Admit the damage

By Deniliquin Pastoral Times

People who work in the region’s red gum forests have scoffed at claims that excess flooding is not causing environmental damage.

Third generation forest worker Chris Crump said ‘‘I just shake my head’’ at the ridiculous claims by bureaucrats who he does not believe have a working knowledge of forests and their environment.

His comments follow claims last week from the Commonwealth Environmental Water Office that ‘‘media commentary suggesting water in the Barmah forest is causing environmental damage . . .  is wrong’’.

‘‘Who are they trying to kid?’’ Mr Crump asked.

‘‘Why do our bureaucracies flatly refuse to acknowledge damaging or unintended consequences of their actions?’’

Mr Crump said he has photos showing river bank collapse from over-watering, which he expects will also increase silting in the Barmah Choke.

‘‘These forests were flooded in 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013 and 2016. 

‘‘The current drought is at most two years old, so the forests do not need flooding at this point. 

‘‘In the past they have survived droughts of around 10 years duration, including the Federation drought (1891-1903), World War Two drought (1937-1945) and the Millennium drought (1996-2010).

‘‘There have also been many other occasions when the forests have lived through dry periods without environmental water. In my mind it is not needed, it is definitely causing damage and it’s a waste.’’

Farmers, community leaders and the media have been highlighting the recent waste of water which has flooded forests, because flows being pushed downstream will not fit through narrow stretches of river like the Barmah Choke. 

This led to the CEWO issuing a statement to defend the flows and flooding.

Mr Crump said good forest management needs more than just adding water, which appears to be the current approach.

‘‘Water is only one of the tools used in forest management.  It has been demonstrated in a study of the Barmah forest that thinning helps the trees to survive. 

‘‘It has been argued that a thinned forest needs less water and will respond better to watering events, whether they be natural flooding or environmental water. 

‘‘Of increasing concern are ‘black water’ events which lead to fish deaths by depleting oxygen and increasing toxins in the water. It is very disheartening to see poor management killing these fish.’’

Mr Crump said a dense forest is not necessarily a healthy or biologically diverse forest, particularly during periods of drought.

‘‘Water in storage dams is a finite resource and if it is wasted it will not be available for environmental flows, so other tools such as harvesting and thinning need to be used to manage the health of our forests.

‘‘I would strongly urge authorities to talk to people who have lived and breathed forests all their life, and take notice of how we need to manage them.

‘‘You cannot fully understand a forest’s diversity by going to university and getting a degree. Unfortunately, that’s what we’re dealing with, and it is not in the best interests of our forests or our communities.’’

Mr Crump said if authorities studied history, like those who have lived in the forest environment for generations, they could get a better appreciation of their history and how the forests and the river could be better managed.

‘‘And when they see current management practices which are not working, admit it and move on. Stop trying to justify mistakes that are damaging our environment,’’ he urged.