A local environmental group has urged federal Environment Minister Sussan Ley to ensure history does not repeat itself before approving a new restoration project in northern Victoria.
Central Murray Environmental Floodplain Group Inc. (CMEFG) lodged a report to Minister Ley on Friday September 4, highlighting its concerns about the Guttrum and Benwell Floodplain Restoration Project.
The project was referred to the Minister by the Lower Murray Urban and Rural Water Corporation in late August triggering a 10-day window for public comment under the EPBC Act Referral Application process.
Central Murray Environmental Floodplains Group Inc. chair Doug Fehring said the organisation hopes the Minister would take heed of their recommendations.
“Since 2005 we have watched increased flooding events in the Gunbower Forest and the construction of different works to help deliver environmental water to the Gunbower Forest.
“During this time we have also witnessed the banks of the Murray and the surrounding creeks erode away with continuously high flows causing trees to fall into the water ways,” Mr Fehring said.
He said the group addressed 3 main areas in its submission, responding to the restoration project referral, citing their experiences from increased inundation of Gunbower as evidence throughout.
“Over the last 15 years we have become concerned about increasing salinity levels in the Gunbower Forest. Unfortunately there is little data available from the agencies responsible for monitoring salinity to provide well informed analysis, and at times we have noticed data go missing from websites. Salinity levels is one of the issues we addressed and our concern about the impact on the forest understorey which provides a habitat to native flora and fauna.
“We also raised the risk of increasing the incidence and intensity of fire as the result of the new inundation regime, which again poses a risk to native vegetation and wildlife. As we saw at the start of the year, the devastation from fires on wildlife is enormous,” Mr Fehring said.
The group also highlighted its concern about European carp proliferation in the Gunbower Forest associated with environmental watering events. Invasive species such as carp thrive in the regular inundation events, and then compete with the native species for food and nesting spots.
“In our opinion the Gunbower Forest is not as healthy as authorities would have people believe. We love our part of the world, we love the forests and we enjoy our farms being able to support environmental outcomes. Unfortunately at the moment there is a set volume which has to be delivered and local knowledge has been minimised by those in charge of delivering it, many fresh from earning their university degrees,” Mr Fehring said.
In its submission the group said ‘field observations made by local community members including CMEFG in the Gunbower Forest at the environmental watering sites suggest the native flora and fauna is not thriving and should undergo an independent analysis.’
They called on the Minister to undertake further monitoring and assessments of the impacts to threatened species and ecological communities as a consequence of increased flooding regimes before approving the restoration project.
Photos - 1) Gunbower Forest in September 2010 after the Millennium Drought broke, 2) Gunbower Forest in February 2020, the left side of the track is included in environmental watering programs, 3) Gunbower Forest in August 2020, and shows the neglected red gum saplings in recovery mode post planned environmental watering.