A stroll into the Gorge

Twenty two walkers enjoyed a fine winter’s day for the July FOBIF walk into Muckleford Gorge on Sunday the 20th. The walk was led by Deirdre and Bernard Slattery, and the group heard an informative talk from farmer Ian Garsed before descending into the spectacular valley. Ian and his family manage the Gorge largely for conservation, and he gave an engaging account of the difficulties and rewards of having responsiblity for such an important part of the landscape.

Walkers look across the gorge to the edge of the lava flow, before making the descent. Mount Franklin is in the distance.

Walkers look across the gorge to the edge of the lava flow, before making the descent. Mount Franklin is in the distance.

Although the Muckleford Creek is not flowing at this point, there are enough substantial pools to preserve the picturesqueness of the situation; and the dry sections allowed the group to criss cross the creek for easier walking–though it has to be said that some of the crossings were easier than others. Once again our thanks go to Ian for his unfailing generosity to our walking groups. Thanks also to Barb Guerin for her lucid explanations of the geological formations along the Creek. The August walk will be in the Fryers Ranges. Check the program for details.

FOBIF walkers checking out the cliffs at the bottom of the Muckleford Gorge.

FOBIF walkers checking out the cliffs at the bottom of the Muckleford Gorge.

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Have another look at the Mount

It’s a special place to the Jaara people, has been exploited for its timber and heavily grazed; and now its role is primarily for conservation and recreation. It’s the biggest place in our region: Mount Alexander.

Mount Alexander faces winter, July 17 2014: the Mount has many moods, and an interesting history, which will be the subject of George Milford's talk at the FOBIF AGM on July 11.

Mount Alexander faces winter, July 17 2014: the Mount has many moods, and an interesting history, which will be the subject of George Milford’s talk at the FOBIF AGM on July 11. Photo: John Ellis

At the FOBIF AGM on August 11 George Milford will talk about the history of  Mount Alexander–more details later.

Members are reminded that nominations to the FOBIF committee are open now. Nominations should be signed by the nominee and two other FOBIF members.

For more pictures of Mount Alexander during that winter blast on the 17th, have a look at https://www.facebook.com/pages/Chewtonnet/288889464550308

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Can we reduce fire risk without trashing the joint?

Management of fire risk doesn’t only concern public land managers. That’s why last Sunday’s Connecting Country Living with fire and wildlife workshop for property holders was a welcome addition to community knowledge.

The purpose of the day was
• to use a local property as an example
• to improve participants’ general understanding of managing vegetation to maximise biodiversity and minimise fire risk AND
• to enhance their ability to interpret the landscape with the aim of balancing ecological asset and fire risk at the property and landscape level.
A big ask – but judging by the evaluations made at the end of the workshop there was a feeling that people would be able to return to their properties and use the skills and ideas gained to re-assess how they would manage in the future.
The speakers were refreshingly candid and very knowledgeable – Field Ecologist Julie Whitfield and Fire Ecologist David Cheal (both ex-DEPI) and Owen Goodings, CFAs Statewide Team Leader Vegetation Management. Added to this mix was the excellent facilitation by Chris Johnson, the organisation of Janet Barker and her team and the generous Taradale hosts Christine and Team Henderson.

The over arching message of the day was: know your property and its values, and the landscape it’s sitting in: there are no simple solutions to this problem.

A further report and resource information will be posted on www.connectingcountry.org.au

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Fire planning starts again

Along with other interested parties, FOBIF has been invited by DEPI to express its ‘fire management priorities, issues or concerns as they relate to DEPI’s strategic fire management priorities, and also about fire prevention works’ in our area.
This is a standard annual consultation about the Fire Operations Plan and its implementation. It’s both a sensible method of consultation and an intensely frustrating merry go round: the important features of the burning program have already been set by

Highly flammable weeds, mainly gorse, on the northern edge of Chewton: FOBIF believes that public safety is best served by careful management of fuel close to settlements, not indiscriminate burning of large areas of remote bushland.

