The Road Not Taken

web-map

Robert Frost wrote a famous poem called ‘The Road Not Taken’ that begins with the line ‘Two roads diverged in a yellow wood’. Had he been writing about Kalimna Park he might have added ‘then diverged again, and again, and again’. It’s a fact that Kalimna Park has got more trails than it knows what to do with and a walk there almost always involves a series of decisions about which ‘road’ to take that day.

Enter Jase Haysom. Central Victoria’s original GPS-wielding cartographic adventurer and community mapper extraordinaire. Jase has spent the last few months mapping Kalimna Park to create a topographical map that shows almost all of the roads and trails in the Park – he drew the line at kangaroo paths and goat tracks.

Thanks to Jase’s effort you can now download a map of Kalimna Park page from his Cartography Community Mapping website.

The map will also be made available as a hardcopy from the Castlemaine Information Centre and will be used by the Friends of Kalimna Park to help them plan activities and promote the park. The Friends hope that the map can eventually be installed at the Kalimna Point carpark.

As for the ‘road not taken’, Jase will never have to sigh at the thought it – he’s mapped them all!

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‘Foolishly, disastrously wrong’

‘There was never a body of men so foolishly, disastrously wrong,’ wrote Eric Rolls in his 1984 book, They all ran wild.

He was talking about the Acclimatisation Societies of Australia, people who believed that this continent was lacking in nice plants and animals, and decided to bring a few good ones in. Among their introductions were carp, rabbits, sparrows and starlings.

Local researcher Doug Ralph has unearthed the 1874 annual report of the Castlemaine branch of the society. It’s easy to be superior about their efforts from this distance, but their attitudes were shared by some pretty well informed people at the time: Victoria’s preeminent botanist, Ferdinand von Mueller, for example, is responsible for bringing blackberries into the state!

Assorted weeds near Chewton: the nineteenth century enthusiasm to 'improve' Australia has left us with an expensive legacy of feral plants and animals.

Assorted weeds near Chewton: the nineteenth century enthusiasm to ‘improve’ Australia has left us with an expensive legacy of feral plants and animals.

Part of the 1874 report is printed below. It’s worth noting that the society’s effort to bring carp to the district eventually failed. This pest didn’t appear in numbers in Victoria till the mid 20th century:

‘In our last report we stated that the efforts of the society had been more particularly directed to stocking the various reservoirs and watercourses with fish This work has been continued during the past year, and we have received from the Ballarat Fish Acclimatisation Society several consignments of English perch, which have been placed in the Muckleford Creek and elsewhere We cannot omit referring to the immense amount of food and enjoyment this fish has afforded to the inhabitants of Ballarat, when from Lake Wendouree (which was four years ago a dry plain) upwards of nine tons of fish were caught during the past season We have every reason to believe that our experiments may prove equally successful. The trout which we reported as having been placed in the Harcourt reservoir we have not yet heard of any being seen or caught. But, in case they have survived, we should have some evidence during the next few months. The Murray cod and other fish
placed in the Expedition Pass Reservoir we have information that they have been seen, and no doubt during the next season there will be plenty of fish for the anglers in this sheet of water. The carp also have multiplied wonderfully in the several private dams where they were placed, and no doubt they exist in large quantities in the various larger reservoirs where they have been placed.

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Risky business

Strategic bushfire management plan: West Central bushfire risk landscape. DEPI 2014

This document has been anticipated with some interest—as have its companions, the plans for the East Central and Barwon Otways districts. It was launched at last Friday’s Creswick conference by Lee Miezis, DEPI’s Executive Director, fire and emergency management– with some suggestion that it promised a new improved approach to fire management.

The promise is still there: there’s no doubt that careful risk assessments and computer modelling of bushfire behaviour could enormously improve our capacity to deal with bushfires. This document disappoints in the delivery, however.

Fuel management map: the grey areas are 'priority fuel management areas. In our area they're north and west of Castlemaine, Maldon and the Midland Highway. 40% of planned burning on public land will be in these areas...which are mostly private land.

Fuel management map: the mid grey areas are ‘priority fuel management areas’. In our area they’re north and west of Castlemaine, Maldon and the Midland Highway. 40% of planned burning on public land will be in these areas…which are mostly private land.

