Now’s the time to put it to the pollies

Recent polls have found that 81% of Victorian voters support more funding for the protection of nature, 57% oppose private developments in National Parks, and the environment is a bigger issue of concern than law-and-order and roads.

There are polls and polls, of course, but these findings look pretty reasonable from here. In any case, FOBIF believes that candidates in the upcoming election should be put on the spot about what they think about issues to do with the management of nature. We’ve circulated to members a list of questions it might be worth putting to candidates nominated so far. We hope lots of people will take the opportunity to ask the questions–and that they make it clear they don’t want pre packaged party responses. Let’s find out whether the candidates really have thought about the issues [and have serious convictions about them], or whether they’re just regurgitating the Party line.

Here are some questions we think are worth a run:

1. In 2012-13 the State Government embarked on a program of cutting 10% of Parks Victoria’s staff, continuing a process of cuts begun under the previous government. Do you support these cuts? Can you tell me how many Park Rangers are looking after parks in the Bendigo region? Do you think MPs would be more efficient if their funding was cut by 10%?

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Snakes alive–and dead

The photo below shows an Eastern Brown snake [Pseudonaja textilis—‘brown’ is a pretty broad description: the snake can be any shade of brown from almost orange to nearly black] crossing the Irishtown Track in the Fryerstown forest last week. The warmer weather is bringing snakes out, and the Brown is one of the more common ones in our region, particularly around towns and settlements: it has enthusiastically incorporated mice and rats into its diet, which has enabled it to adapt more easily to human environments.

Brown snake crossing the Irishtown Track, October 2014: its taste for rats and mice make it a great pest controller. The best defence against snake bite is common sense: about two Australians per year die from bites, and the majority are people trying to attack or handle the reptile.

‘Deadly reptile slithers towards the urban sprawl’. Populist hysteria doesn’t mesh with the facts: about two Australians per year die from bites, and the majority are people trying to attack or handle the reptile.

The Brown is highly venomous—but it’s not keen on attacking anyone as big as a human, and like the pictured specimen, will always try to get away if it can. If cornered however, it is extremely nervous and aggressive. The moral therefore is, don’t approach any snake, and dress appropriately if going into areas where one might be met. The great  majority of snake bite deaths have arisen when people unwisely take on the reptile [if you want to get it away from the house, call a snake catcher]. It is, of course, illegal to kill snakes, which are protected animals. For pets, the best advice is, don’t let them roam around the bush ferreting into holes; in any case, dogs should be on a leash in the Diggings Park.

Common sense is the best defence against snake bite, but unfortunately hysteria is more common than common sense, as witness a 2013 Sydney Telegraph headline: ‘Snakes are raiding the suburbs…Fatal snake bites will become a tragedy repeated this summer as the deadly reptiles—thriving in hot conditions—slither towards the urban sprawl.’ This horror movie scenario doesn’t fit well with the fact that on average less than 3 people per year over the whole of Australia die from snake bite: far more people are killed by bee stings…

…And the odds are stacked against the snake: more than five million reptiles are killed by cars in Australia every year. According to the Australian Museum, ‘countless’ Brown snakes perish in this way, ‘both accidentally and on purpose’.

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Campbells Creek: celebrating a revival

In 1846 Joseph Parker described Campbells creek as

‘A scene of beautiful, crystal like waterholes, which sparkled in the glittering rays of the sun; every  waterhole was teeming with fish,and flocks of ducks.On the slopes and hills on either side of the creek, stood evergreen trees, with such even regularity, as to lead one to believe that they had been planted by the hand of science, consisting of golden, silver and black wattle, many of them in full bloom, also blackwood, sheoak and honeysuckle…’

Campbells Creek from the footbridge: many years of work by the Friends group have brought a remarkable revival.

Campbells Creek from the footbridge: many years of work by the Friends group have brought a remarkable revival.

Parker called it ‘nature’s paradise’, but the creek got a bit of a battering over the following century: you can see a photo of a section of it in 1946 here. Its current revival is the result of the commitment and hard work of the Friends of Campbells Creek and about 100 people rocked up to the Friends community day last Sunday to celebrate the creek and its future as a community resource. Have a look at the group’s Facebook page for more details.

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Burning boronias

Last week DEPI conducted a management burn in the area designated Fryerstown Block 5, a 44 hectare roughly triangular block between the Campbells Creek Irishtown Road and the Chewton-Vaughan road [see map below].

The fire was designated Asset Protection: the most severe of DEPI’s burn categories, designed to reduce fuel, without regard to ecological values. It’s one of only two areas in this shire where you can find Sticky Boronia [Boronia anemonifolia], a beautiful pink flowering shrub, which flowers in October.

Struggling boronia, Irishtown: few if any of the plants are likely to survive.

