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WildCountry - Victoria

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Introduction

The Wilderness Society is now implementing WildCountry - an Australia wide program designed not only to protect our remaining wild places and wildlife, but also to help define the path towards restoration. WildCountry is about protecting core wilderness areas and reconnecting vital continent wide ecological processes, ie linking one wild area to another. It is inspired by a project in the United States - the Wildlands project, which has set a new agenda for the US conservation movement.

As the first steps in this ambitious undertaking, TWS has signed a Cooperation Agreement with the US Wildlands Project, and established a WildCountry Science Council that brings together many of Australia's pre-eminent conservation scientists.

The Council will develop a big-picture scientific framework to identify the best of what is left of the Australian landscape and the best ways to reconnect continent wide ecological processes.

While 'connectivity processes' are well recognized phenomena, to date they have not been brought together in an integrated framework and applied in a substantial way to inform and guide conservation planning.

The Wilderness Society will use this research to bring all our campaign work together under the WildCountry banner. We are also working to progress the social and economic underpinning of the project.

The following pages set out the vision, goals and guiding principles of WildCountry.

Putting WildCountry into Action - A New Vision for the Wilderness Society! (draft)

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Our Purpose:

To protect, promote and restore wilderness and natural processes for the wellbeing and ongoing evolution of the community of life across the Australian landscape.

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Our Visionary Goals:

To develop and implement an Australia-wide plan to protect and restore natural processes and natural values.

Where appropriate, achieve a protected area network with secure protected wilderness areas at its core, connected and buffered by other areas managed to achieve conservation objectives.

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Our Strategic Goals:

Establish the best scientific, economic, political and legal avenues to advance WildCountry Maximise community support and involve the maximum number of partners in the WildCountry process Promote the widest possible use of and benefit from WildCountry knowledge Persuade land managers to take a continent wide approach to conservation and land management Develop and maintain an effective and efficient organization Address current threats to important natural areas and natural processes Ensure TWS campaigns are informed by and consistent with WildCountry

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WildCountry Guiding Principles

WildCountry will be scientifically based.

The WildCountry 'conservation values and priorities' data set will be informed by the best available ecological science and developed by the WildCountry Science Council. Strategies for, and examples of, compatible land use practices will be informed by the best ecological, economic and social science.

WildCountry will reflect the values and principles of the Earth Charter. WildCountry implementation will be developed and decided by any project partners, and informed by the 'conservation values and priorities' data set, information on compatible land use practices and other opportunities.

WildCountry projects will seek to be inclusive and involve the broadest and most strategic range of interest groups and individuals working in close cooperation. WildCountry projects will seek to increase the sustainability, empowerment and resilience of regional communities.

WildCountry will respect the values and knowledge of indigenous Australians. Each participating partner will respect each other's strengths and areas of expertise and seek to compliment, rather than duplicate, each other's work.

The purpose of the scientific work conducted by the WildCountry Science Council is to facilitate good on-the-ground conservation outcomes.

Each step in a WildCountry implementation plan should seek to be ecologically valuable in it's own right.

WildCountry project partners will respect and learn from all relevant existing knowledge.

WildCountry project partners will implement systems at all levels that transfer knowledge and experience within and between projects and partners. They will regularly evaluate conservation strategies and their outcomes, and adapt strategies as required.

WildCountry is non-party political. WildCountry partners may seek support from any political party or independent politician for WildCountry principles and objectives as long as this occurs in a politically non-partisan way.

WildCountry projects will seek to build the capacity of participating partners.

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Wildcountry in Victoria

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1. Eastern Victoria

The Wilderness Society is investigating the potential for a conservation link along the length of the Great Dividing Range, from Victoria to South-East Queensland.

WildCountry for South-East Australia is part of our vision to produce an Australia-wide, comprehensive system of interconnected core protected areas, each surrounded and linked by lands managed under conservation objectives.

In Eastern Victoria, TWS has traditionally concentrated on the urgent need to protect old growth forests from logging and woodchipping in the regions publicly owned State Forests. This work will continue until an adequate and connected reserve system is established for the wet forests in Eastern Victoria.

We still need permanent, secure reserves on public land linking Yarra Ranges NP, Baw Baw NP, Alpine NP, Mitchell River NP, Snowy River NP, Errinundra NP, Croajingolong NP, and Coopracambra NP, before linking in the expanded reserve agenda for southern NSW. The development of the proposed reserve system was coordinated by The Wilderness Society, in consultation with thirteen metropolitan and regional conservation groups across the State.

