The new VCC President, Kevin Lindorff, attended the latest Stakeholder Reference Group Meeting as the climbing community’s representative. Below are his thoughts and impressions on the meeting as published in Argus, the VCC’s Newsletter, in the December edition. We have published them here on our website as we believe that climbers outside of the VCC would be keen to read Kevin’s thoughts.
The Stakeholder Reference Group meeting on Tuesday 19 November was the first of these meetings that I’ve attended (Paula Toal went to the previous one). The stated purpose of the meetings is to provide a voice for various stakeholder groups in the development of the Grampians Landscape Management Plan currently being formulated. There were a range of stakeholders represented, including the Victorian National Parks Association, Bushwalking Victoria, Friends of Grampians, Grampians/Gariwerd Advisory Committee, a 4WD organisation, and lots of Parks Victoria (PV) staff. I was the only climber’s voice.
Items on the agenda included:
– an overview of planning activities since the first meeting;
– a presentation on the Grampians Peak Trail;
– a presentation on the community engagement workshops and results; and
– an overview of the Conservation Action Plan (CAP).
Some interesting bits of info—for me at least—that came to light included:
1. PV has started discussions with each of the mobs (starting the week before this meeting).
2. In regard to Cultural Heritage Assessments, specialists will meet with Traditional Owners (TOs) to ascertain what is intangible cultural heritage—such as local aboriginal lore, stories, etc—and how particular areas or geographic features have special significance for Indigenous people. (The potential implications for further access restrictions is unknown, but could be huge). PV wants to complete these discussions by March or April so that they might inform the Draft Management Plan (to be submitted to the Minister for Energy, Environment and Climate Change in June 2020).
3. PV has also commenced Natural Values and Impacts analysis.
4. In discussions about the Grampians Peaks Trail, it came to light that vegetation offsets used to require replacement of plant species with like species, preferably from the same area (within 50km). Not anymore. Now they talk about a ‘counterbalance strategy’. Exemptions under the Planning and Heritage Act now allow for offsets to be balanced across the state, rather than having to be achieved separately within each individual park.
5. In regard to feedback on the community engagement workshops, the area of park operations with the highest level of dissatisfaction was ‘support for recreational opportunities’ (surprise, surprise), not just from climbers but also other groups, such as mountain bikers.
6. The summary of the report on these engagement workshops will go to the Minister for Energy, Environment and Climate Change, and will be released publically.
7. The second stage of public consultation will be in 2020 once the Draft Management Plan is released. Note that typically the level of input from the public (i.e. the number of people formally responding) after a draft plan is released is two-to-three times greater than the initial public input. So folks, we can’t rest on our laurels. Whatever might transpire in the next six months, we will need to mobilise climbers to ensure they provide a huge response to the Draft Management Plan!
8. Participants were given an impressive-looking document called the Conservation Action Plan (CAP) for Gariwerd. It is a document meant to define and prioritise conservation strategies for the Park for the next five years. Though there was the occasional reference in it to managing in ways that are ‘culturally sensitive’, the focus was fairly and squarely on eco-system management. They (the PV staff at the meeting) were all very proud of the fact that it was strongly data driven, with strategies chosen on evidence-based, world’s best practise. I asked whether they had plans to develop such an evidence-based, world’s best practise approach to cultural heritage management (and to publishing an equivalent document). There was much uneasy shuffling in seats. It seemed no-one had thought of this idea before. The response was along the lines that each group of First Nations people had their own priorities around cultural heritage, so best practise in Gariwerd would be whatever the TOs deemed it to be (!!!) I noted that world’s best practise would enable TOs to set their own priorities re cultural heritage and its protection, but such protection could and should be achieved in a framework that was far more fine-grained and site-specific, and did not overly exclude recreational users from vast tracts of the Park. This received no response—just some nervous fidgeting before the inevitable ‘thank you and moving right along…’