Grooming Kalimna

As of today, Parks Victoria has started on a program of grooming vegetation in Kalimna Park along the town edge and Moonlight Creek. The program aims at eliminating mainly exotic weeds as a fire protection measure [creating a roughly 50 metre wide border along the town edge], and removing blackberries and other weeds along the creek .

Groomed area near Bull Street: the removal of vegetation is part of a package of fire management actions.

Groomed area near Bull Street: the removal of vegetation is part of a package of fire management actions.

Parks also intends to conduct a fuel reduction burn on Kalimna Point, but we’re not sure when or how this will be done. The Point is a problematic area: to quote from the website of the Friends of the park: ‘Kalimna Point is close to the town and from the early days was a destination for residents to visit as it allowed good views of the district. Between 1903 and the late 1920s the community planted a mix of European and Australian trees around the point and set up benches, a rotunda and a direction finder. Remnants of these avenue plantings and paths still exist.’

The views referred to are now blocked by Sugar Gums and other exotic planted trees. The Point is a bit of a sad relic of its former glory but is not without its charms, a colony of Eltham Copper Butterfly being one: and it’s still very popular with walkers. The Friends group has recently embarked on work on the Rotunda, and there’s definitely potential—with sensitive management—for a site of great recreational and botanical value there. See http://www.kalimnapark.org.au/friends-of-kalimna-park-castlemaine/

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Mt Alex bike track on track, but land status uncertain

The 2015 State budget papers show that the Government’s Regional Infrastructure Fund is to be used to provide money to advance the design and construction of mountain bike tracks on the lower slopes of Mount Alexander.

As we have previously reported, the Mountain Bike Park is to be constructed in the Harcourt Oak forest, currently under management of Hancock Plantations, but soon to revert to public hands. You can find a map of the proposal here.

Previously, we had been led to believe that the plantation would be incorporated into the adjacent Mount Alexander Regional Park; it now appears that Parks Victoria is not keen on this move, and perhaps for good reasons. Legislation governing these parks includes the aims ‘to   preserve, protect and re-establish indigenous flora and fauna in the park’  and to ‘control exotic flora and fauna in the park.’ Given that we’re talking about an oak forest, integration of the plantation would put park managers in a peculiar situation.

We’re not sure who will end up being responsible for the land–presumably it will be DELWP, once the plantation lease expires. The development proposal involves the construction of 16 trails totalling 34 kilometres, essentially around the contours of the site. We’ve been assured that the tracks will not spill over into the Regional Park. Currently there is some rogue bike riding on the steep upper slopes of the Mount. One of the challenges of track designers [and managers of the Great Dividing Trail] is to devise credible trails to divert riders away from destructive routes: and one of the challenges for Parks Victoria is to make sure the Park is protected effectively.

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‘Five per cent’ wobbles, but hasn’t fallen yet…

Is the practice of burning five per cent or more of public land every year finished? Not yet, but its days might be numbered.

The report on fuel management by the Inspector General for Emergency Management [IGEM] was released today. It can be found here. Its recommendation is cautious but clear:

‘IGEM recommends a risk reduction target as the most effective form of performance target for bushfire fuel management on public land to protect life and property and guide investments in fuel reduction burning.’

IGEM had consulted sundry experts on the matter, and accepted submissions from interested groups and individuals. In addition, it commissioned RMIT University to look at the subject. RMIT found that ‘compared to a hectare-based target, a policy that adopts a risk reduction target:

  • is more effective at achieving the objectives of the Bushfire Fuel Management Program (including the primacy of life)
  • provides the right kinds of incentives
  • more easily allows adaptive management
  • is more transparent, more efficient and more equitable.’

127 submissions were received by IGEM, from individuals and groups. Where these expressed a preference for a risk based or hectare based strategy, most favoured the former.

IGEM recognises that transition to a new policy isn’t going to be easy. One of the charms of the five percent target is that it’s relatively easy to implement: draw lines on the map, burn away. Risk reduction doesn’t have the ‘simplicity’ of a hectare target: for that reason, IGEM recognises that the Department of Environment might have a tough job selling the new practice to the public. For that reason, the Inspector General recommends a transition to the new system:The second recommendation of the report reads:

‘In the event that government adopts a risk reduction target:

  • DELWP [Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning] transitions to this target through a defined program of activities and milestones. Effective transitioning will require DELWP to enhance their capacity and capability to implement risk-based planning and needs to be supported by appropriate performance measures and dedicated monitoring, evaluation and review.
  • Government supports DELWP in making this transition.’

The discreet message in this last recommendation is: give the Department the resources to do the job properly.

In the new system, the Department would still be required to report on the number of hectares burned.