Its first problem is that it largely confines its consideration of risk to the matter of fuel and fuel management. On page 31 of a 33 page document we’re told that fuel management is ‘only one of a range of approaches to reduce bushfire risk on public land.’ The others include prevention, preparation, response and recovery.

You’d think the first of these [‘prevention, to minimise the occurrence of bushfires, particularly those started by people’] would be a high priority, given that most fires are started by people [in the Mount Alexander shire there are an average of 53 fires a year, and only 6 of these are naturally occurring. 42% of fires dealt with by DEPI since 1972 have been accidents, 35% were deliberate, and 17% ‘unknown or other causes’]. It will be dealt with ‘over the next few years’. In the mean time we have a range of advertising and punitive measures with a limited success record. Priority is given to fuel, and the community is given to understand that its management is the main way to reduce risk.

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Six seasons – not four! A journey through the six seasons of the Wombat Forest

Tanya Loos will be giving a one-hour presentation on her recently published Daylesford Nature Diary at the next Newstead Landcare Group meeting on this Thursday (16 October). The evening will start at 8pm and take place at the Newstead Community Centre. The talk will be followed by a very brief AGM and a light supper. Gold coin donations would be appreciated. Tanya will also have copies of her book for sale.

If you like the idea of marking the seasons by such things as the arrival of spring migrants, or fabulous fruiting fungi – do come along.

There is also more information on Tanya and her diary on the Connecting Country website.

poster DND

 

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Act first, think later

A conference on bushfire management reform held at Creswick on October 10 served to highlight some of the complexities in fire management, and to underline the difference between Government policy and the views of conservationists.

The difference centres around whether a risk management strategy is compatible with having a fixed target for burning public land.

The conservationist [and scientific] view is: first you do an assessment of the bushfire risk, then you respond to that risk in appropriate ways: that is, by educating people about the dangers, controlling development in dangerous areas, building rapid attack firefighting capacity, developing a refuge strategy, and carefully calculating fuel reduction programs.

Muckleford Demo track, November 2011: even if risk analysis showed that the burning program wasn't making us safer, the Government would still be committed to it.

Muckleford Demo track, November 2011: even if risk analysis showed that the burning program wasn’t making us safer, the Government would still be committed to it.

There’s debate about how effective the Government’s effort has been on the first four of these approaches; but on fuel reduction the situation is stark.

The Government view is that you decide in advance how much land you burn, then you work on the risks: you try to burn smarter, and you do a lot of monitoring, but none of this influences the amount of burning you do.

In other words, even if the risk analysis and the monitoring program demonstrate conclusively that the burning program is not making people safer, but is doing a lot of environmental damage, you keep on with it.

A fixed burning target is clearly not compatible with serious risk management: this point has been made clear by the Royal Commission Implementation Monitor and many others. The government, however, is sticking grimly to the policy. The Labor Party appears to be doing the same, perhaps not grimly, but gormlessly.

The above depressing theme tended to overshadow an otherwise informative conference. DEPI went to a lot of trouble to assemble numerous experts to explain and explore ideas on risk modelling, ecological monitoring, and ecological resilience.

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Eucalypt project in the air

FOBIF has tentatively begun work on a beginners guide to eucalypts of the Mount Alexander region, in a joint project with Connecting Country. We’re looking for enthusiasts who are interested in joining the working group. ‘Work’ will involve a fair bit of mooching around peering at trees.

Red box [Eucalyptus polyanthemus] blossom, Maldon Historic Reserve, October 2014. Red box is coming into flower now; Yellow gum is in flower; and Red gums are on the way.

Red box [Eucalyptus polyanthemus] blossom, Maldon Historic Reserve, October 2014. Red box is coming into flower now; Yellow box is in flower; and Red gums are on the way.

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Now, what’s this about Gough’s Range?

Not too many people visit Gough’s Range State Forest, roughly midway between Welshman’s Reef and Maldon. This small [161 ha] forest will be getting a few extra visitors in the 2016-17 management burning season, however. It’s down for a DEPI ‘Landscape Management Burn’. The intention of managers is

‘To provide an irregular mosaic of areas of fuel reduction which will complement works in adjacent fire management zones and can assist in ecological resilience and forest regeneration.’