WildCountry investigations will broaden this campaign to identify, protect and restore other important landscapes and ecosystems in the region, such as woodlands, wetlands, heathlands, costal areas and dune country As WildCountry is a tenure blind program, TWS will investigate the potential to protect these interconnected landscapes on both public and private land.

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Basis

There exists an almost continuous link of vegetation along the south-east Australian seaboard, from the outskirts of Melbourne to Sydney, to Brisbane's outskirts. Most of this link has been protected as National Park or nature reserve, the largest parts of the system being wilderness areas.

The link is primarily formed through the eastern highlands - the elevated areas of the Great Dividing Range and the eastern escarpment and ranges closer to the coast. The connection between of the Melbourne-Brisbane north-south link is complemented by east-west corridors forms a natural area network that joins core coastal and highland bushland belts and several western outliers.

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Completing the Link

Significant gaps exist in the reserve system to complete the creation of the Melbourne to Brisbane Conservation Link. Most gaps require public land reservation over tenures such as State Forests, catchment lands and some crown lands or voluntary private land acquisition. Private land conservation management and the restoration of vegetation would assist the completion of a small number of these gaps.

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Benefits

The network would assist the adequacy and viability of existing core reserves and wilderness areas by permitting seasonal, evolutionary or recovery-related migrations and landscape-scale movement. This will buffer against large-scale landscape-wide impacts such as climate change, bushfires and widespread habitat destruction such that is a result of urbanization and agricultural landclearing.

The creation of a Melbourne to Brisbane Conservation Link would establish a visionary and world-class National Park system for south-eastern Australia that would provide for the long-term biological and recreation needs for Australia's most densely populated region.

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Proposal

The proposal to establish the Melbourne to Brisbane Conservation Link consisting of the following elements:

A continuous belt of existing national parks, conservation reserves and wilderness areas that extends from Melbourne, through to Sydney, then to Brisbane, generally following the Eastern Highlands and other elevated areas along the south-eastern Australian seaboard. East-west corridors of National Parks, in many places joining the north-south link to the coast and the west A consolidated coastal belt of national parks and conservation reserves Completing the gaps in the main north-south link, east-west corridors and the coast belt. Gaps will be completed by: public land reservations targeted voluntary private land acquisition voluntary private land conservation management supported by conservation incentives restoration and rehabilitation of small areas

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Implementation

Implementation would require the NSW and Victorian Government to commit to:

Supporting the Melbourne to Brisbane Conservation Link concept and seeking the support of the ACT and Queensland Governments Reserving NSW and Victorian public lands within the most strategic gaps as national park or nature reserve Providing funds to the National Parks services' General Acquisition Fund to voluntarily acquire strategic lands within the priority links Support private land conservation efforts and restoration projects targeting gaps in the Link Incorporating the Melbourne to Brisbane Conservation Link within the Victorian, NSW, ACT and Queensland Government's planning and conservation initiatives.

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2. Western Victoria

Western Victoria contains some of the state's most spectacular and damaged environments.

The region features Victoria's largest tracts of intact wilderness, the breathtaking Mallee and Wimmera country containing Yanga Nyawi (Murray Sunset), Hattah Kulkyne, Big Desert, Wyperfield, Little Desert, Lower Glenelg, Discovery Bay and Grampians National Parks.

There are also large areas of beautiful and rare woodlands, particularly in the south-west which are currently still unprotected.

Much of western Victoria was cleared by the turn of the century by squatters who moved in to exploit the region's fertile volcanic soils. Now western Victoria suffers from ongoing land clearing and logging, and the constant threat of sandmining operations.

There is an urgent need and an outstanding opportunity to link existing reserves and establish new reserves which protect the south-west woodlands, establishing a belt of reserves north-south from the Vic, NSW, SA border to the coast. This vision would include a substantial restoration effort to the region's ecosystems forge links between reserves and offer greater natural buffers around existing core areas.

As explained in the Brisbane to Melbourne link, the Western Victoria Wilderness Corridor will be completed by: public land reservations targeted voluntary private land acquisition voluntary private land conservation management supported by conservation incentives restoration and rehabilitation of small areas

Ecological and ecosystem boundaries pay no attention to state borders and exciting opportunities exist to connect the Victorian Wildcountry work with reserves in neighboring South Australia and New South Wales.

For more information on these exciting and ambitious new projects, contact the Melbourne Campaign Centre ph: 03 9639 5455 email: melbourne@wilderness.org.au