The impossible dream: we can have public safety without trashing the bush

Here are a few conclusions we can draw from recent meetings with DELWP fire managers in the last two weeks:

  1. The proposal to frequently burn Expedition Pass and surrounds is definitely off. It was a mapping error, and we’ll pass over it with a shudder.
  2. The government aims at a ‘coordinated approach to managing bushfire risk across all land tenures by 2020.’ That is, we should soon be able to see a coherent approach to fuel management on private land, integrated with treatment of public land. How soon? We don’t know.
  3. Fire hazard reduction in sensitive areas like the Vaughan area and the margins of Kalimna Park will be achieved mechanically rather than through burn offs. The Loddon river valley won’t be burned.
  4. There are no plans in the immediate future for operations on the eastern [Happy Valley] side of Kalimna Park. However, if residential developments proceed in the valley, then Kalimna will definitely have to be more severely treated.
Near Hunters Track, Castlemaine Diggings NHP: the bush in this area is more open than in regrowth forest nearby, and has numerous interesting cultural features.

Near Hunters Track, Castlemaine Diggings NHP: the bush in this area is more open than regrowth forest nearby, and has numerous interesting cultural features. It has recently been rezoned and is now open to more severe fuel reduction treatment.

 

The above are conclusions after two meetings in the last three weeks.

Representatives of FOBIF and the Friends of Kalimna Park met with DELWP managers in Castlemaine on November 23, and representatives of FOBIF and the Talking Fire group met with the DELWP West Central Bushfire Risk Landscape team in Daylesford on December 1.

Under discussion were the revised fuel management plans for the region. The intent of both meetings was to aim at a fuel management program which achieves public safety while respecting the natural values of local public land.

Several other matters were discussed:

In response to questions about poor track management, officers repeated a rationale we’ve heard before: that ‘road access is required for fire suppression’ etc. This is a disappointing response, as we’ve never questioned the need for such access: what we’ve questioned is crude and careless track management, and lack of care [and possibly even understanding] of roadside vegetation.

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Eucalypt guide: a dedication to Ern Perkins

FOBIF’s field guide to the eucalypts of the Mount Alexander Region has sold out its print run of 800 copies in two months, and a reprint edition is now available.

The reprint contains some minor changes, but the most significant addition to it is a dedication to its co-author, Ern Perkins, who died in early November.  The dedication reads

This book is dedicated to the memory of Ern Perkins
teacher, botanist, field naturalist
(1934-2016)

Ern was a great supporter of the eucalypt project from the beginning. Without his knowledge of the genus, and his amazing familiarity with the location of different species in different corners of the region, the book would never have been finished. He overcame serious health problems to come on numerous excursions around the district in search of good tree specimens, and his enthusiasm and good humour never failed him.

Ern’s contributions to the understanding of the natural history of the region were numerous. He was an inspiration to many in the district, and we urge any who have not already done so to read Chris Timewell’s obituary for him (and related links) on the Connecting Country website.

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Ern and Lesley Perkins checking out a Candlebark with Bronwyn Silver at Green Gully, Winter 2016

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The past: what’s important? what’s not?

Want to have a say on the way heritage is presented in the Diggings Park? Have a go at doing the Parks Victoria survey. It only takes a few minutes, and your answers might tilt the balance of the way the park is presented.  You have until midnight this coming Wednesday November 30 to do it.

The questions are mainly straightforward—perhaps the crunch question is number 13: ‘Information signage in Castlemaine Diggings National Heritage Park currently focuses on its important mining heritage. Are there other themes, stories or aspects of the park that should also be told?’

As we’ve said before, one of the problems with the presentation of goldfields heritage is that it doesn’t give due weight to the environmental impact of mining. For that reason, perhaps a good response to question 13 might be something like this:

The problem is not that the focus is on mining heritage: the problem is that this heritage is presented with virtually no emphasis on the destructive effects of mining, even though these are staring us in the face in the form of the total destruction of almost all the waterways in the park: these eroded gullies, and hillsides stripped of soil, are also ‘heritage’.

…But it’s your say: have a go!

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Fire stop press: A ‘mapping error’!

FOBIF has received a note from DELWP confirming receipt of our fire submission (see post below). They advise us that the rezoning of Expedition Pass as an Asset Protection zone was a ‘mapping error”.

The area has now been restored to its previous status as a Landscape Management zone.

We’re a bit at a loss for words. We’ll comment in more detail on this and related matters after we meet with fire managers in December.

Extract of letter to FOBIF from West Central Risk Landscape Team:

As a result of your comments, the zoning at Expedition Pass reservoir near Castlemaine has been reinstated as Landscape Management Zone.  While the change was a mapping error, we acknowledge and apologise for the concerns this has caused within your organisation.

Please find attached updated maps of the proposed fire management zones in the Castlemaine – Maldon area.

North Castlemaine, updated map 17 November 2017
Castlemaine, updated map 17 November 2017
Maldon, updated map 17 November 2017

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Fire submission

FOBIF has made a submission to the latest round of fire consultations [see our November 3 Post]. Essentially the submission criticises the zonings around Expedition Pass and the Loddon River, questions the size of some of the zones, and raises [again] the neglect of systematic fuel management on private land. FOBIF representatives will meet with DELWP early in December to discuss these concerns.

