Kick up the dust! Churn up the creek! You have the right!

In 2012 a British think tank estimated that ‘for every pound made by advertising executives, they destroy an equivalent of £7 in the form of stress, overconsumption, pollution and debt; conversely, each pound paid to a trash collector creates an equivalent of £12 in terms of health and sustainability.’

So says Rutger Bregman in his book, Utopia for realists [2017]. We can’t verify this, but we find it strangely plausible. Who hasn’t winced at some commercial being yelled from the radio? The amount of mental damage inflicted by some of these ads must be enormous.

Here’s an example, in the form of a question:

Should drivers be forced to drive on roads? Or should they have the right to drive wherever they like?

Tyre marks on moss beds, Mount Alexander: irresponsible, dangerous and damaging behaviour is actively encouraged by car manufacturers and retailers.

These seem like pretty weird questions: of course you should drive on a road. People don’t drive into the Botanical Gardens, up to the edge of the lake. They know there are limits.

But the bush is different. Opponents of the recent VEAC recommendations on the Wombat and Wellsford forests complained that if these places were national parks, they would have to drive on roads, an infringement of their traditional rights. Apparently they don’t realise that the law on this matter is the same on all public land.

Some drivers of SUVs, and riders of motor bikes, believe that these machines have the right to go anywhere. Earlier this year, believe it or not, Coliban Water had to appeal to motorists not to drive into the Malmsbury reservoir!  Cars have been driven across moss beds on Mount Alexander, and when Parks Victoria blocked a very small section of road near Lang’s Lookout, the rock barriers were furiously graffitied  by drivers who didn’t want to walk an extra 100 metres…

Where does this weird mindset come from? If you want to know,  just watch a few sporting events on television, and be amazed at the commercials promoting off road vehicles. Almost without exception they show vehicles plunging through creeks, churning up dust, even driving in the sea. Most of the driving is irresponsible, some of it dangerous, some of it silly [driving in salt water’s not great for the car].

Given that SUVs spend most of their time on the school run, or to the coffee shop, what’s the point of this publicity?

It seems that ‘Advertisers like to push your hot buttons. One of them is your attraction to nature. Car companies use our love of the great outdoors to sell some of the most gas-guzzling and polluting vehicles around.’ How about that for irony?

And here’s a sad footnote: in 1977 a Federal Parliamentary enquiry in Australia looked into the matter of off road vehicles and their increasing impact on the environment. It concluded, among other things:

‘–articles and programs about ORVs should project an environmentally responsible attitude towards their use and that the Australian Press Council should take note of this conclusion.

‘–manufacturers, distributors and advertisers have a responsibility to ensure that their advertising material does not depict off-road vehicles damaging the environment or in any other way encourage irresponsible use of ORVs and that the Australian Association of National Advertisers should take note of this conclusion.’

FOBIF’s arithmetic has been wobbly of late, but we’re pretty sure that was 41 years ago. Readers can judge just how effective those recommendations have been.


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A small glimpse into a hotter future

Coliban Water has been promising to close down some of its inefficient water races for years. These include the Poverty Gully race, which has been leaking repeatedly—a problem not helped when a DELWP fuel reduction burn destroyed the plastic lining water authorities had installed to try to improve the channel’s efficiency. They certainly reduced that particular fuel.

FOBIF supports the closure of the channel, believing the water is best allowed to boost the ailing Coliban River. At the same time, the closure will have some unfortunate side effects. Channel leakages over the years have created the odd interesting minor wetlands, which dry up when the channel isn’t running, but manage to revive when the water comes.

So, what happens when the water stops for good? It seems that the authority may have at last acted to close the channel, and Naomi Raftery has the following response:

‘A few years ago I wrote a piece for Connecting County’s Nature News. It chronicled the excitement of moving into a new rental in Chewton, which backed onto an ephemeral creek line, fed, as it were, by a leak in the Poverty Gully water race. My enthusiasm was for the frog and birdlife that abounded following a leak and my newfound interest in identifying different species attracted to the water.

‘Coliban Water are in the process of decommissioning the water race, which will be finalised in January 2019.  The result is a deafening silence. The frog chorus is gone, the White-faced Herons are not anywhere and the weed march is on.

‘While FOBIF applaud the sensible decision to decommission the race, it is a good case in point for illustrating what will happen in the event of a warming climate and reiterates the importance of setting up solid, long view management of our natural places and in order that they become resilient refugia for  humans and plants and animals.’

