The Victorian Government has recently approved recommendations from VEAC (Victorian Environmental Assessment Council) to allow recreational prospecting (usually for gold or gemstones) in eight areas of State and National Parks, with the main target being the Alpine National Park.
The Governments response can be viewed here:
The VEAC investigation into additional prospecting areas of our State and National Parks is a very well written 51 page report which I encourage everyone to read. It is a balanced, thoughtful, well researched document that makes rational sense until the last chapter which details the council’s recommendations. At this point, the recommendations contradict everything the document had previously investigated. The Governments response is simply acting on VEACs submission to them, so closer scrutiny of the VEAC document is warranted.
The VEAC investigative report can be found here:
with further information on their website:
The primary question still left unanswered through all the documentation is what was the motivation behind the Government requesting an investigation into opening up new areas of National and State Parks for prospecting? There must be a substantial lobby group of fossickers and miners beating down the door at Spring Street to be allowed into pristine areas of the Victoria. There must be considerable power in this group to have the Government even listen to them in the first place, and they must be supplying considerable wealth to state through licenses and fees. As of June 2012, records show that there are 4157 miner’s rights license holders in Victoria. This is made up of 3341 two year licenses and 816 ten year licenses. The cost of these licenses are $31.30 for a two year, and $87.70 for a ten year. That brings the average annual income for the state to $59,442 from miners licenses. To put this into perspective, there are 41,000 licensed hunters in Victoria providing more than $2 million in revenue and almost 270,000 recreational fishing licenses providing $6million in revenue. The $60 thousand paid in license fees would not have even covered the VEAC investigation and subsequent Government enquiry into opening up State and National Parks to prospecting. So hardly anyone in the whole state does this pastime, and the fees collected for it are miniscule. It seems like a very odd decision to even consider why this needs to be looked at in the first place.
The objectives, purpose and roles that National Parks play are slightly different around the world, but here in Australia we have legislated that:
The objects of this Act are to –
(a) to make provision, in respect of national parks, state parks … —
(i) for the preservation and protection of the natural environment including wilderness areas and remote and natural areas in those parks;
(ii) for the protection and preservation of indigenous flora and fauna and of features of scenic or archaeological, ecological, geological, historic or other scientific interest in those parks; and
(iii) for the study of ecology, geology, botany, zoology and other sciences relating to the conservation of the natural environment in those parks; and
(iv) for the responsible management of the land in those parks;
Section 4 of the National Parks Act 1975
This all seems crystal clear about why we set up National Parks in the first place. What also seems clear is that digging holes or disturbing water flows does not sit mutually with what the law requires. And the VEAC investigation recognises this. Many times. Here are just a few references demonstrating the damage envisaged by prospecting.
While it is recognised that recreational prospecting can be low impact, it is clear that it can also result in damage to natural and cultural heritage values, especially in waterways, but also in other vulnerable environments. Page 5.
Some activities undertaken by prospectors can damage natural values by causing disturbance of soils and damage to vegetation. For example, orchid tubers can be inadvertently damaged or destroyed by prospecting activities when dormant. Page 30.
The review concluded that prospecting activities in streams in Victorian national parks may result in appreciable ecological risks. Page 31.
Prospecting has the potential to disturb material containing contaminants resulting from former gold mining activities, and to mobilise contaminants which could then move into waterways. Page 32.
Even when holes are immediately and carefully filled in after prospecting, the soil structure and the biota are disturbed in the immediate area. While this impact may be acceptable in many areas of Crown land, it should be minimised in national parks which have been established to preserve and protect the natural environment. Page 35.
The Council has been shown clear evidence of unfilled holes, and of damage to stream beds and banks as a result of prospecting in waterways. It also notes the concerns of Melbourne Water, for example, that prospecting could undermine significant investment in projects and investments into improving the health of rivers. Page 35.
And so on. You get the picture. After all this research and information, and reading the entire document, you would think that prospecting would therefore not be allowed anywhere near National Parks. The review demonstrated there was very little upside to enhance the prospecting case. And even these small upsides (such as being a pleasurable activity for the prospector) were dismissed with stronger counter arguments introduced. And so it was with great amazement that on page 47 out of 51 you can read:
That recreational prospecting1 be allowed in the eight areas listed below and shown on maps B to G:
1 Yankee Creek, Lerderderg State Park
2 Morning Star, Lerderderg State Park
3 Jerusalem Creek, Lake Eildon National Park
4 Howqua Hills South, Alpine National Park
5 Howqua Hills East, Alpine National Park
6 Howittville, Alpine National Park
7 Wombat PO, Alpine National Park
8 Eustaces, Alpine National Park;
Puzzling. The previous 46 pages had all disputed any reason why additional prospecting sites in National and State Parks should even be considered. Then the recommendation is to allow it. One can only assume VEAC don’t endorse what they wrote in the foreward:
Council believes that, while recreational activities that extract resources or may result in damaging impacts are able to be accommodated on public land such as state forest and some Crown land reserves, they do not sit well with the purposes of national and state parks.