Twelve brave walkers braved unpromising forecasts to take on FOBIF’s August walk into the isolated upper reaches of the Columbine Creek catchment on Sunday. As it turned out, the weather was brisk but kind, with plenty of sunshine to take the edge of the breeze.
Walkers in the upper reaches of the Columbine Creek catchment. The wildflower season is getting under way, but illegal timber cutting is rampant.
Walkers were able to observe the growing abundance of wildflowers in the area. Less inspiring is evidence of illegal timber cutting on an almost industrial scale. Although there have been recent prosecutions for illegal firewood collection in this district, we have no doubt that foresters are still battling to cope with the consequences of Coalition decisions to weaken the firewood permit system. This system, which had been introduced by the Bolte Liberal government, served as a means of regulating the effects of firewood collection in public forests.
One of the dozens of examples of illegal firewood cutting in the Columbine Creek valley. Illegal cutting is partly the consequence of government decisions to weaken 60 year old permit regulations.
The draft fire operations plan for Murray Goldfields district has been released, and is open for public comment till August 31. The full plan can be found here, or can be seen at the Mount Alexander Shire offices in Lyttleton Street.
The Plan is similar to last year’s document, but contains some new proposed burns, mostly small in area, close to Castlemaine and Newstead.
Members are encouraged to have a look at the plan as a whole, and in particular the new proposed burns, and to express an interest in the areas they are most familiar with.
It should be noted that in spite of an increased interest in conducting small, strategic fuel reductions that might actually protect the public from bushfire, the government is charging ahead with its rolling target of burning five per cent of public land per year. The target for 2014-5 is 385,942 hectares; for each of the following two years it’s over 450,000 ha.
Submissions to the Plan should be sent to
Planned Burning and Roading
PO Box 905
Mildura VIC 3502
FOBIF will be making a submission to the Plan in the next couple of weeks.
Thirty members and guests turned up to the FOBIF Annual General Meeting on Monday night to hear an entertaining and informative talk by George Milford on the chequered history of Mount Alexander, with an emphasis on its little known industrial side.
The meeting passed motions reaffirming the annual subscription fee of $10 for an individual and $15 for a family, and approving a committee size of four office bearers and three ordinary members.
The new committee is as follows: President: Marie Jones; Vice President: Neville Cooper; Secretary: Naomi Raftery; Treasurer: Lynette Amaterstein; Ordinary members: Frank Panter, Bronwyn Silver, and Bernard Slattery
The Conversation website this weekend carries an important article by Deakin University researchers on the burning program currently supported by both major parties in Victoria.
Revealingly titled ‘Burnoff policies could be damaging habitats for 100 years’ the article patiently explains how inappropriate burning can cause long term damage to the environment.
But is the program making us safer? The following paragraph tells the story:
‘Scientists from the Department of Environment and Primary Industries have estimated that less than 3% of the statewide risk to life and property is located in the Murray Mallee region. Yet 16.9% of the planned burning by area in 2012-2013 occurred there. Conversely, although the more populated areas closer to Melbourne accounted for 31% of risk, only around 1.6% of planned burning took place in that region.’
The Royal Commission Implementation Monitor, Neil Comrie, has once again questioned the policy of burning five per cent of public land annually. The Monitor’s Annual report is released today. It can be found here.
The relevant section of the report is on pages 51-2. It runs as follows:
‘The [Monitor's] 2012 Final Report advocated that the State reconsider the planned burning rolling target of five per cent and replace it with a risk based approach focused on the protection of life and property. In 2013, the BRCIM went further stating concerns that the 390,000 ha target may not be achievable, affordable or sustainable. The BRCIM’s view in relation to this target is unchanged. Area based hectare targets alone will not necessarily reduce the bushfire risk to life and property in Victoria and may have adverse environmental outcomes…
‘With the benefit of five years dedicated work in this area, the BRCIM considers it may be timely for the State to reconsider [Royal Commission] Recommendation 56, having regard to the positive shift in focus from a numeric area based target to a risk based approach in order to deliver an effective long term program of planned burning.’
Will the State Government — or the Labor Party, which has the same policy–reconsider the target in the light of these continuing recommendations? We’re not hopeful. After Mr Comrie’s 2012 report Minister Ryan said ‘I see the logic of what he argues and we will give it due consideration.’ When we asked the minister what was the result of this ‘due consideraton’ all we got was a set of evasions.
With a State election due in November, candidates are starting to do a bit of spruiking about the place. We’ve drafted a number of questions it might be worth putting to them, should they appear on the horizon:
1. In 2012-13 the State Government embarked on a program of cutting 10% of Parks Victoria’s staff. This is on top of cuts in previous years by governments of both persuasions. We believe DEPI in Bendigo has lost a quarter of its staff in recent years. What’s your plan for the staffing of public land management, and what priorities do you see in this area?
2. Since coming to office the Coalition Government has cut more than a quarter of Government animal health and biosecurity jobs. Do you think a cut of 25% in the number of Parliamentarians would be good for Victoria? Would it improve MP’s efficiency?
3. The Royal Commission Implementation Monitor has criticised the Government’s policy of burning 5% of public land every year. He says the policy diverts DEPI resources to burning remote country when these should be deployed in dangerous areas close to settlements. A similar criticism of ‘targets’ has been levelled by Tasmania’s Chief Fire officer. Could you explain how burning 400 ha of bush in the remote Tarilta Valley is better at protecting human life than controlling dense gorse on the edge of Chewton, Castlemaine and Maldon townships?