Struggling boronia, Irishtown: few if any of the plants are likely to survive.

The plants–there are less than a dozen of them–did not do well. On our estimation it’s likely only one will survive, though we’ll monitor the area to see what happens in the next twelve months and beyond. We’ll also be interested to see how the Department rehabilitates the earth breaks bulldozed around the fire.

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Last FOBIF walk for the year

Alex Panelli led the last 2014 walk on 19 October in the Fryers Ranges around the Sugarbag Track area. Noel Young wrote the following piece on the walk and included an extensive flowering plant list:

On a day of glorious weather, the walk for most of us quickly turned into a Wildflower Walk as Alex had selected an area which was flowering profusely and appeared to be at the peak of the season. Unlike last month’s walk there was no sign of cup moth damage, and the trees looked very healthy. Another healthy sign was the almost constant calling of birds all along the track. Although I have not mastered all the bird calls, I could list as definites: Horsefield’s Bronze Cuckoo, Golden Bronze Cuckoo, Fan-tail Cuckoo, Grey Thrush, White throated Tree-creeper, Rufous Whistler, Fuscous Honey-eater, Olive backed Oriole, Grey Fantail, Blue Wren, Kookaburra, and Spotted Pardalote.

I counted about 30 species of flowering plants: Yam Daisy, Slender Rice flower, Pink Bells, Milkmaids, Creamy Candles, Primrose Goodenia, Fairy Wax-flower, Common Beard-heath, Grey Everlasting, Sticky Everlasting, Downy Grevillea, Billy Buttons, Fireweed (Senecio sp), Showy Parrot-pea, Matted Bush-pea, Prostrate Flat-pea, Bulbine lily. Chocolate lily, Black Anther Flax-lily, Erect Guinea-flower, Daphne Heath, Native Violet and Twining Fringe-lily.

Spider-orch-10049

Spider Orchid (Caladenia phaeoclavia). Photo by Noel Young

Orchids: Spotted Sun-orchid, Bearded Greenhood, Purplish Beard-orchid, Pink Fingers, Hooded Caladenia and Waxlip Orchid.

Theo Mellick-Cooper took the first three photos below and the rest were taken by Bronwyn Silver. Click to enlarge.

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The Road Not Taken

web-map

Robert Frost wrote a famous poem called ‘The Road Not Taken’ that begins with the line ‘Two roads diverged in a yellow wood’. Had he been writing about Kalimna Park he might have added ‘then diverged again, and again, and again’. It’s a fact that Kalimna Park has got more trails than it knows what to do with and a walk there almost always involves a series of decisions about which ‘road’ to take that day.

Enter Jase Haysom. Central Victoria’s original GPS-wielding cartographic adventurer and community mapper extraordinaire. Jase has spent the last few months mapping Kalimna Park to create a topographical map that shows almost all of the roads and trails in the Park – he drew the line at kangaroo paths and goat tracks.

Thanks to Jase’s effort you can now download a map of Kalimna Park page from his Cartography Community Mapping website.

The map will also be made available as a hardcopy from the Castlemaine Information Centre and will be used by the Friends of Kalimna Park to help them plan activities and promote the park. The Friends hope that the map can eventually be installed at the Kalimna Point carpark.

As for the ‘road not taken’, Jase will never have to sigh at the thought it – he’s mapped them all!

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‘Foolishly, disastrously wrong’

‘There was never a body of men so foolishly, disastrously wrong,’ wrote Eric Rolls in his 1984 book, They all ran wild.

He was talking about the Acclimatisation Societies of Australia, people who believed that this continent was lacking in nice plants and animals, and decided to bring a few good ones in. Among their introductions were carp, rabbits, sparrows and starlings.

Local researcher Doug Ralph has unearthed the 1874 annual report of the Castlemaine branch of the society. It’s easy to be superior about their efforts from this distance, but their attitudes were shared by some pretty well informed people at the time: Victoria’s preeminent botanist, Ferdinand von Mueller, for example, is responsible for bringing blackberries into the state!

Assorted weeds near Chewton: the nineteenth century enthusiasm to 'improve' Australia has left us with an expensive legacy of feral plants and animals.

Assorted weeds near Chewton: the nineteenth century enthusiasm to ‘improve’ Australia has left us with an expensive legacy of feral plants and animals.