Cairn Curran Reservoir, from the western edge of the Gough's Range forest. Modestly interesting views are to be had from many parts of this bush.

Cairn Curran Reservoir, from the western edge of the Gough’s Range forest. Modestly interesting views are to be had from many parts of this bush.

We’ve been informed that the Department intends a burn coverage of 30-50% of the declared area; further, in its response to the Muckleford Forest submission to the Fire Operations Plan, DEPI has said that ‘every planned burn’ gets an environmental assessment beforehand—so we’ll be keen to see how the managers go about assessing the values of this modest forest, and protecting those values.

It's not Everest, but this chocolate lily is still a trial for the small beetle: Gough's Range, October 2014

It’s not Everest, but this chocolate lily is still a trial for the small beetle: Gough’s Range, October 2014

FOBIF will be running one of its monthly walks in the Goughs Range forest in winter next year.

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Fire operations: some answers

FOBIF has received a response to its submission on the Fire Operations Plan from Andrew Koren, DEPI program manager for planned burning in this region.

In brief, DEPI has responded to our concerns with the following points:

1. The Government is committed to increasing its planned burning; at the same time it is developing a strategic risk management approach for ‘prioritising fuel management’. It doesn’t seem to see the contradiction between these two approaches.

2. The statewide 5% target is being pursued. However, ‘Murray Goldfields is capped at approximately 4% or 14,000 hectares, this in recognition of the unique vegetation that occurs in the Murray Goldfields district.’

3. We can’t see burn plans because they’re subject to change based on weather conditions and other factors.

4. The pine plantations are Hancock business, but DEPI ‘is aware’ that Hancocks ‘undertake fire management works’.

5. DEPI is keen to cooperate on the matter of weed infestations.

6. On specific burns: the very large Gower Cemetery Rd fire, in the Muckleford Forest, has been taken out of the current plan, presumably to be done later; the Dunn’s Reef fire, also in the Muckleford forest, ‘is not all planned for treatment’; and DEPI is willing to discuss the Gough’s Range fire.

FOBIF will be following up all these points.

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‘Mosses of dry forests…’it’s easier to buy now

FOBIF has opened a Paypal account to make it easier to buy its field guide to mosses of dry forests online. We did this to facilitate orders from overseas, but the system will make it easier for locals to buy the book.  For more details, click on the icon at right.

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Here we go again

The cup moth [Doratifera] grub is at it again: the damage perhaps a bit patchier than the last infestation. The grub is pretty undiscriminating in its appetite, but appears to prefer stringybarks [Eucalyptus macrohyncha] in our area. The Bendigo Field Naturalists Eucalypt guide notes that this tree ‘is subject to annual, often very severe defoliation by the caterpillars of the cup moth. This places considerable stress on the trees, but almost certainly has its compensations in the form of reduced waterloss through reduced leaf area during summer, and improved nutrient recycling…’

The patchiness of the present infestation can be seen in the two photos below, taken less than two kilometres apart. In the first, the Maldon Historic Reserve seems completely untouched:

Tatt Town track, October 5: the trees are virtually untouched by the cup moth caterpillar.

Tatt Town track, October 5: the trees are virtually untouched by the cup moth caterpillar.

In the second, a couple of kilometres down the road, the devastation is clear. The second photo is taken in bush with heavier concentrations of stringybarks:

A couple of kilometres down the same track, on the same day: bushland with greater numbers of stringybarks is heavily defoliated.

A couple of kilometres down the same track, on the same day: bushland with greater numbers of stringybarks is heavily defoliated.

How well does the bush recover from these infestations? Trees trashed a couple of years ago seem, on the whole, to have gotten over the attacks. On the other hand, our understanding of these matters is limited. As forestry researchers noted [in Australian Forestry June 2010, in reference to similar outbreaks in Gippsland early this century,

‘The cause of the outbreaks by Doratifera spp. is uncertain because of insufficient knowledge concerning their lifecycle. While climatic factors are likely triggers, other factors such as eucalypt host susceptibility, foliage nutritional status, altitude, forest type,

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