Extension of closing date for VEAC report submissions

A few weeks ago we included a post on The Victorian Environment Assessment Council draft report on its Central West Investigation.

The report recommended that a significant part of the Wombat forest be included in a new Wombat-Lerderderg National Park. A further recommendation was that the western part of the Wellsford State Forest be absorbed into the Bendigo Regional Park, and the eastern and northern section of the forest be created as a nature reserve. The main impact of these latter changes would be the protection of the Wellsford from logging. Readers will remember that Vicforests was proposing renewed logging in this magnificent box ironbark area.

Although the report does not directly cover the Mount Alexander shire we think that it is important for as many people as possible to forward written submissions supporting the positive features of the report.

The closing date for submissions has been extended from 31 October to Monday 10 December.

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Fryers Ranges walk: 15 September

Sunday saw a modestly sized group of 14 walk a circuit in the Fryers Ranges behind Taradale led by Christine Henderson.

The walk was conducted at a relaxed pace with plenty of stops for plant and wild-flower photography and identification. We were fortunate to have two experts in David Elliot and Richard Piesse among the group.

Lots of wattle were in flower especially Rough Wattle (Acacia aspera) which was especially prolific.

Highlights included Hill Flat Pea which was just emerging, lots of White and Pink Heath, a patch of Slender Dodder Laurel found by Richard and numerous clumps of the rare Elphinstone Grevillea right beside the track. Let’s hope it isn’t eliminated in the next round of track widening.

Noel Young sent us this list of bird calls he heard along the way: Choughs, White-throated Treecreeper, Yellow Robin, Grey Shrike-thrush, Spotted Pardalote, Crimson Rosella, Thornbills, Scrubwrens, Pallid Cuckoo, Fantail Cuckoo and Horsefield’s Bronze-cuckoo.

Thanks to Christine for a most enjoyable walk. Continuing with the floral theme next months walk is in the Muckleford forest led by Geoff Nevill and focusing on orchids.

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‘Creatures’ photos

The closing date for entries to the FOBIF ‘Creatures’ project is 1 October so there is still time to send us your photos. The exhibition at TOGS cafe will open on 12 October and finish at the end of November. You can find all the project details here.

To have a look at the 90 photos in our Flickr ‘Creatures’ album, click here.

Swift Parrot. Photo by Debbie Worland

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Spring [1] a sobering forecast

It’s spring! Wildflowers are a bit slow to emerge this year, but there are signs–plenty of orchids, for example. And we can always hope, though it’s been dry, and doesn’t look like it’s going to improve. Here’s the Bureau of Meteorology predictions on the chances of above average rainfall to November:

The recent VEAC Central West report puts it this way: ‘As with most of Victoria, the Central West Investigation area has already experienced some effects of climate change. For example, since the 1950s average annual rainfall in the investigation area has declined by 100 to 200 millimetres and average temperatures have increased by approximately 1.2 to 1.4 degrees. These trends are projected to continue with more hot days, increased fire weather and more frequent extreme weather events.’

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Spring [2]: is this the way to get resilience?

So, dry or not, it’s still Spring, the time to get out and see what our bush can do.

And, of course, we know that our forest managers are aware of the severe conditions, and keen to do everything they can to maintain resilience in the face of these conditions. Right?

Maybe not.

Those visiting one of our wildflower hotspots had better brace themselves for yet another experience of land managers’ road upgrades.

Typical section of Morgan’s track, September 2: This is not ‘keeping within the track footprint.’

Morgan’s Track has well and truly got the treatment from the grader: gouging of track edges, numerous scalped areas where machines have turned around, a tendency to widen the track, plus some intriguing vegetation removal. It’s not always clear what this last is for. We are often told by managers that crews are instructed to ‘stay inside the track footprint.’ This has now become a bit of a joke.

Here’s a question: if road maintenance crews are given the job of cleaning the gutters in Swanston Street, would they think it a good idea to gouge a few inches, or a few feet, out of the footpath? Possibly not: but DELWP has traditionally, it seems, considered the verges of bush tracks to be pretty flexible. A gouge here, a scalp there: it’ll all come back OK.

Maybe: but in increasingly severe climatic conditions, managers’ responsibility is to improve natural resilience, not scrape away at it…or at least, you’d think so…

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The price of gold

Ian Higgins began his talk at the FOBIF AGM last Monday by showing a picture of the beautiful interior of Parliament House Melbourne, inlaid with pure gold.

Then he showed this eloquent 1861 photograph taken near Guildford, most likely near the confluence of Campbell’s Creek and the Loddon River:

Near Guildford, 1861: the price of gold was hard work–and the destruction of the land. The price needs to be repaid. Photo: Richard Daintree [Copyright State Library Victoria]

The goldfields have still not recovered from the destructive effects of the gold rushes. The theme of Ian’s talk was not to bemoan this destruction, but to ask, how can the damage be repaired?

Part of the answer can be seen in the work of the Friends of Campbell’s Creek, of which Ian is the co-founder. When the Friends began their work nearly 20 years ago there were five wattle bushes standing between Castlemaine and Guildford. Anyone taking a two minute stroll along the Campbells creek track now will find that an amazing figure. The reintroduction of ‘self recruiting natives’ along the creek has been an astonishing success: and although there’s plenty to be done on all our local waterways, this particular project is a bright light at a time when we really need one.

Campbell’s creek: the Friends group has been remarkably successful in reintroducing a wide variety of self reproducing species.

