Anyone for a dawn walk?

A few FOBIF members are planning an early morning walk on Mount Alexander on Tuesday 28 March. We will be following the route for Walk 20 in the FOBIF Twenty Bushwalks book. If you are interested meet at Leanganook Picnic area near the information boards close to the toilet block at 7 am. The walk will take about an hour. Contact Bronwyn ( if you would like to register for the walk or have any questions and check this website before the walk in case of cancellation due to rain.

A foggy morning on Leanganook

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Down…then up!

A good sized group rocked up for FOBIF’s first walk for the year yesterday. Cool, breezy weather gradually merged to a warmer day as the group negotiated a route into Columbine Creek, a tributary of the Loddon and one of the region’s remoter areas.

Walkers in the valley: trees on the flat are markedly bigger than ones on the ridge, and relic stumps show that they were much bigger in the past.

This route starts with an easy descent over rough tracks, but ends with the sort of climb that reminds you that life wasn’t meant to be that easy. In between, the valley floor contains just enough tall timber to recall what this forest was like in its heyday.

Survivors: FOBIF walkers after a stiff walk up the Irishtown track to Fryers Ridge

Comfort zone: this couch in the Fryers Forest is one of the weirder signs of…er…cultural heritage

Hackelia suaveolens (Sweet Hounds-tongue) Check out for more information.

Our thanks to Jan Hall and Helen Dewhurst for taking us into one of the most intriguing corners of the Fryers forest.

April’s walk is in the Gough’s Range state forest. See the walks page for details.

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First 2023 FOBIF: Columbine Creek and back

Our first walk will take place on Sunday 19 March. The 6 km route is based on the Walk 15  in the FOBIF book, Twenty Bushwalks in the Mount Alexander Region. More detail can be found on the Walks page. We will meet as usual at the Community House in Templeton Street at 9.30 am and then travel by convoy to the the beginning of the walk on Fryers Ridge Road. For people who want to go to the beginning of the walk via Taradale follow the directions in the walks book on page 67 and meet us at the intersection of Fryers Ridge Road and Irishtown Track at 10 am. Ring Jan Hall 0407 338 490 for more information. 

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Working on the railway (1) : alternatives

Representatives of local enviro groups convened by Friends of Maldon Railway met on site with fire officers last Monday to discuss the Department’s proposed fuel management exercise south of the railway line.

The proposed burn is scheduled for autumn next year. Its purpose is ‘To develop fuel reduced areas of sufficient width and continuity to reduce the speed and intensity of bushfires’.

Fire discussions in the Maldon Historic Reserve: alternative approaches to fuel management were raised. The results will be seen when the exercise is conducted next year.

The zone is shown on the map in the Post below. It’s bounded by Railway Track, Tatt Town Track, Spur Track and Donkey Farm Track, and is about 310 hectares. Though it doesn’t cover the land immediately adjacent to the rail track, it’s pretty close, which adds some element of concern over the exercise: this strip is of outstanding biodiversity interest.

The brute political reality is that such exercises take place. Questions directed at DEECA staff focused on whether the overriding purpose of fuel reduction necessarily makes them environmentally destructive. A case in point is a very hot ‘reduction burn’ in the area a decade ago, which seriously depleted a population of locally rare Flame Heath, and also provoked rampant regrowth of Cassinia and Golden Wattle. Fire officers acknowledge that some too hot management burns can have the perverse effect of creating fuel through dense regrowth.

Questions raised at the meeting included: the possibility of rezoning part of the proposed area; the possibility of isolating patches known to contain particularly important species; and the possibility of using alternative methods to fire (for example, slashing) in defined areas.

DEECA staff at the Maldon meeting listened sympathetically to the concerns expressed there.  The actual outcome of the meeting, however, will be seen in the conduct of the exercise.

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Working on the railway (2): what is ‘cultural burning’?

Environmentalists at the Maldon Railway meeting expressed interest in Indigenous approaches to fire in the landscape, and a possible briefing by Indigenous fire officers was canvassed.

This is from the Joint Management Plan for Dja Dja Wurrung parks (2018):

‘For Dja Dja Wurrung People, Wi is a practice with some equivalent aspects to contemporary fire management undertaken by Parks Victoria, DELWP and other agencies. Wi
helps deliver a disturbance regime that supports or hinders particular plant species and manipulates animal distributions. Among other impacts, Wi can open the forest floor to light, release the seedbank to support greater biodiversity, help convert old wood into available nutrients and stimulate the cycle of birth, death and re-birth. However, Wi is far more than an environmental management tool—it is an expression of cultural obligation, of Dja Dja Wurrung People’s connections to land, each other, and Creation time. Fire regimes that lack DDW involvement threaten cultural obligations, aspirations and knowledge systems, as well as the healing of the landscape. Wi is as much about who applies Wi as how Wi is applied.

‘Since colonisation the application of Wi has dramatically changed. Consistent intensity and timing of Wi is lacking in the landscape, and intense wildfires occur periodically, with
ongoing damage to cultural and natural heritage. Planned burning is largely centred on fuel reduction—the cultural outcomes, impacts on DDW food and fibre plants and
animals, cultural connections and obligations have been little considered. While controlled burning is beginning to integrate DDW cultural practices, fire regimes continue to damage
Country. Cultural heritage in the Parks can also be damaged by the use of fire retardants, mineral earth fire breaks, control lines and in some cases the intensity of controlled burns.
Finally, ongoing climate change will affect how fire behaves in DDW Country and how it can be used as a management tool.’ (page 33)

According to the Joint Fuel Management Plan, Dja Dja Wurrung rangers are set to conduct 17 burns in 2022-3, 30 in 2023-4 and 13 in 2024-5.

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Working on the railway (3): North side good, south side bad?

