Fuel breaks: the story so far

Local enviro groups have been briefed on the progress of Strategic Fuel Breaks in the region. As with most things to do with fire and biodiversity management, the picture so far is patchy and its final effects hard to assess.

On the one hand, the quality of DELWP consultation on the project has been unusually good, and every attempt seems to have been made to adjust works to local conditions.

On the other, we have to face the fact that, like every state wide project, this one has a kind of juggernaut effect: lines have been drawn on maps, and local adjustments to these lines—if any adjustments are possible—are going to have to be hard fought.

FOBIF’s immediate concerns include the following:

  • The fuel breaks proposed for the Fryers Ridge and Porcupine Ridge. We have been told that works in these areas will not be started for at least 12 months, but the prospect of their going ahead at all brings no joy to anyone interested in local biodiversity. Although we are fully aware of the importance of firefighter access and safety in these areas, we’re not convinced that it’s best achieved by mowing down the bush. FOBIF has suggested alternatives to slashing and mulching in sensitive areas: these seem to have gone nowhere
  • Monitoring: We believe that baseline monitoring of Break sites, and ongoing monitoring of works, are essential. Recent discussions suggest that these will not be as rigorously implemented as we’d like. We’re not sure if these works are governed by the transparency requirements of the Code of Practice for Bushfire Management. They should be…but on the other hand, the Code is not always followed.
  • Methods: Experimental use of brushcutters to manage vegetation along Bells Lane track in the Muckleford forest suggests that this method is as effective as tractor mounted machinery, and less damaging in terms of soil disturbance and weed growth. We’re interested in seeing it as the preferred method.

FOBIF has repeatedly made it clear we are not opposed to fire breaks close to settlements. As to more remote forested areas, we still have concerns on a number of levels, mainly to do with the thorny problem of reconciling safety and biodiversity concerns. Are these two objectives irreconcilable? We are occasionally invited to believe so  by  hard heads in land management, and it’s sobering to read in IGEM’s report into the 2019-20 fire season the suggestion that people should be prepared to ‘create safety by navigating complex trade-offs between irreconcilable goals.’ The same report, however, suggests that greater resourcing for land management might get better results all round. We’d agree with that.

We’ve been informed that this region has been a bit of a pilot project for fuel breaks, and that future works may not be as rigorously considered and implemented as they have so far in this area. That’s a very disturbing thought. We’ll see. We believe that any hope of getting a half way decent result on the ‘irreconcilable goals’ requires more, not less, attention to detail.

In the meantime, we hope that consultations on these and other matters can continue.

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What do we know, and where does it lead us?

On the subject of monitoring (see above), how do you decide whether to continue with a project you’ve been working on?

Well, you probably check to see how successful you’ve been with your approach so far. On this, we offer the following two apparently contradictory findings of the report on the 2020 fire season by the Inspector General for Emergency Management (IGEM):

Finding 4.19 Forest Fire Management Victoria has established a strong foundation of monitoring, evaluation and research that has resulted in regular reporting against clear objectives.

Finding 4.21 The effectiveness of Victoria’s fuel management program cannot be comprehensively measured due to a lack of measurable objectives adopted by all land and fire agencies, gaps in the current tools and models used, and a lack of capacity and capability to support the requirements of this work across the sector.’

How do these two findings, which are printed on the same page, sit together? We’re not sure.

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Oh no–another menace

Not wanting to be depressing or anything as the ‘festive season’ approaches, but here’s the Department of Agriculture on a potentially serious local menace:

‘Chilean needle grass is becoming a serious pasture and environmental weed in south-eastern Australia. It is very invasive and forms dense stands in pastures, bushland and roadsides.

‘It tolerates drought and heavy grazing, giving it great potential to spread and over-run existing vegetation. The potential distribution of Chilean needle grass in Australia is estimated to exceed 40 million hectares.’

On a more constructive note, have a look at the sheet below, produced by Margaret Panter to help landowners identify and respond to the needlegrass menace (click on it to see it full size):

Click to see full size.

 

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FOBIF turns 25 show

This is Alex Panelli’s contribution to the FOBIF turns 25 show.

What matters to me about this country is its happening. The way it happens with me, up close and all around – I am immersed in it. There are foreshadowings here, and also absences. This is country that, when we approach it, seems to open up, but also it entangles.

It was in my childhood that I first came, to an empty ancestral place that quietly waited. Much later, in 2009, it drew me again. I came to stay. At first then I took photos mainly of flowers, but there were also the slim trunks of Candlebarks wavering in the glow that comes through fog when the sun is rising. I moved on to tangled bush and, singular trees, still often in fog or deeply shaded frost, with the sun beyond them. I lay on the ground, took photos through grass. There were also photos, taken on summer days, of dancing shadows on the ground, the torsos of dying trees, and of human things discarded. Also, of leaves submerged in water in hollows in the ground, and of the reflections on a pool of water’s surface.

Looking at these things afterwards, I was disappointed. There was a loss. I am not a great photographer but that was not the problem. Slowly and more deeply I came to realise, however consummate a photo may appear, the intense self-presence of a newborn flower, the living poise of a bird, whether resting or in motion, and the decaying, life-giving looming of an ancient tree that waits to fall, each one of these offers more in the occurrence of our meeting with them than any photo can. I would like my photos to acknowledge this.

This is not simple country. It attracts, but also it holds on: the before and the after, the living and the dead. They are present here.

Click on the thumbnail sized photos to enlarge.

