A cracking day

About 20 people gathered for the second Youth Walk of the year, funded with a Youth Grant from the Mount Alexander Shire Council. Young FOBIF member, Nioka, led the walk through the Eureka Reef interpretive trail, taking in some historic sites and stopping to look at the Billy Buttons and Greenhood orchids. Then the walkers went up to the Monk to take in the views and have a quick break. They then walked down the Monk and on to the Poverty Gully Water Race, taking in a couple of patches of Crimson Spider Orchids on the way.

Mmmm...Stackhousia or orchid? Walkers take a look at what's on offer at the Monk.

Mmmm…Stackhousia or orchid? Walkers take a look at what’s on offer at the Monk.

The walked finished after two hours, ending back at the Eureka Reef carpark for a feed of Bubble and Squeak Burgers hot off the BBQ. It was a cracking day, and the group went off happy and full. One young walker, Holly, was met at the end of the walk by her parents and off they went to Fryerstown for a second bush walk for the day!

Um...where did they come from? Poverty gully: cheaper than the East West tunnel, and more interesting and useful.

Um…where did they come from?

On September 28 the spring walk for children up to the age of 12 with their families will take place at Kaweka Reserve between 10am and 12pm.  Walkers are meeting in Hargreaves Street between Turner St and Halford Street at 10 am. For more information on this walk contact Naomi Raftery on 0422 585 585.

Among the delights on offer to Sunday's walkers: Spider orchid and Billy Buttons.

Among the delights on offer to Sunday’s walkers: Spider orchid and Billy Buttons.

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Fire protection: what should be the priorities?

The Victorian National Parks Association has made its submission to the current draft Fire Operations Plan. Since the VNPA covers statewide fire protection problems much better than we could do, we print its ‘general overview’ of its submission below:

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The VNPA has long held concerns about the level of planned burning in Victoria, and the justifications given for the Fire Operations Plans.

In short, the level of burning is dictated by the 5% annual burn target recommended by the Victoria Bushfires Royal Commission (VBRC). However we note that in the last three reports from the VBRC’s Implementation Monitor, Neil Comrie has strongly advised that the target be reconsidered, because it is unachievable and counterproductive. He says in his last (and final) report that it “will not necessarily reduce the bushfire risk to life and property, and may have adverse environmental outcomes”.

Further, Mr Comrie also pointed out that the VBRC’s recommendations were not to be taken in isolation from each other. That means that Recommendation 56, to burn 5% of public land annually, should be considered in the context of other recommendations that are also designed to save lives, such as:

• Recommendation 57, which asks for an annual report on “prescribed burning outcomes in a manner that meets public accountability objectives”. Although not specifically mentioned in Rec 57, “public accountability” would clearly include the effectiveness of the burn program, especially the cost-effectiveness of the program in reaching the prime objective of the program: saving lives. There has never been a public assessment of the actual effectiveness of the program, despite outcries from the scientific community.

We believe it is high time for an independent assessment of the cost-effectiveness of the burn program as a tool to save lives, and an independent assessment of its impacts on biodiversity.

• Recommendation 4, which asks for the “encouragement of personal shelters around homes”. This recommendation emerged after the urgent call by the VBRC, in its earlier interim report, for the development of an Australian Standard for home bushfire shelters/bunkers. As far as we can see, there is no material widely distributed by DEPI that advises householders to install bunkers, even though well-designed bunkers clearly save lives and avoid the high risk of trying to flee a fire.

• Recommendation 20, which stresses the importance of rapid despatch of aircraft. While aspects of this recommendation have been adopted, and in many instances DEPI’s capability for rapid attack has been demonstrated very successfully, there have been other instances when aircraft have not been available, rendering the call for staff to be ‘on standby’ somewhat purposeless. FOPs should include the need for a rapid attack capability appropriate to the area concerned.

• Recommendation 1, which asks that “local solutions are tailored to and known to local communities through local bushfire planning”.

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What are our ‘high value ecosystem areas’ [and how do we know?]

On Monday August 25 the Department of the Environment and Primary Industries hosted a meeting with representatives of enviro groups from the West Central Risk Management area.

The point of the meeting was to discuss current and future fire planning in this area, which extends from north east of Huntly to south west of Ballarat, and includes Werribee, the Macedon Ranges and Sunbury. Given that only about a dozen community representatives were able to attend [most of them from the Mount Alexander region] the meeting didn’t actually represent environmental groups of communities throughout this area.

Middleton Creek, declared a 'high value ecosystem area' in the government's risk management strategy. here's a question: is 'risk management' compatible with a blunt policy of burning five per cent of public land?

Middleton Creek, declared a ‘high value ecosystem area’ in the government’s risk management strategy. Here’s a question: is ‘risk management’ compatible with a blunt policy of burning five per cent of public land?

As we have reported previously, the Department is talking a lot about ‘risk management’, the approach which, it has been hinted, may take over in fire protection from the very crude and destructive ‘five per cent’ approach, which has involved trashing huge areas of Victoria to no good effect.

