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Lifeline for endangered habitats
by Claire Miller
Environmental Reporter

Environment groups hope to create a national park from public land.

Endangered birds and animals marooned in enclaves of remnant bush amid farmland in south-western Victoria could be saved under an innovative national park proposal.

In a submission to the State Government next week, Victoria's peak environment groups will call for all state forests and uncommitted public land west of the Grampians and south of the Wimmera Highway to be declared the Greater Glenelg National Park.

The 170,000-hectare patchwork of remnants stretching in a crescent from the Little Desert to the coast could then be linked by revegetated corridors across farmland. The corridors would be a natural extension of private LandCare initiatives such as shelter belts planted to tackle soil degradation and salinity problems caused by past over-clearing.

The proposed national park - which would cumulatively cover an area equal to the Grampians - would protect the last substantial belt, albeit fragmented, of vegetation left between heavily cleared land to east and west in Victoria and South Australia.

Environment Victoria and the Victorian National Parks Association are pushing for the national park with the support of regional groups such as the Friends of Mount Arapiles Tooan State Park, the Stawell and District Conservation Group and the Edenhope and Casterton Field Naturalists Clubs.

Landholders have also expressed interest. Mrs Judy McInnes, a dairy farmer near Mount Richard, west of Portland, said it was annoying to be revegetating private land, only to watch native birds and animals decline due to degradation of their habitat on public land.

More than 30 per cent of woodlands birds and animals, such as the endangered powerful owl and threatened yellow-bellied glider, rely on tree hollows to breed. Older trees with hollows are mostly confined to public land, but continue to be lost through logging and firewood cutting. Cattle grazing further degrades the habitat by destroying under-storey plants vital for food and shelter.

Mrs McInnes said many landholders were against more national parks because they felt the state neglected its duty of care, particularly in fire management. But she said it was important nonetheless to protect what was left of the region's natural eco-systems.

``It is dreadful to see,'' she said. ``I think we have to get as much together as we can because once it is gone, it is gone because there is nowhere left for it to come back from. If it is still there, even if not managed, then perhaps future generations can take it over and do something about it

.'' Mr John Fenton, a grazier whose property is west of Hamilton, also backed the national park. He said valuable remnants on private land were still being cleared, now for bluegum and other plantations.

``If it is not being protected on private land, we have to get as much as possible into national parks,'' he said. ``This region only has 1 to 3 per cent of its native vegetation left on farms. We can't wait any longer.

'' Mr Fenton said ``a bucketful of the ecosystems'' must be retained as a base for the future revegetation efforts and native species repopulation.

Environment Victoria's forest campaign worker, Ms Geraldine Ryan, said the national park idea was a holistic approach to preserving a variety of ecosystems from the desert to the coast.

The proposal comes as the Commonwealth and state consider potential conservation reserves as part of the regional forest agreement being negotiated for western Victoria.

The Age Publication
15 January 2000


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