Clarity is crucial in such a system: ‘sustained effort will be required to develop the relationships with communities and stakeholders that support mutual understanding of views and values, roles and responsibilities in relation to risk and preparedness.’ The IGEM’s fourth recommendation reads:

  • ‘DELWP report clear, publicly accessible information on bushfire risk and ecosystem resilience, and report on the key activities required to achieve outcomes for the community in these areas.
  • ‘DELWP’s transition to risk-based planning and performance measurement be supported by a program of internal and external reviews.’

The State Government will make a decision on the recommendations ‘later this year’.

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Fire planning: safety, yes–AND healthy forests

FOBIF has made a submission to the Department of Environment’s fire planning process. In it, we’ve repeated a few of the concerns we expressed in our 2014 submission. We’ve received a number of assurances about these concerns–mainly to do with large area burns–but still maintain a keen interest in the practical outcomes.

The substance of the submission is set out below:

***

Because we live close to bushlands we have an obvious interest in fire safety as a priority, but we do not believe this should be achieved by laying waste to bushlands. Our priorities are the same as those repeated in many DSE/DELWP documents: fire safety and ecological health.

General

  • We would like to know how the planned burning program on public land fits with the ‘priority fuel management areas’ referred to in last year’s West Central Risk Landscape management plan, and how it relates to fuel management in the adjacent ‘priority areas’ on private land.
In the Gough's Range State Forest: FOBIF is taking a close interest in large scale burns planned for this and other remoter areas.

In the Gough’s Range State Forest: FOBIF is taking a close interest in large scale burns planned for this and other remoter areas.

Our concerns of last year remain:

  • 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 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.

Specific

  • We remain concerned over the Amanda’s Track, Tarilta valley, Tarrengower, Sandon, Taradale, Gough’s Range and Muckleford/Maldon burns. [see our 2014 submission]

Continue reading

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Green waste collection? Phasing out plastic bags?

FOBIF has made a number of specific suggestions in its submission to the MAS Shire council draft environment strategy. Readers will remember we criticised the draft strategy for being abstract and general…tending to waffle, in fact.

The substance of the FOBIF submission is set out below:

‘We understand that a strategy designed to direct council activities for 10 years should be general and flexible enough to accommodate changed circumstances. Nevertheless, we are disappointed by the extreme vagueness of parts of the document.

Green waste dumped near Morgan's Track: green rubbish is potentially more harmful than other types because of its capacity to spread. We suggest that Council should check out ways of reducing this problem.

Green waste dumped near Morgan’s Track: green rubbish is potentially more harmful than other types because of its capacity to spread. We suggest that Council should check out specific ways of reducing this problem.

‘We would like to make the following points:

  1. ‘On pages 10 and 12 reference is made to the ESD [‘ecologically sustainable development’] leadership, the ESD team, and the Council’s Green Team. Who are they? The fact that these terms are not defined makes the authority structure of the document quite vague.
  1. ‘Page 11: Council leadership by example: ‘appropriate ecotechnologies such as LED streetlights, and using Council’s unique statutory responsibilities to further ESD aims e.g. rate rebates for properties with a conservation covenant in place.’

‘We believe such aims need to be carefully thought through in the detail. For example, we would suggest that rate rebates should be considered for any landholder with positive conservation practices. The singling out of covenanted properties is certain to create counterproductive social tension, and would effectively penalise farmers with good land management practices.

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Eels, agro-forestry, banksias, fire: to find out more, go to…

Looking for  a few new ideas tossed up in good company?

The 2015 Mount Alexander Landcare Forum and Dinner will be held at the Campbells Creek Community Centre on Friday 19 June from 3.00 pm.

The program is as follows:

–3:00pm Welcome

–3:30pm Agroforestry & Landcare – A productive partnership? With Ben Boxshall from the Northern United Forestry Group and Wood 4 Good.

–Afternoon Tea

–4:30pm Applying Indigenous Fire Knowledge to Pasture management With Brendon Kennedy, Indigenous Facilitator from the North East CMA

–5:30pm Saving the Silver Banksias of Baynton Sidonia With Clare Claydon from Baynton Sidonia Landcare Group

–6:15pm Dinner and presentation on The Lake Bolac Eel Festival & Healing Walk with Una Allender & Brett Clarke – who will be performing some of his own songs at the forum.

The event is free to Landcare members and $10 for non members. RSVP to Max Schlacter by June 12 at max@connectingcountry.org.au or 5472 1594m

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Putting some facts on the table

Field Naturalist Richard Piesse met with DELWP officers last week to table surveys conducted by local naturalist Ern Perkins over the last ten years. The intention of the meeting was to highlight the necessity for burn operations to be conducted in full knowledge of the natural values at stake.

