River red gums gain new protection

By Amy Middleton with AAP 20 May 2010
Reading Time: 2 Minutes Print this page
100,000 hectares of river red gum forests will now be protected under NSW government legislation.

ANCIENT RED GUM FORESTS in the Riverina region of New South Wales will be protected under State government legislation from July. NSW Premier Kristina Keneally announced on Wednesday that the deal to protect 100,000 hectares of river red gum forests in the State’s south had been
altered and now had the backing of the NSW Greens party.

River red gums, Eucalyptus camaldelensis, are significant in maintaining the ecology of the Murray River, which spans three Australian States. Eucalypt expert Keith Walker, associate professor at the University of Adelaide, South Australia, calls the red gums a “keystone species”, meaning that if they were to disappear, many other plant and animal species could also perish.

“In South Australia, something like 80 per cent of river red gums are reported to be dead, dying or severely stressed by lack of flooding and rising saline groundwater,” Keith told Australian Geographic. “The NSW government has taken an important step towards redressing the balance between the rate of reproduction of the trees and the loss of trees through lack of water.”

The agreement will protect 66,000 hectares as new national parks, more than 15,000 hectares as regional parks and more than 20,000 hectares as Indigenous protected areas.

‘Heirloom for Australia’

The decision has the support of wilderness groups across the state. The National Parks Association hailed the outcome as an “incredible
initiative”, and the Wilderness Society said it was “one of the best
national park decisions in the state’s history.”

Greens leader Bob Brown congratulated the NSW government, saying: “This
will be an enduring heirloom for Australia.”

The Government first announced the proposal in March but said logging would continue until 2015 in the Millewa group of forests, which comprises about 18,000 hectares of the areas targeted for protection. The proposal was stalled in the upper house where the government does not have a majority vote. This week, the Premier announced the bill had been amended also to end logging in the Millewa from July 1.

Premier Keneally sidestepped a question that the deal was done to secure preferences from the Greens in the upcoming March 2011 state election. “This is about doing the right thing for what is a nationally and internationally significant forest,” she told reporters in Sydney. “It’s about protecting threatened species, it’s about protecting ecosystems.”