4. The number of Phd and postgraduate students employed by DEPI has fallen by 22% since 2012-13, and the number of scientific and technical reports by DEPI officers supporting agriculture has fallen by 33% over the same period. In your opinion does this decline in research capacity affect DEPI’s ability to be an effective manager of our natural systems?
5. More than 500 jobs related to agriculture have been cut from DEPI since 2011. Is the Department as capable of managing agriculture now as it was 3 years ago? Or is the Farmers Federation right in expressing a lack of confidence in the Department’s ability to manage crises like disease outbreaks?
6. Past experience overseas shows that commercial development in National Parks benefits the private developer, but not the park or the public. Do you support commercial developments in National Parks? What effect do you think these might have on eco tourism businesses adjacent to Parks?
7. Whenever there are staff cutbacks in the Department of Environment and Primary Industry we are assured that no ‘front line’ staff are affected. Could you explain why research staff, who are usually the ones to be cut, are not important in enabling the Department to understand what it’s supposed to be doing? If you were running the Grand Prix, would you be in favour of cutting back on mechanics, as long as drivers were retained?
8.Victoria’s recent Waterways Strategy did not mention ‘climate change’, referring instead to ‘natural climate variation’. Environment commissioner Kate Auty claimed this year that Government employees have been instructed to avoid using the phrase ‘climate change’, and instead to refer to ‘natural climate variation.’ Scientists prefer the former term. Which one do you prefer? Do you think experts should be dictated to by politicians on this matter?
You often see fungi thrusting up through soil crust, but mushrooms heaving rocks out of the way are less common. The photo below shows one such effort. We weighed the stone at 725 grams!
100 gram mushroom lifts seven times its weight:…we believe champion human weightlifters can manage to lift about twice their bodyweight at a time. Of course, the mushroom we see is only part of the story–it’s only the fruiting body of the fungus. The main part of the fungus is the mycelium under the ground.
Fungi often perform remarkable weightlifting feats. Maybe the most impressive [and one of the most common] is the unromantic Horse Dung Fungus [Pisolithus tinctorius] which can often be seen pushing up through bitumen road surfaces. We’re not sure how much force is required for this feat. When we attempted a bit internet research on the subject by Googling ‘fungus lifting weight’ we got a lot of entries about fungus lifting toenails. That’s a lot less romantic than we could bear.
Horse Dung Fungus [Pisolithus tinctorius] pushing up through the bitumen surface of the Irishtown road: fungi are impressive weightlifters.
It was an important place to the Jaara people; grazed by sheep for nearly 100 years; listed as having been entirely denuded of useful trees by 1876; burned out by bushfire in 1901, and then washed out by a heavy thunderstorm which stripped the bare slopes of soil and dumped it into the Bendigo water channel: now it’s a State Park much loved by walkers, picnickers and cyclists who regularly grind their way over Joseph Young Drive.
FOBIF walkers passing a giant stringybark on Mount Alexander, August 2013: by 1876 the Mount had been ‘denuded’ of useful trees. The chequered history of the Mount will be the subject of George Milford’s talk at the FOBIF AGM.
Through all this it remains the biggest landmark in our district, and its history is the subject of a talk to be given by George Milford at the FOBIF AGM at 7.30 on Monday August 11 at the Castlemaine Continuing Education Building. Put it in your diary.
Members interested in nominating for the FOBIF committee should send their nominations in before that date. Contact Bernard Slattery (5472 2892) if you would like a nomination form.
What’s a historic place?
The Victorian Environment Assessment Council is conducting an ‘Historic Places Investigation’, submissions for which are due to VEAC by September 12.
FOBIF is making a submission to this process, arguing that a historic place is not simply something old you can look at and have thoughts about the past. It’s a place in which you can see change happening, as the practices of the past are changed to suit new community needs.
Sebastopol Creek, in the Castlemaine Diggings NHP: ruined waterways on the slow path to recovery are a dramatic historic reality.
Specifically, we are arguing that the Castlemaine Diggings National Heritage Park should be valued not simply for its evidence of gold workings, but more especially for the way it shows the spectacular environmental damage wrought in the past, and the way this damage is gradually being repaired over time.
FOBIF’s submission runs as follows:
“We wish to make a submission to this enquiry, focusing on the Castlemaine Diggings National Heritage Park as a Historic Landscape.
“The Diggings Park was given National Heritage status in 2005. The declaration statement goes into great detail about evidence of mining practices in this landscape. This is fully justified. What is less understandable is that the statement completely overlooked what is perhaps the most striking single feature of this landscape: that is, the ruined waterways. The environmental devastation wrought by gold fever is mentioned blandly in one sentence: ‘The degree of alteration of, and intervention in, the natural landscape makes a strong impression on visitors.’
Twenty two walkers enjoyed a fine winter’s day for the July FOBIF walk into Muckleford Gorge on Sunday the 20th. The walk was led by Deirdre and Bernard Slattery, and the group heard an informative talk from farmer Ian Garsed before descending into the spectacular valley. Ian and his family manage the Gorge largely for conservation, and he gave an engaging account of the difficulties and rewards of having responsiblity for such an important part of the landscape.
Walkers look across the gorge to the edge of the lava flow, before making the descent. Mount Franklin is in the distance.
Although the Muckleford Creek is not flowing at this point, there are enough substantial pools to preserve the picturesqueness of the situation; and the dry sections allowed the group to criss cross the creek for easier walking–though it has to be said that some of the crossings were easier than others. Once again our thanks go to Ian for his unfailing generosity to our walking groups. Thanks also to Barb Guerin for her lucid explanations of the geological formations along the Creek. The August walk will be in the Fryers Ranges. Check the program for details.
FOBIF walkers checking out the cliffs at the bottom of the Muckleford Gorge.