Right: although an artificial situation, the case is a very good example of what lies ahead for vulnerable corners of our region, like wetlands and water courses, as a warmer and drier climate settles on the country.

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FOBIF breakup reminder

The FOBIF breakup for the year is on next Monday, 10 December beginning at 6pm. Further details can be found here. All FOBIF members and supporters are welcome.

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Nature photo shows

The opening of Nature Photography in the Goldfields by Geoff Park, Patrick Kavanagh and Bronwyn Silver will take place this Sunday at 11am at the Newstead Railway Arts Hub. Everyone is welcome and refreshments will be provided. The exhibition will run between 10am and 4pm over the first 4 weekends in December. The first day of the show is this Saturday, 1 December. Find all the details here

One of Geoff Park’s exhibition photos: Male Mistletoebird, Spring Hill Track, 3rd September 2018

And the FOBIF ‘Creatures’ photo exhibition at TOGS will finish this Thursday (November 29). All photos are for sale and reasonably priced. Proceeds of sales go to FOBIF to cover costs. You can see more ‘Creatures’ photos on our Flickr site  and on this previous post.

We would like to thank TOGS once again for their support in mounting this exhibition. This is our fifth show at the cafe and our ninth in total. 

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It might look cute, but it’s a menace

Victoria’s weird practice of classifying deer as a protected species for the benefit of recreational hunters has come increasingly under fire from farmers, landcarers and municipalities, both rural and Melbourne fringe.

Deer in Chewton: They damage crops, trash the bush and are a traffic menace–and illegal hunters are a danger to the public.

If you’re under the impression that deer are cute species which occasionally appear in romantic pose, have a look here and here for a wake up call about the damage to agriculture and the environment caused by rapidly growing feral deer populations. They don’t just damage the environment: they’re a pest to farmers and a danger to motorists. What’s more, rural residents in remote rural areas report living in fear of illegal hunters.

Perhaps as peculiar as the protected status of the deer is the apparent protected status of hunters. The recent draft deer strategy showed clearly that recreational hunting is not reducing deer numbers, now at a million and growing exponentially. Yet the strategy is heavily weighted to giving hunters more chances to enjoy their sport while doing nothing about the problem.

FOBIF’s response to the strategy can be found here.

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FOBIF 2018 breakup

On Monday 10 December Friends of the Box-Ironbark Forests is having a BBQ at Bronwyn Silver’s place in Walmer.

It starts at 6 pm and the address is 1036 Muckleford-Walmer Road, Walmer. 

*  food to share, including something for the BBQ if you like

*  crockery – plate, cups, cutlery
*  drinks 
*  a chair

All FOBIF members and supporters are welcome.

Walmer South Nature Conservation Reserve

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Weird attacks on National Parks

Public responses to the VEAC recommendations for the Central West Investigation Area are due next week [December 10]. A simple letter is enough, indicating your interest in the area in question, and your reasons for your view.

The recommendations do not concern the Mount Alexander region, but they include two important proposals for our immediate northern and southern neighbours: the proposal for a new national park in the Wombat Forest, and a Nature Reserve in the Wellsford Forest. We believe both should be supported.

VEAC’s draft report can be found here. A method of making submissions is here.

A concerted campaign is now under way to attack the proposals. It contains a number of strange claims. These include the following:

The recommendations would put an end to camping, horse riding, motor bike riding…In fact these activities are explicitly allowed in most of the proposed parks, under conditions broadly accepted by the community. Bizarrely, one objection is to the requirement that vehicles be driven on formed roads. The laws on this are the same in state forests as they are in parks.

Commercial photography in parks costs $80 an hour. Actually the fees are the same for parks and state forests. The $80 fee only applies if a ranger is required to be present.

A strange video circulating on the web shows a man walking with his granddaughter, and informing her that ‘green groups’ have stopped us from picking flowers in national parks. The old gentleman doesn’t seem aware that wildflowers have been protected since the ‘Wildflowers and native plants protection Act’ of 1930, an act reasserted by the Bolte Liberal government in 1958. That government was definitely not a ‘green group.’

The gist of these objections to parks is that any restriction on the activity in question is a violation of our liberty. There’s a big problem here, never satisfactorily resolved in our culture: how much limitation should we be prepared to accept on our favoured activity, for the benefit of the environment and the wider community?

