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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New honour for Jaara elder Uncle Brien Nelson

At a ceremony in Melbourne last week senior Jaara elder Uncle Brien Nelson was included in the Victorian Aboriginal honour roll.

For many years Uncle Brien has been one of this community’s most distinguished cultural leaders. In 2009 he was made an honorary associate of Latrobe University, for which he has made a number of films with Gerry Gill, who described him at the time as a ‘pre-eminent Aboriginal leader, who has made an extraordinary lifelong contribution to the recognition of indigenous culture and reconciliation.’ Uncle Brien’s response was a characteristic mixture of eloquence and self effacement, including his summing up: ‘I never thought I’d be honoured by anything or anyone. I was happy just to be there.’  This time he was too ill to attend the ceremony, but his daughter played a video in which he said, in the same spirit: ‘Thank you for taking the time to listen to a person’s dreams.’

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Is it all the way downhill from here?

Guess what? Long unburnt box ironbark environments are more likely to recover from drought stress than ones which have been recently burned!

This is one of the findings of the ‘Either side of the Big Wet’ research project, the gloomy findings of which were outlined at the Arthur Rylah Institute last Monday.

The project was designed to measure how environments responded to the millennium drought [1997-2010], and their resilience [how they recovered] during the wet years [2010-2011] and after [to 2016]. The findings were pretty depressing, but for those prepared to look, there are lessons in them for land managers.

The research area included 120 transects across the Box Ironbark region from St Arnaud eastwards towards Rushworth, and four important sections of the Murray floodplain from Chowilla in the west to Barmah in the west. ‘Resilience’ was defined as the ability of species to recover after stress.

Monday’s presentations were necessarily heavily statistical in emphasis, but they can be brutally summarised as follows:

–Most bird species were found in fewer transects and were less abundant in 2016 compared to 1997, in spite of a partial recovery in the wet years 2010-2011.

–Plains amphibians were doing even worse, with ‘little evidence of breeding activity’.

–Box ironbark vegetation showed decreases in litter, large trees and higher shrubs and increases in dead saplings and hollows. The wet years weren’t enough to arrest the decline. Sites surrounded by woodlands declined more during the drought, but recovered better. Significantly [from FOBIF’s point of view] vegetation showed higher resilience in long unburnt areas.

–On floodplain vegetation, it was found that the proportion of woodland classified as ‘good’ declined from 60% to 28% over the period. It seems that ‘big wet’ years between droughts are not enough to arrest declines.

Overall, the research seemed to conclude that the legacy of big droughts lives on, that short wet periods don’t bring full recovery, and what recovery they do bring is eroded by subsequent dry spells.

Further, the area in question faces pressure from climate change and expanding human populations, with consequent exploitation of water resources and land for residences.

The project was conducted by researchers from Melbourne and Canberra universities and the ARI.

 

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OK, we have some facts: what do we do with them?

A disappointing feature of the ARI gathering was the disconnect between the findings and any possible management implications. Several questions aiming to find a practical response to the research were batted away. It’s very obvious that there are in fact serious policy and management challenges in this kind of research: to do with fire practices and water management, for starters.

The low point in the gathering came with this exchange:

Question: This a pretty doom and gloom scenario. Can you show us some positive prospects?…For example, if you had a hundred million dollars to spend on measures to improve resilience, what would you recommend?

Answer: If I had a hundred million dollars, I’d be out of here.

This is an amazingly flippant answer, the effect of which was not softened by some subsequent very general remarks about control on development . This research was financed significantly by several Victorian land management agencies, including the NCCMA, DELWP and Parks Victoria. Let’s hope they, and the public, draw some urgent practical conclusions from it.

For our part, we’ll write to local fire managers and ask what conclusions they can draw from the finding that long unburnt box ironbark environments are more resilient to drought conditions. We still haven’t quite recovered from an answer given to us by DSE in 2012 in response to a question we put them about their disastrous Tarilta valley burn. The question was, what was the ecological reason for the burn? The answer: ‘Apart from several small bush fires, the burn area has no known fire history. The ecological objective of the burn was to introduce fire into the long unburnt forest.’ If the current research is right, that burn—and a few others like it—significantly reduced the resilience of that patch of bush.

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Frogs wanted

The photo below shows two out of the three ponds created in Victoria Gully Castlemaine, by the Victoria Gully group. The ponds are designed to take runoff from nearby streets, and are to be planted with rushes and tussock grasses suitable for frog habitat.

Two of the three ponds in Victoria Gully: long term frog prospects are hopeful.

The chain of ponds is designed to be intermittently full, and it will play a small part in reducing runoff to Forest Creek in times of heavy rain. The group has been working in the area for several years attacking broom and gorse infestations, and has created two exclusion plots in the degraded gully. The Vic Gully group is auspiced by FOBIF.

Heavy rain over November 16 and 17 over the town of Castlemaine [falls were localised and variable] made a small dent in an otherwise dry prospect, and filled the ponds to overflowing. Falls this year are significantly below long term averages. Apart from big falls in April [141 mls, a hundred more than the average!], nearly every month has been significantly down, the worst being 6 mls in June, 50 mls below average]. Gloomy prognostications aside, however, we live in hope.

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