Ian spoke after the main business of the AGM, namely, reports and elections. The following FOBIF committee was elected for 2018-9:

President: Marie Jones; Vice President: Neville Cooper; Secretary: Naomi Raftery; Treasurer: Lynette Amaterstein; Committee members: Jeremy Holland, Frank Panter, Bronwyn Silver, Bernard Slattery

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VEAC proposes new parks for the Central West

The Victorian Environment Assessment Council has recommended that a significant part of the Wombat forest be included in a new Wombat-Lerderderg National Park.

The recommendation comes in VEAC’s draft report on its Central West Investigation.

Also included in the report is a recommendation that the western part of the Wellsford State Forest be absorbed into the Bendigo Regional Park, and the eastern and northern section of the forest be created as a nature reserve.

The main impact of these latter changes would be the protection of the Wellsford from logging. Readers will remember that Vicforests was proposing renewed logging in this magnificent box ironbark area.

VEAC has clearly bent over backwards to accommodate conflicting demands for the Wellsford. The recommended changes would exclude logging: but regional parks are managed primarily for recreation, and allow practically all recreational activities apart from hunting. This latter is seen, logically enough, to ‘[conflict] with use by large numbers of other recreational users.’  The nature reserve section of the forest would be managed along the lines of a national park.

‘The intention of these draft recommendations is to focus protection of key natural values in the recommended nature reserve and recreational activities in the recommended regional park.’

There are many other recommendations in the VEAC draft report, which can be found here. Though it concerns areas outside the Mount Alexander region, it is of absorbing interest to anyone interested in the wider Central/West central Victorian region. We’ll go into some of the issues it deals with in future posts.

The VEAC investigation was characterised by some pretty strange lobbying by  recreational interests, some of whom seemed to think it is an infringement of their liberty to be obliged to drive their car on a road. The council’s attempt at a balanced compromise is probably going to cop some flak, so those interested in the proper management of our neighbouring regions are encouraged to check the draft, and make a submission.

Written submissions close on Wednesday 31 October 2018.

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FOBIF AGM: Monday 27 August 2018

Ian Higgins, well known local landcarer and co-founder of Friends of Campbells Creek Landcare, will be our speaker at the upcoming FOBIF AGM on August 27.

In an article about Ian after he received the Australian Government Individual Landcarer Award in 2017, the Victorian Landcare Magazine wrote:

Higgins’ early interest in native plants has continued through his life. He developed a remarkable knowledge of indigenous flora species, their propagation and revegetation, leading to a 30-year professional career during which he has contributed significantly to revegetation and environmental planning in Victoria, in both professional and voluntary capacities.

You can find out about Ian’s history of involvement in environmental projects here.

Topics he will cover in his FOBIF speech will include:

  • Changes in our landscape and vegetation since colonisation, including the profound local impacts of gold mining and the consequences of a European mindset
  • A short history of rehabilitation efforts, including the contribution of landcare groups
  • Is aiming for something more like the pre-European condition viable?  Given that we’ve already lost many components of the ecosystem, together with massive invasions of exotic species and climate change, what should our local landscape and vegetation management goals be?  

The meeting will start at 7.30 in the Ray Bradfield Room, Castlemaine (next to Mostyn Street IGA supermarket). Information on how to nominate for the FOBIF Committee can be found here. All welcome and supper will be served. 

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A walk in the winter sun

Occasional violent gusts of cold wind didn’t change the basic picture: Sunday was a bright winter day, perfect for a brisk stroll over to the Welsh Village from Chinaman’s Point via the Garfield Wheel and Sailors Gully, with a return along Forest Creek. Wattles are getting into their stride, and Dusty Miller was flowering abundantly along Sailors Gully.

Walkers take a break in Sailors Gully. Photo by Bernard Slattery

The village is at its atmospheric best in winter, and a strong group on FOBIF’s September walk enjoyed that atmosphere to the full: the forest setting, the abandoned buildings and mine works, and the dramatic nearby slate quarry walls made for an exhilarating experience.

Our thanks to Barb Guerin and Lionel Jenkin for guiding the group through the labyrinth of tracks around the village.

Next month’s walk is in the Fryers Ranges—sure to be abundant with wildflowers. Check the program for details.

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Fires: the themes are getting familiar

Fires have ravaged Greece, and are still burning California. Gippsland has had a large bushfire in the dead of winter, and NSW has had its earliest ever total fire ban day. We’re bracing for another serious fire season.

If you have the nerve, a bit context on this contentious issue can be found in ‘California burning’, a long and provocative article in the New York Review of Books. The article can be found here. Familiar themes abound in the international story: poor forest management, climate change, arson, flammable weeds, unwise urban development at the forest interface, poor understanding of fire ecology. Here’s a sample:

‘In the United States, exurban and rural property development in the wildland-urban interface has been, perhaps, the final straw—or at least another lighted match tossed on the pile. Most wildfires that threaten or damage communities are caused by humans. Campfires, barbecues, sparks from chainsaws, lawnmowers, power lines, cars, motorcycles, cigarettes—the modes of inadvertent ignition in a bone-dry landscape are effectively limitless. Let’s say nothing of arson. Houses and other structures become wildfire fuel, and vulnerable communities hugely complicate forest management and disaster planning. In his panoramic 2017 book Megafire, the journalist (and former firefighter) Michael Kodas observes pithily that “during the century in which the nation attempted to exclude fire from forests, [those forests] filled with homes.”’

Interestingly, the article suggests that old growth forest is more resilient to fire than the even aged stands resulting from clear felling, and notes that the current US administration’s policy is to respond to fire with more logging, ‘which may well result in less resilient forests and, of all things, more fire.

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