Some of the findings of the surveys were:

–A large percentage of the eucalypts in most of the forests are looking stressed due to the cup gum [moth?] caterpillar infestations and our ‘mini drought’ conditions.

Acacia gunnii in the Fryers Ranges,'one of Victoria's best wildflower areas.'

Acacia gunnii in the Fryers Ranges,’one of Victoria’s best wildflower areas.’

–Kalimna Park: Castlemaine must be safe from fire; but lots of KP is a wildflower paradise which should be preserved for the community and visitors.

–Blowmine Track: the latest burn in 2011 destroyed good areas of bushland and the vast majority of the eucalypts

–Flame heath location on Tatt town track: a hot control burn in 2009 appears to have killed off all the flame heaths east of the Tatt Town track.

–Fryers Ridge: one of Victoria’s best wildflower areas; too many fires close to the ridge will destroy the amazing biodiversity. The last was in 2013.

–Southern end of Porcupine Ridge Road [in the vicinity of Wewak Track, Loop Track and the Great Dividing Trail] is similar to the Fryers Ridge, with a great diversity of plants, including threatened species.

FOBIF has consistently argued that all operations in our forests, including fuel reductions, should be conducted by workers fully briefed in detail on what they’re dealing with. There is a large amount of knowledge of these bushlands built up not only by field naturalists, but by Department researchers: but in the past it’s hard to believe any of it was seriously considered before fire operations began. Things may have changed: the survey info presented by Richard was positively received by the fire officers. We’ll see what happens in practice–and, of course, that mainly depends on the resources available to fire personnel.

Meanwhile, the Minister has had the Inspector General for Emergency Management’s report on fire management issues for over two weeks now, but is yet to release it.

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Nuggetty Range walk

The weather on Sunday (17th May) was perfect for our FOBIF walk into the Nuggetty Range. Thirty-three people came along and it was good to see some newcomers to FOBIF on the walk.

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Walkers enjoying the sun and morning tea at a high point on the Range.

The group was ably led by geologist, Brian Cuffley, who had prepared maps and an introductory handout. The Nuggetty Range, he explained

is part of the metamorphic aureole surrounding the Harcourt Granite to the north. The granite has heated and hardened the slate and sandstone bedrock and has produced a hard flinty rock called hornfels. Hornfels is very resistant to erosion, thus it has formed a range about the granite which has weathered away more rapidly.

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This rock from the Nuggetty Gold Mine shows the contact between granite (right) and hornsfel (left).

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Looking into the Nuggetty Gold Mine.

From the Nuggetty Gold Mine, the walk continued in a westerly direction to the lunch spot at the Rock of Ages (Mt Moorul). This location also had a terrific scenic outlook. Walkers then proceeded along the Rock of Ages Track to the beginning point on the corner of Church Street and Davies Lane, Maldon.

Our next walk will be led by Bernard Slattery in the Goughs Range. See walks page for more info.

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Put it in the diary

The FOBIF AGM will be held on Monday July 27 at 7.30 pm at the Ray Bradfield Rooms, beside Victory Park Castlemaine.

The guest speaker will be Sarah Lloyd, author of the remarkable book, Where the slime mould creeps, a guide to common–and strangely beautiful–life forms you never even knew existed. Put it in the diary!

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Our friends the blackberries?

Walkers along the Moonlight Creek edge of Kalimna Park in the last week have been puzzled by the fact that DELWP seems to have gone to a lot of trouble to protect a mountain of blackberries from its recent management burn. This involved carving a fire break around the area, about 50 metres long, and grooming surrounding areas of vegetation.

The mountain of blackberries is more than it seems, however: it conceals–or mostly conceals–a nineteenth century ruin, with adjacent orchard. Looked at with that in mind, it’s quite an evocative sight.

You could walk past it and see only blackberries, but it's actually a historic site, probably dating from the 1870s. The wall of the ruin is to the right.

You could walk past it and see only blackberries, but it’s actually a historic site, probably dating from the 1870s. The wall of the ruin is to the right.

FOBIF had assumed that after the fire exercise had been finished, Parks Victoria would go back and remove the blackberries from the ruin. This is not the case: it’s a depressing fact that the weed is being left there, because it is seen as a deterrent to vandals who might be inclined to come and steal stone from the building.

This isn’t great news, given that there’s a big infestation of blackberry in nearby Moonlight Creek, and this particular weed has expanded its range dramatically since the breaking of the drought. But there’s logic in the managers’ position. Vandalism, in the form of graffiti on historic sites, and removal of relics and building materials, is an international problem. And, believe it or not, weeds have some kind of a record in protecting historic sites: as an example, an Aboriginal stone arrangement in the Western District was protected for many years by an infestation of thistles!

 

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