Walks program 2018 kicks off

FOBIF’s 2018 walks program kicks off next Sunday with a stroll around  the Coliban Main Channel, with a return through sections of the Fryers Nature Conservation Reserve and the state forest. Check the walks program for more details.

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Needlegrass war

FOBIF has completed a preliminary report on its project to control Needlegrasses in Castlemaine. These weeds—related to Serrated Tussock— threaten to cause serious damage to pastures and native environments. They were probably introduced into Victoria from the 1930s, and have the potential to dramatically reduce land value because infestations reduce stock carrying capacity on farmland.

FOBIF gained a small grant from the Mount Alexander Shire to attack the needlegrass problem in 2017. Over the last twelve months project has involved a FOBIF coordinator,  19 volunteers who dug up and removed the weed, one paid weed remover, numerous other residents, council and DELWP staff, as well as landcare groups and Connecting Country.

Progress of the project is shown on the map. The volunteer commitment to further monitoring and removal will continue.

Please note that this is a revised version of the map that was posted on February 2.

The project has been a learning experience. A promising experiment has been made with control via woodchip mulching, and much has been learned about the identification and life cycle of the weeds, and how they spread. It seems very clear that Needlegrass can be spread when infested areas are mown or slashed. Seeds attach to the mower, and unless this is cleaned it spreads the seeds when it  moves on to its next job. It’s important therefore that infested areas are clearly identified, and not mown till the weeds and/ or their seeds are removed. Council workers have been increasingly helpful in this respect, but it seems that a more systematic approach to managing roadsides is needed. Not only do council staff need to be well informed about roadside weeds and control methods, but private citizens—residents and contract mowers—need to be better informed about ways to avoid spreading pests.

Roadsides are a long term and ongoing challenge: FOBIF has had occasion before to draw attention to the spread of weeds via dirty machinery, and we notice recent outbreaks of St John’s Wort along roadsides which may have come in this way. We hope that projects like the Needlegrass one will improve cooperation between managers and environmentalists, with better results in the future.

In the meantime, our thanks go to our modest coordinator and the other volunteers for the enormous amount of work they have put into this project.

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A sobering look across the Pacific

So far Victoria has passed through summer without disastrous fire events. In case you missed it, however, it’s worth casting a sympathetic eye across the Pacific to California, a US state with perhaps better environmental credentials than some. Maybe there are sobering lessons in their disastrous winter fires , the worst since 1906. The following is an excerpt from the London Review of Books:

“Jerry Brown’s California enters this new age with a halo over its head. We ‘get’ climate change and thumb our noses at the mad denialist in the White House. Our governor advocates the Paris standards with rare passion and sends our anti-carbon missionaries to the far corners of the earth. We await impatiently that great day when the entire Mojave Desert will be covered with Chinese-made solar panels, and silent Teslas rule the freeways. And we continue to send urban sprawl into our fire-dependent ecosystems with the expectation that firefighters will risk their lives to defend each new McMansion, and an insurance system that spreads costs across all homeowners will promptly replace whatever is lost.

“This is the deadly conceit behind mainstream environmental politics in California: you say fire, I say climate change, and we both ignore the financial and real-estate juggernaut that drives the suburbanisation of our increasingly inflammable wildlands. Land use patterns in California have long been insane but, with negligible opposition, they reproduce themselves like a flesh-eating virus. After the Tunnel Fire in Oakland and the 2003 and 2007 firestorms in San Diego County, paradise was quickly restored; in fact, the replacement homes were larger and grander than the originals. The East Bay implemented some sensible reforms but in rural San Diego County, the Republican majority voted down a modest tax increase to hire more firefighters. The learning curve has a negative slope.”


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Oops! FOBIF melts in the heat

Sorry folks: at some point in the production of the newsletter posted to members this week our walks program became scrambled. The details of the April and May walks became inextricably mixed up, making for an interesting geographical challenge to anyone trying to make sense of the routes in question.

Our apologies to readers and to the relevant walk leaders. The correct version of the program can be found under the walks heading on this site. We suggest for those who use a paper program that they print off this corrected version.

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Christmas wishes

The FOBIF committee wishes all friends of our forests a happy Christmas and a great new year. Our 2018 walks program will soon be available. We’ll see you in the bush in the new year!

And on a sadder note: it’s farewell to the Castlemaine [Windarring] Copy Centre, closing for good tomorrow. The Centre has been giving FOBIF — and the community– efficient and cheerful service for many years. We wish the staff well in their new roles.

A Christmas hero: this Mitchell’s Wattle blooms in the middle of the Fryers Ridge Road, December 2017


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Fuel for thought on fire

Fuel reduction burning is necessary, but not enough: that’s the conclusion of Tasmanian research released last Friday.

The research, by the University of Tasmania, found that it would take an impossible amount of burning to reduce the impact of major bushfires, and that the best approach to the bushfire menace is more strategic approaches to fuel reduction and fire prevention, and a better approach to landscape and housing design.

