Blog | 15th Oct, 2012

Gunbower forest– more water means more trees, more birds, more fish

Gunbower-Koondrook-Perricoota Forest (Gunbower is the Victorian part) on the Murray River is the second largest River Red Gum forest on Earth. For generations, people have been drawn to its natural beauty, tranquillity and abundant wildlife, and Gunbower continues to provide visitors with opportunities for bushwalks, kayaking trips, bird watching, boat rides and catching fish to cook on the camp fire. Part of it has recently been declared a national park.

Gunbower is a wetland of international importance under the Ramsar convention and it is an important breeding site for colonial water birds like egrets, ibis and spoonbills. Yet the key ingredient – water – that is required to sustain this wonderful place is missing! 

Red Gum forests are wetlands and wetlands need regular wetting to survive and thrive. Much of the water that used to end up in Gunbower is now diverted for irrigation and this has caused a significant decline in ecological condition with stressed trees and fewer birds and fish. The heavy rain and plentiful water of the last couple of years has given the forest a welcome boost after the devastation of the Millennium drought, but to thrive in the long term it needs a dedicated and reliable water supply.

Gunbower forest is a key environmental asset for the proposed Murray-Darling Basin Plan, which means it is a priority site for improvements in environmental condition. Yet the draft plan fails to halt the decline in condition – it provides enough water to meet only two of the five major environmental objectives for the forest. 

Recent modelling released by federal Water Minister Tony Burke shows the benefit of providing more water for Gunbower. If the Basin Plan returned 3200 GL to rivers instead of the 2750 GL currently proposed, and some of the barriers to delivering the water could be relaxed, then all the environmental objectives at Gunbower could be met. This means that 100% of the wetlands, the red gum forest and the blackbox woodlands would be maintained in good condition and that there would be opportunities for the colonial water birds to breed successfully in 30% of years.

Of course returning 3200 GL will not solve all the problems of the Murray-Darling but it’s a step in the right direction – delivering this volume would meet 65% of the Basin Plan’s environmental objectives instead of the 57% met by 2750 GL. Yet the suggestion of more water is violently opposed by the Victorian government, even though Gunbower forest that would get so much benefit from the extra water is in Victorian Water Minister Peter Walsh’s electorate!

The final decision maker on the Basin Plan and how much water it returns to the Murray is the federal government – let Minister Burke know that you want a strong Plan that protects Victoria’s rivers and wetlands by signing our letter here.