Cut up over forest plan

Steve Smitham and Loris Duclos are objecting to reclassifying the Wombat State Forest as a national park. Photo: Dennis Manktelow

By Sumeyya Ilanbey

Reclassifying Wombat State Forest to become a national park would be an “ecological disaster”, according to forest supporters.

The Victorian Environment Assessment Council (VEAC) has been ordered by the state government to investigate the future use and classifications of Wombat, Wellsford, Mount Cole and Pyrenees Ranges state forests.

A VEAC draft report’s recommendations include changing the status of the Wombat State Forest by establishing the Wombat-Lerderderg National Park – a move that could restrict public access. The report is open for public comment until December 10.

But regular forest user Loris Duclos, and recipient of the commonwealth’s centenary medal for “outstanding service to the environment, particularly the Wombat State Forest”, has slammed the recommendation and described it as an “ecological disaster”.

“Our forest went through two decades of unsustainable industrial logging, which our community fought hard against to stop from happening,” Ms Duclos said.

“In the 1990s, the fight was against the extreme right who wanted to chop everything. The fight has now become against the extreme left who want to keep people out of large areas of the forest.”

After the win in the 1990s to ban clear-felling, Ms Duclos said new tree growth had not been managed properly, creating a “suppressed” forest, where trees are “skinny and stumped”.

She said any plans to close off the forest to the public would only exacerbate the fire risk and stymie efforts to restore the forest to its full potential.

“Most people from Melbourne think national parks are a good thing,” Ms Duclos said.

“But this isn’t a natural, self-sustaining system – it’s a highly damaged system and now we have the extreme left who are going for the total lock-up without putting the environment first.”

Bacchus Marsh retiree Steve Smitham has camped at the forest for the past 47 years. He said changing the Wombat State Forest’s status will restrict his ability to enjoy the outdoors.

“If they allow for camping, it’ll be in designated picnic spots,” Mr Smitham says. “But people go up there to enjoy the solitude and isolation … They don’t want to be coralled into a caravan park situation.”

He said there has been a “groundswell” of support against classifying the Wombat State Forest into a national park and is urging the Environment Minister Lily D’Ambrosio to heed community concerns.

“It will be so disappointing to lose that area that’s become so sacred to us,” Mr Smitham said. “There’s nowhere else we could consider to go nearby.”

The state government was contacted for comment. To make a submission, visit