Highly flammable weeds, mainly gorse, on the northern edge of Chewton: FOBIF believes that public safety is best served by careful management of fuel close to settlements, not indiscriminate burning of large areas of remote bushland.

the State Government, and any submissions will necessarily be picking at details of  the Plan. Nevertheless, FOBIF believes that fire managers are generally prepared to listen to community input, and for that reason we will be making a submission to the process. Our emphases will be essentially consistent with past submissions: we believe that dangerous areas close to settlement should be DEPI’s priority, and that where these include high quality bushland, especial care should be taken to protect biodiversity in any operation. Our most recent detailed submission on the Fire Protection Plan can be found here, and DEPI’s response to that submission here. Member suggestions about any aspect of the local fire plan are welcomed.

 

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Why we should like ants

‘I like ants and this talk is about why you should like ants.’ That’s how entomologist Alex Wild started his talk to his audience of 140 at the Newstead Landcare event on Sunday.
In a hugely entertaining talk, peppered with questions from the audience, Alex ranged widely over matters to do with ants, structured around the ‘three reasons why ants are important, and why they run everything in Australia’.

Bullant [genus Myrmecia] exploring a DSE 'control burn' in the Diggings Park, 2010: ants are not only intriguing, they're good for the soil. Photo: John Ellis

Bullant [genus Myrmecia] exploring a DSE ‘control burn’ in the Diggings Park, 2010: ants are not only intriguing, they’re good for the soil. Almost all bullant species are endemic to Australia. Photo: John Ellis


First, they eat practically anything, and therefore channel biomass around; second, they dig down sometimes to surprising depths, aerating soil and allowing water penetration: in a dry climate they are more important than earthworms, and there’s strong experimental evidence to show that they increase crop yields; and third, they are so numerous that many other organisms are dependent on them for survival, for one reason or another.

Among many other fascinating observations about ants, their social organisation and their territorial wars, Alex pointed out that feral scourges like the Argentine and Fire Ants flourish in disturbed situations: the implication being that looking after the environment is a sensible preventive measure against foreign invasions. And he finished by showing a common enough picture of a bush track, with the comment: ‘There are probably 100 species of ants in this picture.’ Enough reason for us all to pay more attention to the detail: and one way to do this is by checking out the CSIRO’s Ants Down Under website.

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Anonymous mound of dirt tells a story

The photo below shows a barely noticeable mound of dirt, covered with grass, next to the Limestone Track near the Tarilta Creek crossing. Passers by might not give it a glance: a pity, because this mound of dirt should be a provocative reminder of DSE’s 2012 ‘ecological’ burn, and of the dangers of large scale burning operations

You could pass by and not notice it: but this mound of dirt is a relic of DSE's disastrous 2011 'ecological' burn.

You could pass by and not notice it: but this mound of dirt is a relic of DSE’s disastrous 2011 ‘ecological’ burn.

The mound of dirt is part of the huge quantity of soil washed off the slopes of the Tarilta valley after the burn off. Tarilta Creek was choked with silt, and some of it ended up choking the Limestone Track bridge underpass:

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Floods: here’s why

Floods can be complicated, but the fundamental cause isn’t: water falls from the sky in volumes too big to be confined within watercourses. These overflow onto flood plains. That’s it.

There can be additional factors, of course: if vegetation in the catchments has been stripped—say, by fire, or unwise clearing—then violent rain can cause massive washaways and erosion. And the disaster is compounded when people have built homes on the flood plain, something Australians have been prone to do for 200 years [see our Post].

This is what happened in the floods which devastated Castlemaine in 1889. Doug Ralph, presenter of the Tuesday history program on Main FM [94.9], has unearthed an interesting contemporary discussion of the event from the Argus newspaper [26/1/89]. The journalist, writing under the name Telemachus, is travelling in this region with George Perrin, Conservator of Forests in Victoria:

Forest Ck-Barkers Ck junction, January 2011: native vegetation along creeks does not increase flood levels. Discussion of the disastrous 1889 floods centred around three factors: the huge dumps of rain; stripping of hillsides of vegetation, which worsened runoff; and degradation of creeks in mining works.