One peculiarity of the proposed Maldon Historic Reserve fire is that it is partly designed to protect the railway and private property on the north side of the railway line. Yet the briefest look at the map below will show something very strange: namely, that the north side of the line is bordered by a significant area of private bushland—for which no fuel reduction program is planned.

Here’s a question: if the bush on the south side of the line needs to be fuel reduced, why doesn’t the bush on the north side?

Or: if the bush on the north side doesn’t need to be fuel reduced, why does the south side?

Logically you’d burn both sides of the line…or neither.

Would a fire approach a fence and say to itself, ‘Oh. Private land. I can’t go there.’ ?

The questions relate to a longstanding but very inconsistently implemented policy: Tenure blind fire management.

The Auditor General’s 2020 report on Reducing Bushfire Risk had this to say:

‘While agency roles and responsibilities are well defined for public land, they are not for private land. Consequently, tenure-blind burning has exposed some uncertainty that did not previously exist. DELWP and CFA have worked together to resolve initial concerns about liability regarding tenure-blind burns. Following a project to identify policy and legislative enablers to support tenure blind burning, the agencies updated their cooperative arrangement and communicated outcomes to staff.

‘However, they are yet to resolve issues about how tenure-blind burns are funded. DELWP and CFA advised us that while tenure blind burns are crucial for risk reduction, they cost more because they:

  • are generally close to assets
  • involve high levels of community engagement
  • require more staff resources due to the increased risk to human life
  • include paid DELWP staff, not just CFA volunteers.

‘This issue requires resolution to support more of this work to occur.’

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Too late, perhaps? Too little? We hope not

‘In 1980, there were an estimated 50,000 feral deer in Australia. By 2002, the estimate had grown to 200,000. In 2022, the population is likely to have reached 1–2 million in Australia.’

That’s from the recently released draft National Feral Deer Action Plan. You can find it here

If ever there was an illustration of the rule, ‘Tackle a problem early, don’t let it get out of hand’, those figures supply it.

Deer, Campbell’s Creek: no, it’s not cute, it’s a pest. Photo: Naomi Raftery, 2018

Exploding deer populations have been compared to the rabbit plagues of the past. They destroy crops, turn healthy streams into mud heaps, and are increasingly dangerous in peri urban areas:

‘Australia’s feral deer problem costs land managers and governments tens of millions of dollars every year. Land managers are paying more each year for measures to protect the land, through activities such as deer culling or exclusion fences. Transport departments are also increasing culling and fencing along highways and railways to reduce vehicle collisions with feral deer. Local governments are struggling to cull feral deer in urban and periurban areas, gardens and ovals.’

The draft strategy offers a number of approaches to deer control. It doesn’t discuss recreational hunting, but does say that this method of ‘control’ has failed. Further, it makes the point that ‘Landscape-scale management of feral deer can be hampered when neighbours have different, or conflicting management goals (game management or pest control).’

In other words, giving deer protected species status as game animals is an actual impediment to control. This puts a bullet, so to speak, into the Victorian Government’s incomprehensible policy of pandering to the hunting lobby on the deer problem. [You can check out our comments on this subject here, here and here]

FOBIF members sighted deer on the Porcupine Ridge Road last week: they’re increasingly common, and have been sighted in every corner of our region.

The draft policy is open for comment till March 20. Have a go. [You might want to take a look at a comment by the Invasive Species Council here.]

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Last days of FOBIF exhibition (11-13 March)

The FOBIF exhibition at Newstead Arts Hub will be running this Saturday, Sunday and Monday (Labour Day). The opening hours for Saturday and Sunday are 10 am to 4 pm. On Monday we will begin taking down the show at 2.30 pm to allow for people to pick up purchased photos. We will contact people before Monday to let them know if their photo will be ready by this time..

Our new book Responding to Country: Friends of the Box-Ironbark Forests 1998-2023 will be available for sale at the Hub. This 70 page catalogue has 25 photos with accompanying text by members and supporters, historical and geology sections, children’s art, and an essay by Alex Panelli, Of people and a forest – some personal reflections. The first few paragraphs of Alex’s essay can be viewed here and the book’s contents page here

Sample page from the book.

You can order Responding to Country on this site through Paypal or bank transfer for $15 plus $3 postage. It is also available at Stoneman’s Bookroom, the Castlemaine Visitor Information Centre and Bookish in Bendigo.

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What a difference a decade makes

Check out the two photos below, taken at the same point on the Porcupine Ridge road, 11 years apart:

The top photo was taken in August 2012, at the height of a Cup Moth infestation. The bottom photo was taken last week. Notice the difference?

In 2012 the charmingly attractive and very unpleasant Cup Moth (Doratifera sp) was laying waste to our bushlands, and especially the Red Stringybark eucalypts. The bush was pretty dismal, and it wasn’t hard to find people wondering if the forest was actually going to die.

As you can see from the above photos, predictions of doom were at least premature. Tree recovery has been good. You can still, however, see signs of the past crisis, in the number of  trees which have only partly recovered, and the number which didn’t survive the attack.

Porcupine Ridge Road, February 2023: skeletal branches and dead trees are reminders of insect attack ten years ago, but forest recovery has been good.

These observations are necessarily crude. What we’d really like is to see the detailed monitoring done by managers over the last 20 years as part of their fuel reduction program. This forest has weathered a long drought, serious insect infestations and management fire over this period. What has been the result, in detail? We don’t know, because we haven’t seen the abovementioned monitoring, if it exists.

The bush on the right of the photos above is scheduled for a management burn in the next couple of years [see our posts here and here].

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New name, new…er…

In case you’re confused, DELWP has changed its name: it’s now the Department of Energy, Environment and Climate Action.

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