tourism in the region. Nina said she had read the draft report and it wasn’t clear to her how the decision had been made or what the implications were. The report was full of jargon. I think this is a real shame. After our conversation, I had a look at the report and agree with Nina, as it is written in very dry scientific/environmental policy language. 

Unfortunately, the environment sector often fails to communicate in plain English the how and why of the matter. Having worked in this area for decades, and having read past VEAC reports, it is clear to me how VEAC made its decisions, and what they propose. But I can completely understand how someone could read it and be mystified. We had a little chat about percentage targets for national parks, and bioregions, and types of forests, but it is hard to communicate these things in a quick chit chat.

I remember as a young person learning about the “tragedy of the commons”. It describes a concept in economic theory. The “commons” are any natural resource that is shared by everyone – it could be fish in streams, oil or minerals under the ground wood in a forest or edible fungi.  The “tragedy” is that in shared areas, people tend to use the resources in a way that is based on their self-interest. 

Any state forest as it is presently legislated is the Commons. Mining companies can establish gold mines, and VicForests can carry out commercial timber harvesting. Prospectors can mine gold, locals and small business owners can collect firewood, hunters can hunt. And as our population rises ever higher, more people will use these resources. Legislation to restrict and control actions makes certain people angry, but these laws are put in place to prevent the Tragedy of the Commons, so that the environment and its resources remain, rather than degrade from overuse. Out of the eight proposed areas in the Wombat Macedon Block, only one  – the Wombat-Lerderderg National Park – excludes prospecting, domestic firewood collection, recreational hunting and timber harvesting. Granted, at 52,853ha, it is a large area.

National park status removes the land from the commons and places the value of the flora and fauna, the natural habitat, front and centre. It also gives prominence to nature-based activities such as bushwalking, birdwatching and bike riding. Resource use may still continue in some areas. The red stencilled signs fail to mention that the VEAC proposal includes the creation of a new Wombat Regional Park which covers 9149ha. These two areas would allow for many activities including domestic firewood collection, dog walking and horse riding. And four-wheel driving and trail bike riding will continue in all proposed areas.

Next week, the Advocate will print a counterpoint article to Loris Duclos’ interview in last week’s paper. This will address ecological thinning, and I encourage you to read it. Attend the VEAC meeting at Trentham Neighbourhood Centre on October 17 at 7pm and show your support for the proposal, or ask questions of the VEAC folk.

Nina and I ended our conversation with a laugh, and a realisation that neither of us had had a chance to speak to anyone with an opposing viewpoint: we both learnt a lot.  

Tanya Loos