Bright winter sunshine, obscure corners

A bitterly cold morning didn’t deter FOBIF walkers from tackling some obscure corners of the Columbine and Salters Creeks valleys on Sunday. The corners turned out to be even more obscure than intended when a navigation error by walk leader Bernard Slattery landed the group in an unexpected approach to Salters Creek. Well, as the great Paddy Pallin might have said, in this country you’re ‘never quite lost’, and we all emerged triumphant and on time.

The walk included a look at one of Doug Ralph’s favourite haunts: Charlie Sanger’s hut, near Columbine Creek. As usual, we provided perfect winter weather for the occasion.

Lunch at Salter's Creek

Lunch at Salters Creek

Bernard addressing the group at Sanger's hut site.

Bernard addressing the group at Sanger’s hut site.

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The scalping of Fryers Ridge [1]

Visitors to the Fryers Ridge this past week have been stunned to find that major works on the verges of the Ridge Road have scoured the earth bare, virtually eradicating a large part of one of the region’s most significant wildflower areas.

The road runs along the top of the ridge, dividing the Fryers Flora reserve from the State Forest.

The works have been designed to eliminate blind bends, and facilitate access in the event of fire: according to DELWP: ‘the works were completed by the Department tractor …to clear the road verges of vegetation as a recent roads inspection showed that the verges were overgrown and had a traffic near miss a while ago.’

Fryers Ridge Road, near the Irishtown Track: in places the road is twice as wide as the Midland Highway

Fryers Ridge Road, near the Irishtown Track, July 6: in places the road is wider than the Midland Highway

The roadside verge has been ‘scalped’ along many hundreds of metres, and in addition earth has been scraped and piled up as much as 10 metres into the bush.

These works are a perfect example of a problem FOBIF has had with DELWP managers for many years.

In discussion with Department and Parks officers on the road on Friday July 10th we were amazed to discover that they did not attach any particular importance to these roadside verges,   because no rare or endangered species had been drawn to their attention there. It seems the area is in a ‘general zone’, which seems to translate as ‘nothing much to see here.’

On Fryers Ridge: for long sections vegetation off the edges of the roadway has been obliterated over hundreds of metres

On Fryers Ridge: for long sections vegetation off the edges of the roadway has been obliterated over hundreds of metres

 

This is the problem with most road works: for example, a 2012 DSE Document on roadside vegetation management for bushfire risk mitigation states that ‘Bushfire risk mitigation works that are likely to have a significant environmental impact on the road reserve will require a planning permit.’ If the area in question is not seen by managers as special, and is not on their data bases as containing rare species, it seems that road workers aren’t instructed to be particularly careful to look after the area: works are not seen to have a ‘significant environmental impact.’

It seems to us that there’s an underlying assumption in the Department that whatever mess is made in the short term will fix itself in the longer term, because the bush recovers. We were told this in our discussions with managers on Friday: this kind of gouging had been done before, and the bush had come back OK…it may even be improved by this kind of disturbance…so it’s not so bad, is it? Our opinion is that whatever values such areas as this have are there in spite of such works, and every time they are done, especially, say, in drought times, the recovery is less. Here’s a question: Has the Department made any long term assessment of the effects of these kind of works?

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The scalping of Fryers Ridge [2]: ‘in an ideal world’

FOBIF is well aware that Fryers Ridge Road is a major fire access track for the area. Our problem with the current works is that we believe that the desired safety result could have been achieved in a less destructive way–perhaps by selective removal of obstructive vegetation, and some slashing. Scalping and bulldozing of road verges has a severe impact on vegetation in the long term: field naturalists with long memories of the district have claimed that Department works over the last 50 years have reduced some sections of the roadway to a shadow of their former glory.

Fryers Ridge: managers concede that scalping is not 'ideal'. It appears that better methods are too expensive for the Department's budget.

Fryers Ridge: managers concede that scalping is not ‘ideal’. It appears that better methods are too expensive for the Department’s budget.