The research methodology and its findings can be found here.

The findings add weight to longstanding arguments that putting all your eggs in the fuel reduction basket, and burning huge areas of bushland, will not achieve the required safety outcomes: ‘area-based prescribed-burning targets have little value without some sort of strategic implementation or risk-reduction framework.’

Professor David Bowman, co-leader of the research project, told Guardian Australia that governments and fire authorities needed to consider taking a more local approach, and introduce on the outskirts of towns and cities clever landscape designs that included irrigation and green fire breaks in the form of parklands, that could work in conjunction with burn-offs to help mitigate bushfire risks.

He acknowledged it could be expensive to introduce landscape designs to help counter bushfires, but argued they were a necessary cost for state and local governments.

“If we think about earthquakes you don’t hear people complaining, certainly in New Zealand, about the cost of a house that’s going to survive an earthquake,” Bowman said. “Yet…surely having fire-safe communities is a good investment.”

While less fire prone than Victoria, Tasmania has had some terrifying bushfire experiences, and climate change is making the state more fire prone. Many of the recommendations in this latest research echo what conservationists have been saying for years. For example, ‘this research demonstrates the need to investigate new fuel-treatment techniques, such as spatio-temporal patterns of prescribed burning designed to create fine-scale fuel mosaics, or general alternatives to prescribed burning such as mechanical thinning.’

Smaller, more targeted treatments, and a variety of methods: all good ideas, which suffer from one important problem: they’re more expensive than simply torching lots of bush to make people feel something is being done. As we’ve reported before, land management on the cheap is one of the biggest obstacles to achieving safer, better bushlands.

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Remarkable local photos

Patrick Kavanagh’s upcoming photo exhibition, Small World – Visions from Another Dimension, will interest macro photographers and nature enthusiasts. The two photos here are examples of the extraordinary detail and fascinating subject matter of his images, all taken at his home in Strangways. Patrick has generously contributed his photos to our FOBIF exhibitions over the last decade.

Patrick writes: ‘There is another world hidden from our unaided senses. A world of strange and wonderful animals – some could be from another planet, some are insects but look like sea shells. The damage inflicted by a caterpillar on a eucalypt leaf looks like a Renaissance window. A piece of abstract art turns out to be the wing of a moth. A tiny world, on a scale of millimetres, best seen through a macrophotographer’s lens.’

The exhibition “Small World – Visions from Another Dimension” will be on at Dig Café, Newstead from Wednesday December 20th until late January.

Long-nosed Weevil

Moth Stack

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Workshops for nature photographers

Alison Pouloit

Alison Pouliot is running workshops and seminars on natural history photography covering various environmental themes this summer.

31 January 2018 – Snake Valley – The science and art of nature photography
9 February 2018 – Otway Ranges – A murder of crows
18 March 2018 – Lockwood South – Focus on trees
24 March 2018 – Trentham – Through a forest wilderness
31 March 2018 – Trentham – Fungi in Focus

For more information and bookings see  www.alisonpouliot.com

Two of Alison’s images


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Local wetland needs your help

Damien Cook

The Friends of Campbells Creek Landcare Group needs helpers to plant hundreds of plants into one of the only remaining creek-side wetlands left in our district.

The group is holding a wetland information day and working bee this Sunday the 10th of December.

Ian Higgins, the group’s environment officer said “we are lucky to have Damien Cook coming along to tell us how wetlands are faring in our region and advise us on improving our own”. Damien, a keen naturalist for 30 years, is a professional ecologist specialising in wetland and riparian restoration.

You can read more about arrangements for the day on this Friends of Campbells Creek web page.

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Jaara history: a way to the future?

Indigenous history shouldn’t just be the archaeology of a society frozen in the past: it should open up ‘glorious’ prospects: of a time when indigenous people will be accepted as leaders in this community. This is the view expressed by Rodney Carter, CEO of the Dja Dja Wurrung Aboriginal Clans corporation last Friday.

Mr Carter was speaking at the launch of Bain Attwood’s book The good country in Castlemaine. The Phee Broadway theatre was full for the launch of this important local history, and those present were privileged to witness an interesting contrast in styles, between the eloquent brevity of Jaara speakers Uncle Rick Nelson and Rodney Carter, and the more academic presentations of author Bain Attwood and presenter Dr Rani Kerin.

The good country: the Dja Dja Wurrung, the settlers and the protectors, is the first full length history which tries to give a voice to the Jaara people as active agents in the epic social changes of the nineteenth century. Without avoiding the reality of violence and dispossession, it tries to show how indigenous people reacted with intelligence and flexibility to the overwhelming forces ranged against them: in other words, it retrieves their lost voices, and shows them actively engaging with the new society being created on the ruins of their culture.

Continue reading

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