Forest Ck-Barkers Ck junction, January 2011: native vegetation along creeks does not increase flood levels. Discussion of the disastrous 1889 floods centred around three factors: the huge dumps of rain; stripping of hillsides of vegetation, which worsened runoff; and degradation of creeks in mining works.

‘”I could make a fine forest there.” Thus Mr. Perrin, as we ran along beyond Taradale towards Castlemaine, through the hills which the diggers tunnelled and honey-combed, and stripped, and left desolate and hideous, over so many Australian leagues…

‘…”Killing out the forest caused all that.” Thus, again, Mr Perrin, as we look down the long valley of Castlemaine, strewn with the wreckage of the late disastrous flood. “Silting up our creek caused all that,” said the townsfolk, sitting in sack cloth and ashes amongst the ruins, and probably the one statement was as near the truth as the other, and both a good way off. I believe still that flood was one of the few incidents which may fairly be described as an act of God. The powers of nature gathered those clouds together, and the

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Petition about the Wellsford Forest

Several weeks ago we wrote a post about the Wellsford Forest Conservation Alliance efforts to upgrade the Wellsford Forest to national park status. The group is concerned that at present the forest, with nine 500-year-old ironbark trees, is vulnerable to logging and firewood collection.

The group have created a petition on Community Run (part of GetUp) called Protect the Wellsford Forest. They aim to present the petition to parliament in September.

Click here for the petition. The page also has links to several articles about the Wellsford Forest.

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A walk in Kalimna Park

julian-hollis

Julian Hollis addressing the group.

FOBIF’s June walk to Kalimna Park was led by retired geologist Julian Hollis. There were twenty walkers. Luckily the rain held off and the morning was good for brisk walking.

This was the second of Julian’s walks with the group to Kalimna and this time he concentrated on the northern end of the park ending up in the Karrook Bushland Reserve. This reserve was purchased by public donation and added to the Park over 10 years ago.

Julian pointed out numerous geological features and evidence of mining along the way. Two points of interest towards the end of the walk were an aqueduct and several quarries.

Being June there were few plants in flower. However there was plenty of moss, lichen and fungi, some flowering Downy Grevillea (Grevillea alpina) and many low sprouting leaves of Greenhood orchids. A selection of photos taken by Dominique Lavie can be found here on Facebook.

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Downy Grevilia, unknown fungi, and Triquetrella Papillata

Thanks to Julian for leading another informative and authoritative walk in our local area. Our next walk will be led by Bernard Slattery and take place in the Muckleford South area.

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Tassie fire chief: reduction target ‘no benefit’ to safety

At the risk of beating the same old drum on the five per cent burning target practised by the Victorian Government,  we reprint here reports from Tasmania on the island government’s parallel policy. The report is from the Weekly Times of June 14:

‘TASMANIA’S top fire chief has warned the state government its fuel-reduction target has no benefit” for public safety, cannot be delivered with current staff levels and will cause substantial” smoke pollution.

‘Chief fire officer Mike Brown’s confidential advice to the new Hodgman Liberal government reveals serious misgivings at the highest levels about the plan.

‘As promised at the March election, the government is committed to a target burning of 60,000ha each year — at a cost to taxpayers of $28.5 million over four years.

‘However, Mr Brown warns the policy can only easily be achieved by burning remote public land, while the real need is to reduce fuel loads on private land near towns and cities.

‘“Burning only public land will not protect Tasmanian communities (because only) approximately 20 per cent of the urban interface is with public land, the remainder is with private,” Mr Brown advises.

‘“A 60,000 ha target can be achieved easily (by) undertaking remote-area burning, with no benefit to community safety … (We) need to look at policy and/or regulatory instruments around permissions to undertake fuel management on private land.”

‘Mr Brown’s briefing note — Election Commitments Briefing For Incoming Government — advises there are not enough personnel to conduct the scale of burning envisaged.

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