Risk management was the talking point at Monday’s meeting. It’s been hard to find out exactly what this means on the ground, so the big achievement on Monday was the unveiling of a map of the area identifying assets for which serious risk assessments are to be made for the purposes of strategic bushfire management.

These assets come in three categories: priority communities, priority infrastructure and high value ecosystems.

The first two of these categories are relatively uncontroversial. In our area, for example, priority communities are Maldon, Harcourt, Castlemaine, McKenzie Hill, Chewton, Elphinstone, Taradale and Fryerstown. Priority infrastructure includes transmission lines and water treatment plant.

From our point of view, the interesting part of the briefing was the nomination of four ‘high value ecosystem areas’ in our region: Mount Alexander, Muckleford forest, a section of Kalimna Park, and a section of bushland apparently encompassing parts of the Tarilta valley and the south end of the Diggings Park near Middleton Creek and Wewak Track.
While we don’t dispute the value of these places, FOBIF representatives at the meeting couldn’t figure out the criteria whereby they, and no other places, were so nominated. The decision making process was outlined, but without access to the supporting documents attendees found it hard to judge this process.

The crude maps supplied by DEPI, for example, seemed to show that the nominated section of Kalimna does not correspond to Eltham Copper Butterfly colonies, which should be a major reason for the park’s special treatment.

The Muckleford Forest section includes areas severely burned in 2012, and others slated for future burns.

And the Tarilta-Middleton Creek area includes sections trashed by DSE in ‘control burns’ in recent years. It also includes the Amanda’s Track area, slated for burning in the current Fire Operations Plan.

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Where do the plantations fit in the Fire Operations Plan?

Residents living near the Hancock Moonlight Flat pine plantations have been informed by company foresters that the plantations are to be harvested and resown this coming season. This finally puts to rest the story that the plantations were slated to be cut and then allowed to revert to bushland under the care of Parks Victoria.

Harvested section of the Moonlight Flat plantation: it is not at all clear how the pines fit into fuel reduction strategies on the adjoining public land.

Harvested section of the Moonlight Flat plantation: it is not at all clear how the pines fit into fuel reduction strategies on the adjoining public land.

In its submission to the draft Fire Operations Plan, FOBIF has requested that the plantations be incorporated into the fire protection strategy for the adjoining public land. We’ve made this request before, without result. It has been consistently surprising to discover how relaxed authorities are about the fire risk from the pines, or how ready they are to say that safety issues are the responsibility of the management company. Our efforts to find out some detail about the fire protection plan for the pines have been completely without success.

Our submission to the draft Fire Operations Plan is as follows:

Thank you for the opportunity to comment on the current FOP draft.

We acknowledge your response to the matters we raised in our 2012 and 2013 submissions. In spite of some modifications to the plan, however, our general concerns remain substantially the same:

• We believe that the five per cent target is skewing burning operations away from strictly safety concerns towards achievement of burn coverage which has little relevance to safety or ecological health, and may be damaging to both. We believe that it should be replaced by the kind of risk based approach recommended by the Royal Commission Implementation Monitor [and supported in theory by DEPI, we have been told].
• We remain disturbed by the unavailability of burn plans and post burn assessments, in spite of the requirements explicitly set out in the Code of Practice.
• We are particularly concerned about the relatively large area burns zoned LMZ [for example, in the Muckleford/Maldon and Amanda’s Track areas], and would like to see the risk management assessments and specific ecological intentions in these burns.

We would like to add the following points:

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7 & 28 September 2014 – Youth & Family Bushwalks

youth-poster

Click to enlarge.

The Spring Youth Bushwalk will be held on Sunday 7 September in Poverty Gully. Young FOBIF member, Nioka Mellick-Cooper, received a grant last year from the Mount Alexander Shire Council’s Youth Grants Program to run bush walks around Castlemaine for younger people.

The first youth bushwalk in March saw an eager group of people walk 5km through the Muckleford Forest and explore Dunn’s Reef and the Red White and Blue Mine.

The next walk will be a bit longer. It will start with the Eureka Reef interpretive trail and walkers will make our way up to the Monk for some wonderful views, and then back down to walk along the Poverty Gully water race, and through the Box and Ironbark forests of the Castlemaine Diggings National Heritage Park.

“It’s great exercise, and it’s a lot of fun to explore the bush,” say Nioka. “You never know what you might see when you’re in the forest.”

The walk is supervised by adults, and participants are taken to and from the walk site by buses.Walkers are meeting at Continuing Education in Templeton Street at 10am. Both adults and teenagers are welcome. Lunch is provided at the end of the walk, and interested people are encouraged to book on 5472 4609.

Click to enlarge.

Click to enlarge.

Three weeks later (September 28) the spring walk for children up to the age of 12 with their families will take place at Kaweka Reserve between 10am and 12pm.  Walkers are meeting in Hargreaves Street between Turner St and Halford Street at 10 am. For more information on this walk click on the flyer at left or contact Naomi Raftery on 0422 585 585.