Part of the 1874 report is printed below. It’s worth noting that the society’s effort to bring carp to the district eventually failed. This pest didn’t appear in numbers in Victoria till the mid 20th century:

‘In our last report we stated that the efforts of the society had been more particularly directed to stocking the various reservoirs and watercourses with fish This work has been continued during the past year, and we have received from the Ballarat Fish Acclimatisation Society several consignments of English perch, which have been placed in the Muckleford Creek and elsewhere We cannot omit referring to the immense amount of food and enjoyment this fish has afforded to the inhabitants of Ballarat, when from Lake Wendouree (which was four years ago a dry plain) upwards of nine tons of fish were caught during the past season We have every reason to believe that our experiments may prove equally successful. The trout which we reported as having been placed in the Harcourt reservoir we have not yet heard of any being seen or caught. But, in case they have survived, we should have some evidence during the next few months. The Murray cod and other fish
placed in the Expedition Pass Reservoir we have information that they have been seen, and no doubt during the next season there will be plenty of fish for the anglers in this sheet of water. The carp also have multiplied wonderfully in the several private dams where they were placed, and no doubt they exist in large quantities in the various larger reservoirs where they have been placed.

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Risky business

Strategic bushfire management plan: West Central bushfire risk landscape. DEPI 2014

This document has been anticipated with some interest—as have its companions, the plans for the East Central and Barwon Otways districts. It was launched at last Friday’s Creswick conference by Lee Miezis, DEPI’s Executive Director, fire and emergency management– with some suggestion that it promised a new improved approach to fire management.

The promise is still there: there’s no doubt that careful risk assessments and computer modelling of bushfire behaviour could enormously improve our capacity to deal with bushfires. This document disappoints in the delivery, however.

Fuel management map: the grey areas are 'priority fuel management areas. In our area they're north and west of Castlemaine, Maldon and the Midland Highway. 40% of planned burning on public land will be in these areas...which are mostly private land.

Fuel management map: the mid grey areas are ‘priority fuel management areas’. In our area they’re north and west of Castlemaine, Maldon and the Midland Highway. 40% of planned burning on public land will be in these areas…which are mostly private land.

Its first problem is that it largely confines its consideration of risk to the matter of fuel and fuel management. On page 31 of a 33 page document we’re told that fuel management is ‘only one of a range of approaches to reduce bushfire risk on public land.’ The others include prevention, preparation, response and recovery.

You’d think the first of these [‘prevention, to minimise the occurrence of bushfires, particularly those started by people’] would be a high priority, given that most fires are started by people [in the Mount Alexander shire there are an average of 53 fires a year, and only 6 of these are naturally occurring. 42% of fires dealt with by DEPI since 1972 have been accidents, 35% were deliberate, and 17% ‘unknown or other causes’]. It will be dealt with ‘over the next few years’. In the mean time we have a range of advertising and punitive measures with a limited success record. Priority is given to fuel, and the community is given to understand that its management is the main way to reduce risk.

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Six seasons – not four! A journey through the six seasons of the Wombat Forest

Tanya Loos will be giving a one-hour presentation on her recently published Daylesford Nature Diary at the next Newstead Landcare Group meeting on this Thursday (16 October). The evening will start at 8pm and take place at the Newstead Community Centre. The talk will be followed by a very brief AGM and a light supper. Gold coin donations would be appreciated. Tanya will also have copies of her book for sale.

If you like the idea of marking the seasons by such things as the arrival of spring migrants, or fabulous fruiting fungi – do come along.

There is also more information on Tanya and her diary on the Connecting Country website.

poster DND

 

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Act first, think later

A conference on bushfire management reform held at Creswick on October 10 served to highlight some of the complexities in fire management, and to underline the difference between Government policy and the views of conservationists.

The difference centres around whether a risk management strategy is compatible with having a fixed target for burning public land.

The conservationist [and scientific] view is: first you do an assessment of the bushfire risk, then you respond to that risk in appropriate ways: that is, by educating people about the dangers, controlling development in dangerous areas, building rapid attack firefighting capacity, developing a refuge strategy, and carefully calculating fuel reduction programs.

Muckleford Demo track, November 2011: even if risk analysis showed that the burning program wasn't making us safer, the Government would still be committed to it.

Muckleford Demo track, November 2011: even if risk analysis showed that the burning program wasn’t making us safer, the Government would still be committed to it.

There’s debate about how effective the Government’s effort has been on the first four of these approaches; but on fuel reduction the situation is stark.

The Government view is that you decide in advance how much land you burn, then you work on the risks: you try to burn smarter, and you do a lot of monitoring, but none of this influences the amount of burning you do.

In other words, even if the risk analysis and the monitoring program demonstrate conclusively that the burning program is not making people safer, but is doing a lot of environmental damage, you keep on with it.

A fixed burning target is clearly not compatible with serious risk management: this point has been made clear by the Royal Commission Implementation Monitor and many others. The government, however, is sticking grimly to the policy. The Labor Party appears to be doing the same, perhaps not grimly, but gormlessly.

The above depressing theme tended to overshadow an otherwise informative conference. DEPI went to a lot of trouble to assemble numerous experts to explain and explore ideas on risk modelling, ecological monitoring, and ecological resilience.

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