Historic places report on the way

The Victorian Environmental Assessment Council (VEAC) will submit the Final Report on its Historic Places Investigation to the Minister for Energy, Environment and Climate Change on Wednesday 31 August 2016, rather later than originally planned.  The report will be publicly released on Wednesday 7 September and will be made available on that day at www.veac.vic.gov.au.

Readers will recall FOBIF made a critical submission to the draft report in December last year. We’ll be curious to see if any of our criticisms have resulted in changes to the document.

Two information sessions on the report will be held not long after its release. One is in Melbourne. The other is in Chewton on Friday 9 September from 10:30 am to 11:30 am at the Chewton Senior Citizens Centre, 201 Main Road/Pyrenees Highway, Chewton (Car park access off Mount Street).

If you want to attend, you need to register with VEAC by phone [1800 134 803 (Free call outside Melbourne)] or email:  veac@delwp.vic.gov.au

The State Government will give its response to the report within six months.

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Undeterred by a bit of mist

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Some of the Sunday’s walkers

A small group braved low temperatures, threatening cloud and persistent drizzle on Sunday for FOBIF’s August walk in Walmer. The weather looked worse than it really was, however, and the walk proved a pleasant stroll through mist barely strong enough to dampen the face. What’s more, leader Paul Hampton organised things superbly so that the last half hour was in brilliant sunshine: and only as walkers got into their cars at the very end did the skies open for a bit of a downpour.

The thick mist did obscure some of the brilliant views to be had from the hills in this part of Muckleford, but there was plenty to see close to hand:  Leopard Orchids, Caladenias, fields of Early Nancy, Hovea in flower, and carpets of moss and coral lichen. Paul also provided some fascinating insights into the social and ecological history of the area.

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White Marianth and Blue Caladenia. Photos by Geraldine Harris

September’s walk will be a ramble on The Monk, led by Elaine Bayes and  Damien Cook. Check the walks program for details.

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What’s eating our red gums?

For some months now, local Red Gums, especially around Mount Alexander, have been looking pretty bedraggled, attacked by some leaf eating insect we’ve been unable to identify. It seems to prefer only Red Gums: many Australians are unable to tell eucalypt species apart, but our insects are pretty good at it.

Green Lane Sutton Grange, August 7: The trees on the left are Candlebarks, whose foliage is untouched. The others are Red Gums, in dire condition from leaf attack.

Green Lane, Sutton Grange, August 7: The trees on the left are Candlebarks, whose foliage is untouched. The others are Red Gums, in dire condition from leaf attack.

Any suggestions about what the culprit is would be welcome. Infestations of Red Gums are pretty common, but this one looks more drastic than most.

Part of our problem is that the Red Gum is a generous host. A 2002 experiment found over 450 insect species in the canopies of just two trees near the Murray River! (You can find this info and a million other fascinating things in Flooded forest and desert creek, ecology and history of the River Red Gum, by Matthew Coloff–it’s in the Goldfields library system). So presumably there are several hundred suspects in this assault case…

Red gum leaves: trees of this species have been looking stressed for some months throughout the region.

Red gum leaves: trees of this species have been looking stressed for some months in parts of the region.

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Fire monitoring abandoned before it’s begun

As we have previously reported, funding for the very worthy Box Ironbark mosaic burning project has been ceased. But we had been led to believe that this all too brief project would be continued in some reduced way by DELWP staff who could monitor a restricted range of post fire effects.

This hope is now gone. We’ve been informed that no further monitoring is planned–DELWP doesn’t have the staff to do it.

This well designed project lasted only two unusually wet years, and obviously needed further work to give its findings solid credibility. A depressingly familiar pattern is being repeated. There isn’t enough money to run land management properly: so DELWP fire operations will continue to be run without serious, detailed knowledge of their ecological effects.

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2015-16 AGM minutes and committee meeting reminder

The minutes from the 2016 minutes which was held on July 11th can be found here.

Details from the night can be viewed on our earlier post here.

FOBIF committee meetings are held on the second Monday of each month at Continuing Ed on Templeton St, Castlemine at 6pm. All are welcome to attend these usually short and often jolly affairs.

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A walk in winter sunshine

A strong turnout rocked up for FOBIF’s July walk in bracing winter sunshine on Sunday. The walk took in several unnamed ridge tops and hidden valleys in a loop around the Helge Track area. Temperatures during the day were low, but the bush presented well in bright sunshine, and a bit of sweat was generated on a couple of the climbs.