Cassia Read with children on the Autumn walk.

Cassia Read with children on the Autumn walk.

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The good, and the ugly

Twelve brave walkers braved unpromising forecasts to take on FOBIF’s August walk into the isolated upper reaches of the Columbine Creek catchment on Sunday. As it turned out, the weather was brisk but kind, with plenty of sunshine to take the edge of the breeze.

Walkers in the upper reaches of the Columbine Creek catchment. The wildflower season is getting under way, but illegal timber cutting is rampant.

Walkers in the upper reaches of the Columbine Creek catchment. The wildflower season is getting under way, but illegal timber cutting is rampant.

Walkers were able to observe the growing abundance of wildflowers in the area. Less inspiring is evidence of illegal timber cutting on an almost industrial scale. Although there have been recent prosecutions for illegal firewood collection in this district, we have no doubt that foresters are still battling to cope with the consequences of Coalition decisions to weaken the firewood permit system. This system, which had been introduced by the Bolte Liberal government, served as a means of regulating the effects of firewood collection in public forests.

One of the dozens of examples of illegal firewood cutting in the Columbine Creek valley. Illegal cutting is partly the consequence of government decisions to weaken 60 year old permit regulations.

One of the dozens of examples of illegal firewood cutting in the Columbine Creek valley. Illegal cutting is partly the consequence of government decisions to weaken 60 year old permit regulations.

 

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Draft Fire Operations Plan released

The draft fire operations plan for Murray Goldfields district has been released, and is open for public comment till August 31. The full plan can be found here, or can be seen at the Mount Alexander Shire offices in Lyttleton Street.

The Plan is similar to last year’s document, but contains some new proposed burns, mostly small in area, close to Castlemaine and Newstead.

Members are encouraged to have a look at the plan as a whole, and in particular the new proposed burns, and to express an interest in the areas they are most familiar with.

It should be noted that in spite of an increased interest in conducting small, strategic fuel reductions that might actually protect the public from bushfire, the government is charging ahead with its rolling target of burning five per cent of public land per year. The target for 2014-5 is 385,942 hectares; for each of the following two years it’s over 450,000 ha.

Submissions to the Plan should be sent to

Program Manager
Planned Burning and Roading
PO Box 905
Mildura VIC 3502
or to
loddonmallee.plannedburning@depi.vic.gov.au

FOBIF will be making a submission to the Plan in the next couple of weeks.

 

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Box Ironbark AGM

Thirty members and guests turned up to the FOBIF Annual General Meeting on Monday night to hear an entertaining and informative talk by George Milford on the chequered history of Mount Alexander, with an emphasis on its little known industrial side.
The meeting passed motions reaffirming the annual subscription fee of $10 for an individual and $15 for a family, and approving a committee size of four office bearers and three ordinary members.
The new committee is as follows: President: Marie Jones; Vice President: Neville Cooper; Secretary: Naomi Raftery; Treasurer: Lynette Amaterstein; Ordinary members: Frank Panter, Bronwyn Silver, and Bernard Slattery

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Safety last?

The Conversation website this weekend carries an important article by Deakin University researchers on the burning program currently supported by both major parties in Victoria.

Revealingly titled ‘Burnoff policies could be damaging habitats for 100 years’ the article patiently explains how inappropriate burning can cause long term damage to the environment.

But is the program making us safer? The following paragraph tells the story:

‘Scientists from the Department of Environment and Primary Industries have estimated that less than 3% of the statewide risk to life and property is located in the Murray Mallee region. Yet 16.9% of the planned burning by area in 2012-2013 occurred there. Conversely, although the more populated areas closer to Melbourne accounted for 31% of risk, only around 1.6% of planned burning took place in that region.’

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Royal Commission Monitor hits the target, again

The Royal Commission Implementation Monitor, Neil Comrie, has once again questioned the policy of burning five per cent of public land annually. The Monitor’s Annual report is released today. It can be found here.

The relevant section of the report is on pages 51-2. It runs as follows:

‘The [Monitor's] 2012 Final Report advocated that the State reconsider the planned burning rolling target of five per cent and replace it with a risk based approach focused on the protection of life and property. In 2013, the BRCIM went further stating concerns that the 390,000 ha target may not be achievable, affordable or sustainable. The BRCIM’s view in relation to this target is unchanged. Area based hectare targets alone will not necessarily reduce the bushfire risk to life and property in Victoria and may have adverse environmental outcomes…

‘With the benefit of five years dedicated work in this area, the BRCIM considers it may be timely for the State to reconsider [Royal Commission] Recommendation 56, having regard to the positive shift in focus from a numeric area based target to a risk based approach in order to deliver an effective long term program of planned burning.’

Will the State Government — or the Labor Party, which has the same policy–reconsider the target in the light of these continuing recommendations? We’re not hopeful. After Mr Comrie’s 2012 report Minister Ryan said ‘I see the logic of what he argues and we will give it due consideration.’ When we asked the minister what was the result of this ‘due consideraton’ all we got was a set of evasions.

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