‘Scalping’ is widely acknowledged as something to be avoided if possible. Here are a few recommendations from documents around Australia:

‘When slashing roadsides, machinery operators should be mindful of the changing contours of the roadside and not cut too close to the ground. This is often referred to as ‘scalping’. Scalping creates ideal conditions for weed growth, disturbing soil and removing competition for resources such as light. Scalping also directly results in machinery, especially cutting implements, becoming contaminated.’ [DPI Victoria 2005]

‘Do not have the mower or slasher set too low otherwise the machine will scalp the ground causing serious soil disturbance. Scalping leaves bare patches of earth subject to erosion, in sandy soils the risk of erosion and destabilisation is very high.’ [Tasmanian Coastal Works manual 2005]

‘Avoid scalping of the ground during slashing operations.’ Greater Shepparton Council 2005]

‘Low shrubs, native grasses and groundcovers generally do not affect road safety and, where possible, should be retained in the clearance areas. These species help prevent weed invasion and erosion and can reduce roadside management costs.’ SA Native Vegetation Council 2012

FOBIF representatives met with DELWP and Parks officers on the ridge on July 10. These conceded that the works ‘could have been better done’ in places. The reason they weren’t? Shortage of money. The preferred vegetation management methods cost more, and from where we stand, it looks like the Department is drastically short of money. Hence, repeated cutbacks by governments of both persuasions over the years delivers what we can’t quite get used to: land management on the cheap.

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Maybe THIS is the saddest sign in the region?

The sign depicted in our July 5 post may have been trumped by this one, on the Fryers Ridge: ‘DO NOT…remove soil or rock.’ This injunction doesn’t apply to road works.

Sign on Fryers Ridge: it doesn't sit well next to the gouging of the nearby Ridge Road. FOBIF has argued that road works should be planned with careful concentration given to adjacent bushland.

Sign on Fryers Ridge: it doesn’t sit well next to the gouging of the nearby Ridge Road. FOBIF has argued that road works should be planned with careful concentration given to adjacent bushland. The track depicted is not the recently scoured ridge road.

 

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Sarah Lloyd to speak at upcoming FOBIF AGM

The FOBIF AGM will be held on Monday July 27 at 7.30 pm at the Ray Bradfield Rooms, beside Victory Park, Castlemaine. Nominations for the FOBIF committee will be accepted before the meeting. Nominations should be signed by the nominee and two other financial members.

The guest speaker will be Sarah Lloyd, author of the remarkable book, Where the slime mould creeps. See our earlier post for a review of her book.

white gum tk 17 11 14 046 (560x800)Sarah Lloyd is a Tasmanian naturalist, writer and photographer whose passion for natural history began in early childhood with a love of birds. In 2008 Sarah initiated ‘A Sound Idea’, a project to monitor bush birds using digital sound recorders and numerous volunteers who have made (and continue to make) recordings from Tasman Island to King Island and about 100 locations in between. Her interests have broadened in recent decades to include plants, fungi, invertebrates and bryophytes.

In 2010 Sarah started exploring the little-known world of myxomycetes (also known as plasmodial or acellular slime moulds) in the wet eucalypt forest that surrounds her home at Birralee in Northern Tasmania.

Myxomycetes are unlike any other organisms. They have two animal-like stages that move about and feed, followed by a spore-bearing stage of exquisite beauty.

Sarah will talk about her work and show photographs of some common, rare and ‘new’ species (one of which has been named in her honour) and the various stages in the lives of these truly remarkable organisms.

Some of Sarah’s beautiful photos are included here. Click on each image to enlarge.

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Is this the saddest sign in our region?

Well, we think it could be a credible nomination, anyway: an eloquent testament to past abuse of the land, painfully slow recovery, and perhaps the under resourcing of our land management bodies.

Near Perkins reef in the Maldon Historic Reserve. The sign speaks volumes about the under resourcing of public land management in Victoria.

Near Perkins Reef in the Maldon Historic Reserve: the sign speaks volumes about environmental history, and the painfully slow rate of recovery from land degradation.

 

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Fire’s off…and on

Several more substantial proposed burns have been removed from the current DELWP Fire Operations Plan. Apart from the Amanda’s Track proposal, which we have previously reported, these include:

Donkey Farm Track [in the Maldon Historic Reserve], Chewton Railway Dam [in the Fryers Forest], Pepper Tree Track [in the Tarilta catchment], and  Zig Zag track [in the Sandon State forest].

Sandon State Forest: the 491 ha management fire in this zone has been deleted from the fire operations plan.

Sandon State Forest: the 491 ha management fire in this zone has been deleted from the fire operations plan. This forest was ‘almost completely denuded of useful timber’ by 1870.

 

All of these were substantial burns for our area, and we had expressed reservations about them for one reason or another in our submissions to the Fire Operations Plan.

Withdrawal of these burns has been  ‘based on a review of the risk, feedback from community groups and an operational assessment’, according to Andrew Koren, DELWP’s local program manager for planned burning, in a detailed response to FOBIF’s submission to the FOP, received last week.

