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Fighting for Red River Gums

26, November 2007

Jennifer Marohasy

IT WAS raining on the Murray River and the annual Koondrook-Barham Red Gum Showcase last Sunday. A few farmers who attended the festival complained that the rain was too late, but most of the crowd were in good spirits and happy to get a bit wet.

At the festival, timber-cutters roasted lamb on red gum charcoal under huge river red gums.

In the marquees there was fine red gum furniture on display, mead from red gum honey for sale, and information about the timber industry, including that river red gum is a preferred timber for wharves and bridges.

I was interested to learn that the boilers at the local cheese factory run on red gum, while in other parts of Australia they are coal-fired.

The annual Red Gum Showcase is a celebration of the red gum forests along the Murray River, and the communities who live, work and play in them.

There were many large placards at the festival with a message to the Victorian Government that these communities want no more national parks.

A recent Victorian Environmental Advisory Council (VEAC) report has generated a lot of anger on both the NSW and Victorian sides of the border with a proposal that more State forest be converted to national park - this time another 100,000 hectares.

The same report estimates this will significantly affect the local timber industry and

communities.

The report states many forests are severely stressed and there is evidence that without improved environmental flows many of these forests may be lost in time.

It is true that as a result of the drought many of the forests are stressed.

But locking them up as national parks is only likely to exacerbate the situation.

Indeed, what many forests need now is thinning to reduce competition between trees.

Some of the forests in the best condition are the more actively managed forests -with lower tree densities from thinning.

Local communities are angry VEAC is using the drought to accuse them of poor forest management.

Interestingly, the VEAC report also uses the threat of climate change to demand "more protection".

But the Government can't protect the forests from drought and it will not be able to provide the 4000 gigalitres of water VEAC wants as environmental flow every five years if it doesn't rain.

Last weekend the river communities celebrated their river red gum forests, and in the years ahead they say they will fight to protect the same forests -including from VEAC.


Jennifer Marohasy is a Brisbane-based senior fellow of the Institute of Public Affairs and a director of the Australian Environment Foundation. Contact jennifermarohasy@jennifermarohasy.com

Published in The Land 8 November 2007

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