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Walkers surrounded by Golden Wattle. Photo by Liz Martin

Four species of wattle were in flower, hillsides were covered in rich moss carpets, and there was plenty of interesting fungi about.

The three photos below were taken by Liz Martin. You can see more photos of the walk on Dominique Lavie’s facebook page.

Next month’s walk will be led by Paul Hampton in the Walmer area. For details check the walks program.

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Fire on the Loddon? Not so much, but…

As we’ve previously reported, draft DELWP fire maps have shown an area along the Loddon River between Vaughan and Glenluce as Zone 2 (bushfire management): this would require management burns to cover 80% of the defined area at uncomfortably regular intervals.

We questioned fire officers at the June meeting of the Castlemaine Field Naturalists about the safety value and ecological impact of such a plan, and  have since been informed not only that the area has now been changed to Zone 3, Landscape Management (a gentler system of fuel management) but that the Department will not deliberately burn River Red Gum zones like this one. FOBIF is extremely wary of any plan to deliberately burn this steep river valley, and will watch the future planning of fire along the valley to see exactly what is intended for this area.

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Fire [2]: that old tree question, again…

Readers will be familiar with our repeated complaint that DELWP’s fuel reduction exercises frequently destroy valuable old hollow bearing trees. This is unintentional, but often seems to us to be plain careless. It isn’t just a local problem: Gippsland research has shown that hollow bearing trees are 22 times more likely to fall down in fuel reduction zones than in unburnt areas.

In response to questions about this, Simon Brown, senior DELWP fire management officer for Murray Goldfields, has informed us that ‘standard operating procedures’ have been adopted to try to avoid such disasters in the future. [The most recent one was in an otherwise mild burn in Kalimna Park in 2015].

Among other things, fire zones will be checked the day after the operation to make sure no large trees are burning at the base. It’s frequently been observed by local residents that DELWP fires smoulder on unattended for days, and we have had assurances before that sites will be more attentively monitored.  We’ll watch this one great interest.

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Pyrenees Highway: an update

Compared to the massacre which they have perpetrated at the Ravenswood interchange of the Calder Freeway, Vicroads’ plans for tree removal along the Pyrenees Highway are pretty small beer.

All the same, FOBIF has opposed the extent of tree removal, and has proposed a set of alternatives, including rumble strips and an 80kph speed restriction [see our post]. We believe that these measures are more important in preserving life than the Vicroads alternative: allowing unsafe speeds, and trying to deal with the consequences. In detailed discussions with engineers, however,  we have been told that these suggestions were not practicable.

We’ve been in this situation before: ten years ago we were told that an 80k limit on the road between Golden Point Road and Elphinstone simply wouldn’t work. Now, guess what? The 80k limit has been imposed. What’s more, the same limit has been imposed on the Midland, between Castlemaine and Harcourt, a vastly more manageable road than the winding, narrow stretch between Green Gully and Newstead with numerous access driveways.

Further, Vicroads accepted a lower speed limit on its parallel project near Rushworth last year. Chief Executive John Merritt was quoted at the time as follows: “It’s essentially around reducing the speed for part of that road as an alternative to just clearing a wider path.”

According to the Midland Express [July 5], the Midland speed reduction has caused some ‘outrage’ in social media, although it is estimated to add only 30 seconds to the trip between Castlemaine and Harcourt. In our opinion, this ‘outrage’ highlights the problem: is it Vicroads’ job to accommodate those who want to drive at maximum speeds at all times, or is it more important for road authorities to engage in a sustained campaign to educate drivers to drive to local conditions?

Continue reading

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Flying high at the AGM

Thirty five people braved bleak winter weather to attend FOBIF’s Annual General Meeting last Monday. They were rewarded with an enormously entertaining and instructive talk by Martin Scuffins on birds of prey. Martin, who runs the Leigh Valley Hawk and Owl Sanctuary, was assisted by his rescued kestrel, Kevvie, who seemed to be a very experienced public performer.

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Martin’s message was that the key to healthy predator populations–and therefore to a healthy environment– was good habitat management, and serious efforts to manage the way increasing human populations interact with the natural world. The Leigh Valley centre plays an important role in educating people on these matters.

Monday’s meeting saw the following members elected or re elected to the committee:

President: Marie Jones

Vice President: Neville Cooper

Treasurer: Lynette Amaterstein

Secretary: Naomi Raftery

Committee members: Jeremy Holland, Frank Panter, Bronwyn Silver, Bernard Slattery.

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