Just like the long car trips of our youth, when the answer always seemed to be ‘not far now – just a little further’, that’s often how it’s felt during the last eight years of advocating for better management of our forest. Yes, it is just a little further, but the goal is now squarely in sight.
In May 2019, all logging coupes were removed from the Strathbogie Forest.
In November 2019, the Victorian government committed to permanently protect the 24,000 ha Strathbogie Forest and other IPAs, pending community consultation and formal consideration of the most appropriate land tenure.
Last weekend the Victorian Environment Minister announced the process and timeline for the permanent protection of the Strathbogie Forest and all the IPAs announced in 2019.
In a nutshell:
It will begin with a short VEAC Assessment into which type of reserve e.g. National Park, State Park, Regional Park etc, or combination, is most appropriate for our forest. VEAC will commence the assessment for Strathbogie Forest and Mirboo North shortly, the other IPAs will follow next year. The Minister’s message is that VEAC’s recommendations will be evidence-based and supported by the science. And just to emphasize, it’s not about whether our forest will become a park, rather what type of reserve category and what type of activities will be permitted.
The VEAC reserve category recommendations then go to the Eminent Panel for Community Engagement (EPCE) for additional scrutiny. This is the part of the process where we’ll again need to be active and strongly advocate for our forest. The Minister expects the EPCE to provide her with their final recommendation in early-mid 2022.
The elephant in the room in all this is the next state election in November 2022. From the press release, it’s almost a given that the process for the East Gippsland and Central Highlands IPAs won’t be finalized before the election. However, it is SOSF’s expectation that the Strathbogie Forest and Mirboo North process, which starts earlier and will be more straightforward, will be finalized before the election.
So, even though we’re not quite there yet, for now, we can absolutely celebrate – yoo-hoo!!!