The main effect of the VEAC proposals would be to reduce logging, hunting and prospecting. We believe these are good proposals: you can read a defence of them here.

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Whoever would have thought it? Reduction in speed brings reduction in animal deaths!

As a sidelight to FOBIF’s ongoing interest in vegetation clearance on the Pyrenees Highway, we draw readers’ attention to a nice item in the Midland Express [November 20].

Animal shelter managers in Elphinstone lobbied Vicroads to reduce the speed limit on Pollards road to cut the number of animal deaths. Vicroads wouldn’t come to the party, but the Mount Alexander Shire put in 70 kph advisory signs and wildlife crossing signs. Before the signs went up an animal a week would be presented to the shelter. After: there’s been one in 12 months.

Pollards Road: calm down, slow down and reduce animal deaths.

This is a good news story, reinforcing ideas that should by now be commonplace: speed kills, not only people, but animals. As we’ve reported before, you can reduce your chances of hitting an animal by up to 50% by reducing your speed in a known hit area from 100kph to 80kph—and that if you did this over 200 kilometres, you’d be adding only two minutes to the journey!

FOBIF’s submission to Vicroads on the Pyrenees Highway emphasised that significant improvements in safety could be achieved by speed reduction and traffic calming devices like signage and rumble strips. Vicroads, however, is governed by the logic that says that a road like Pollard’s road should have the same speed limit as the Midland Highway…

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Dam! We never knew that…

A Deakin University Phd student has claimed that farm dams are a major contributor to greenhouse gases, according to the Weekly Times [ 21/11 ].

‘This is due to the microbes in dams, which release carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide.

‘But, according to the scientist behind the work, emissions from dams could be halved with “simple” changes to farming practices.

‘The study’s lead author, Quinn Ollivier, a PhD candidate in Deakin’s Blue Carbon Lab, found Victoria’s 375,000 farm dams produce the equivalent amount of greenhouse gas emissions as 385,000 cars.

‘Mr Ollivier’s study found dam emissions were caused by dissolved nitrate concentrations, and were significantly higher on livestock farms, compared to cropping areas.’

Well, we never knew that. The good news, however, is that the problem can be largely fixed by revegetating dam edges, which would obviously have other environmental benefits.

And while we’re on the subject of dams, the state government has proposed putting a brake on farm dams by instituting a ‘reasonable use limit’ on them from early next year. The proposal is designed to prevent distortions on water accessibility which may happen, for example, if an upstream landholder reduces the amount of water available to downstream users. The proposal has met with plenty of opposition.

As we’ve explained before, FOBIF’s position on this matter starts with a distinction between genuine farm dams, useful for agricultural production, and ornamental dams, put in by some rural users just to have a nice water view. The latter have exploded in number in recent decades, and have a significant effect on our waterways. As the Dja Dja Wurrung joint management plan puts it:

‘Dams fragment the watercourse they’re built on, preventing movement of aquatic animals between parts of the stream on either side of the dam. Dams and channels can decrease gatjin [water] flows downstream, particularly in low rainfall periods, reducing streams to disconnected pools, or causing problems associated with low flows, such as algal outbreaks.’

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Pyrenees Highway: speeding, not speeding?

Vicroads’ proposed tree removal works on the Pyrenees Highway between Green Gully and Newstead have been put on hold pending advice from the Federal Department of the Environment [DEH] on the impact these removals might have on the health of migrating Swift Parrot populations.

Readers will remember that FOBIF has argued that removal of these trees, some of significant size, is both harmful for the amenity of the road and unnecessary for safety. We have argued that a reduction in speed limits and other measures would be a more effective policy, given that this is a winding stretch of road, probably unsuitable for significant speeds.

Vicroads’ response to this has been to point out that a car crashing into a tree at 80 is as fatal as a crash at 90 or 100—which seems to be ignoring that fact that the lower speed would most likely remove the probability of a crash in the first place. Vicroads’ Annual Report for 2016-7, noting a 15% increase in road fatalities in that year,  points out that ‘The most common crash types were run-offroad on high-speed country roads and intersection crashes in metropolitan Melbourne.’ In spite of numerous TAC campaigns like ‘speed kills’, and ‘wipe off 5’, it seems to us that Vicroads is more concerned to improve traffic flow than to influence drivers to drive to conditions. In a weird way, Vicroads and the Transport Accident Commission seem to be at odds…

Vicroads will be holding more consultations in the local area before the works begin.

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