The Department will proceed with its plans to burn Mount Tarrengower, though how this will be done is still under consideration. The southern slope of the Mountain, around Perkins Reef, was recently burned. Additionally, a new burn is proposed for Fryers Ridge, around the Old Tower Track. Crude track upgrades in this area were done over the last couple of years.

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Fire risks in the Mount Alexander region: public and private responsibilities

In his response to FOBIF’s fire submission [see above], Andrew Koren made the following observations about fire danger in our region:

‘Communities in Castlemaine, Chewton and surrounds are considered to be at extreme property impact risk from bushfires on days like Black Saturday; based on Phoenix Rapid-fire bushfire simulation. Extreme property impact risk is where many properties in a community  are in the path of numerous simulated bushfires. In these areas, impact by a potentially high-consequence bushfire at some time is almost certain.

‘The simulated property impact risk across the West Central Bushfire Risk Landscape is shown on Map 6 in the West Central Strategic Bushfire Management Plan.

‘As these communities have always been considered at high bushfire risk, DELWP’s fuel management program has not altered in this area. The program continues to build on planned burning from previous years, with planned burns close to both Castlemaine and Chewton for asset protection purposes.

‘With modelling showing that bushfires from up to 50km away can impact on Castlemaine and surrounds under extreme bushfire conditions, proposed planned burning in the Maldon area also provides protection these communities through mitigation of bushfire behaviour.’

FOBIF does not dispute with DELWP on fire behaviour. We are still, however, not at all clear about the management of fire risk on private, as opposed to public land. The risk document quoted above shows ‘priority fuel management areas’ in our region as being largely on private land, as we pointed out in our account of this document last year [see the map in that report]. Andrew Koren says of this:

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Fire: business as usual, for the moment

The State Government is still considering the recommendation by the Inspector General of Emergency Management that the ‘five per cent target’ be replaced by a risk management system. In his response to FOBIF’s fire submission [see above] Andrew Koren made it clear that until the Government makes a decision on the matter, DELWP is running business as usual:

‘The review conducted by Inspector General of Emergency Management ( IGEM) could result in possible changes to DELWP’s fuel management targets and delivery of the program. Any changes that result from IGEM will not be decided upon until later this year. Prior to this, DELWP will continue its operational planning for the 2015/16 financial year under the current target and program. Any changes to the fuel management policy, and targets and resulting operational changes won’t be reflected in the FOPs until 2016/17.

‘Each year of the 2015/16 – 2017/2018 plan contains a planned area of at least 300,000 hectares. This is in excess of the 2015/16 delivery target of 275,000 hectares. This is to allow DELWP flexibility across the state for seasonal weather and fuel conditions. The Murray-Goldfields target for the three years of the FOP is 11,285 hectares. This is a reduction from our previous target of 14,000 hectares.’

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FOBIF Winter School Holiday Program warms the heart and fires the imagination of our local children

Over fifty children attended events at the Castlemaine Botanical Gardens this week as part of the FOBIF Winter School Holiday Program. Three events were held as part of the program, which aimed to give our local families an opportunity to learn about the Box Ironbark Forests and the wonderful world of books and nature studies.

The first event featured a live animal display with Jamie from Jamie and Kim’s mobile Zoo where kids and adults heard about, touched and fell in love with some of our most threatened Australian animals. This engaging presentation was followed by a treasure hunt for elements of our local forests in the largely unnoticed, but beautiful local bush part of the gardens.

The second event, ‘Habitat Stories’ was held in partnership with the Goldfields Library. Local story time hero Jess Saunders held the early primary school age children in awe with her reading of books about birds and habitat more generally with obligatory bubbles also. After lunch kids were introduced to another local, the White-winged Chough, and this bird’s mud brick nest building ability. Kids then followed on to make their own nest complete with furnishing from Barkers Creek, eggs and in one nest, “acorns, for toys”.

Judy Laycock and Alice Steel expertly ran the final event, which introduced botanical drawing to an engaged and diligent group of early primary school age children. Together the group learned about method, observation, recording and creativity by producing their own book of botanical drawings. Plenty of time was spent in the field capturing observations from the bark and various structural elements of the bush. A quick rundown on how to use watercolour and kids were away at adding colour to their drawings with beautiful results.

A massive well done and thank-you to all of the presenters and volunteers who have made the first FOBIF Winter School Holiday Program such a success. Thanks also to MASC for their support through their Strenghthening our Community funding. For further reading about why we love to do these things please see George Monbiot’s great article from The Guardian.

Photos of the three days can be viewed below. Click on photo to enlarge.

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