The substance of the submission is set out below [zone references can be understood by reference to the map at this link]:

***

Thank you for the opportunity to comment on the fire management review.

We have three general and four specific comments:

General

  1. We continue to be concerned by the apparent inability of DELWP to integrate private land fuel management into its risk program, despite the large ‘priority fuel management areas’ on private land in the West Central Risk landscape maps. The result of this inability is the artificial isolation of public land and an over emphasis on it, despite the fact that in our area the overwhelming majority of fires start on private land. We also have the occasionally bizarre example of small parcels of public land singled out for burning, although they are surrounded by much larger areas of apparently more dangerous private land. CAS 2 is a bizarre example, and CAS 11 an example where DELWP seems to have admitted the impracticality of dealing with public land in isolation.

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FOBIF has been nominated for a Kookaburra Award

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Parks Victoria Kookaburra Awards – Acknowledging outstanding voluntary contributions to the Parks Victoria estate

FOBIF is proud to have been nominated for a Parks Victoria 2016 Connecting People to Parks Kookaburra Award.

Parks Victoria presents the Kookaburra Awards to individuals and Friends groups that have made an outstanding contribution to the Parks Victoria estate.

The Northern Region awards will be presented at a Kookaburra Awards Ceremony to be held at Maldon Vintage Machinery Museum, Vincents Street, Maldon on Saturday 3 December 2016, from 10.30 to 2.30pm.

 If you would like to attend this event  as a FOBIF representative please email us at info@fobif.org.au by Monday 21 November.

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Here’s news: speed doesn’t kill

Vicroads has circulated a letter to those interested in its proposed Pyrenees Highway works. Readers will remember that a number of trees were slated for removal in this project. FOBIF has accepted that some trees need removal, but not as many as proposed. We have argued that a better safety result could be achieved if–among other measures– the speed limit was reduced between Newstead and Green Gully.

Vicroads response to this is clear from its letter:

‘A reduction of the speed zone would
 not lead to a decrease in the amount
 of barrier treatments used in this instance. The impact of an errant vehicle with 
a roadside hazard (tree, power pole) at 
80 kmh can still lead to a serious injury
 or fatality.

‘The Installation of safety barriers provides the safest option.’

The implication of the letter is clear: that Vicroads will essentially proceed with its original proposal. It seems, from the above paragraph, that the purpose of the project is not so much to reduce the number of ‘run off road’ accidents as to soften the effect of the ones that do happen. A more effective approach would aim at both—and if it resulted in less environmental damage, all the better.

Vicroads seems to have set aside the reasoning behind TAC ‘wipe off five’ campaigns: ‘Eight Wipe off 5 campaigns have been released with all emphasising even a small reduction in speed can make the difference between life and death.’ This widely accepted argument is particularly strong on a winding, narrow stretch of Highway like the one between Green Gully and Newstead.

Vicroads has supported some offset planting, and other ‘palliative’ measures. Nevertheless, we believe its position here is consistent with its activities on the Western Highway, and the Calder at Ravenswood: a narrow understanding of efficiency and safety sweeps aside other values.

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Photos coming in for our FOBIF show

Several photos for our 2017 exhibition, Mountains and Waterways, have been added to our new Flickr album during the last week. Noel Muller, Ranger Team Leader Goldfields, Parks Victoria, has sent a quirky tree photo from Mount Tarrengower and several FOBIF members have been visiting our flooded swamps. It’s a good time to get out and take water related photos after our recent rains. If you would like directions on how to get to swamps and other sites let us know at info@fobif.org.au

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Mount Tarrengower, 15 October 2016

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Walkers Swamp, 14 November 2016

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Bells Swamp, 9 November 2016

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Not news on the highway

Snakes are out and about, though they’ve become active a little later this year because of cooler conditions.

Obviously people should be careful in areas where snakes are likely to be present–and not only for their own safety.

The picture below is a dismal reminder of the annual massacre on our highways. As we’ve reported before, the kill rate on the roads is both frightful, and very often avoidable: and reptiles are special victims.

Another reason for slowing down…

Pyrenees Highway, McKenzie Hill, November 9:

Pyrenees Highway, McKenzie Hill, November 9:  a sight so common as to be almost unnoticeable.

And on a more positive note: below is a photo of a turtle [any suggestions on the species? We think it might be a Common Long Neck–Chelodina longicollis] found by a driver in the middle of a dirt road in Walmer, and safely removed to the side of the road:

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What are our state forests for?

The answer to this question might seem obvious—they’re a resource for timber, right?

But for many years forestry officials have also claimed that these forests are valuable, and greatly valued, for their biodiversity and their recreational uses.

The idea has charm, but it’s fair to say that in much of our forest estate both biodiversity and recreation have consistently suffered in the pursuit of the resource. And there’s even a bit of confusion in the community as to what terms like ‘state forest’, ‘state park’ and so on actually mean.

Now the Victorian Environmental Assessment Council is going to conduct two reviews into State Forests outside our immediate region, but of great interest for the relevance they might have for our own state forests.

The first is focused on conservation values in the forest estate east of the Hume Highway, and the second concentrates on three forest areas in the Central West: Wellsford SF [north of Bendigo], Wombat SF to the south, and Mount Cole and the Pyrenees to the west of us.

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