As explained in a previous post all contributions to the FOBIF turns 25 exhibition are welcome and will be posted on this site. A selection will be chosen for display in at the Arts Hub, which will run between 25 February to 13 March 2023. 

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2022 FOBIF breakup

Friends of the Box-Ironbark Forests is having a BBQ at Bronwyn Silver’s place in Walmer on Monday 12 December.

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

BYO
*  food to share, including something for the BBQ if you like
*  plates, glasses, cutlery
*  drinks
*  a chair

All FOBIF members and supporters are welcome. Enquires Bronwyn: 0448751111.

2021 Fobif breakup

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Restoring the wonderful wetlands of northern Victoria – 16 November 2022

Newstead Landcare Group are hosting a special presentation by Damien Cook, local wetland expert and ecologist with Wetland Revival Trust.

Restoring the wonderful wetlands of northern Victoria
Wednesday 16 November 2022 from 7.30 – 8.30 pm
Newstead Community Centre, 9 Lyons St, Newstead VIC

All are welcomeEntry is by donation to Wetland Revival Trust to aid purchase of Wirra-Lo wetlands near Kerang, home to many threatened species including the Growling Grass Frog.

Read on for more details from Newstead Landcare Group.

Continue reading

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At last!

To many people, it’s seemed like a wait of a million years. Now it’s over: Leon Costermans’s long awaited geology book is now available.

‘A book about geology and landscapes that anyone can understand’

Directed at anyone interested in our environment, the book is geologically accurate and written in accessible language. Anyone who’s tried unsuccessfully to get a grip on geology will know that this is not easy to pull off.

Stories beneath our feet is 660 pages long and contains 1870 photos, digital images, maps and diagrams. The photos alone are worth the price of entry.

The book shows how to read the stories of the past as embedded in the rocks; it examines relationships between geology, landforms and vegetation; and includes suggestions for group and individual field activities.

For more info and how to order, check out the website of Muckleford Books here.

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2023 FOBIF 25 years show

As part of our lead up to the FOBIF 25 years show,  Mike Evans has sent us these photos about an area of bush that has special significance to him. 

‘Tortured’ trees in the Harcourt Bushland Reserve

 

I live in Peelers Road Barkers Creek and the Harcourt Bushland Reserve is an area that I walk in every day.

Chopped down, Dug up and Dumped on, is the saying that Barkers Creek Landcare Group president Daryl Colless uses to describe the recovering goldfield site that is now called the Harcourt Bushland Reserve.

Its piece of land that has been turned over probably more than once since the arrival of the first prospectors in the late 1800s. You can see the evidence of mining everywhere, from holes both square and round, bare ground, stripped of any nutritious soil, large excavations leaving scars on the landscape and evidence of the last area in the district to give up sluicing because of the silt flowing into and degrading Barkers Creek.

However, nature has remarkable powers of recovery and even though it’s a struggle this area of bush shows its resilience with many species of wildflowers, birds and fauna.

Trees that look tortured have survived to provide habitat for the birds insects and fauna here.

The Yellow-tailed Black Cockatoo passes through here regularly. Certain areas put on colourful displays of wildflowers and it is home to a number of wallabies and kangaroos. (Mike Evans)

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FOBIF turns 25

To celebrate 25 years of Friends of the Box-Ironbark Forest we are planning an exhibition at the Newstead Arts Hub, 25 February to 13 March 2023. There will be a new photo show; geology exhibits; children’s art; and posters; pamphlets and photos about FOBIF’s history. 

This time we won’t have a single theme for the photo show. Instead we would like people to send an image/s which shows something about the local natural environment that they find interesting or special in some way. Also we would like participants to write a short piece (100-300) words) explaining the choice. 

Joy Clusker has sent a a fungi image with accompanying text as an example. 

Earthstar Geastrum triplex

Mount Alexander is wonderful on an autumn morning, midweek you can have the place to yourself. The mist hangs around till lunchtime, casting a mysterious veil over everything. In the silence all you can hear is water dripping from the trees, and calls from the Sulphur Crested Cockatoos. Then from out of the gloom is a shine from a perfect Earthstar, Geastrum triplex, still dusted with water droplets, contrasting with the dark forest floor. A fleeting occurrence witnessed by few, busy working on its purpose to consume the substrate and reproduce itself.

So if you have a favourite photo/s of the bush in our region send them along to FOBIF (info@fobif.org.au) with a description. There is plenty of time to take new photos: the closing date for the submission of photos is not till 1 February 2023.

We will place all photos in a designated album on the FOBIF Flickr site. A FOBIF sub-committee will then select approximately 15 photos to be printed and framed for the exhibition. The text will be printed and displayed next to the photo. Photos will be for sale with proceeds used to cover costs.

If your photo is selected, as well as being included in the exhibition, you will receive a free copy of your photo.

Ring Bronwyn Silver 044875111 for more information.

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Final 2022 FOBIF walk

A sizeable group attended the last FOBIF walk of the year in a remote part of Fryers Range State Forest. Starting at Sugarbag Track, Alex Panelli led the group for 5 km of off track walking. The understory had an abundance of wildflowers and highlights included finding Brown-clubbed Spider Orchids, Plumed Greenhoods and a small waterfall that had benefitted from recent rains. 

Waterfall (Bronwyn Silver)

Plumed Greenhood Pterostylis plumosa (Bronwyn Silver) Brown-clubbed Spider Orchid Caladenia parva (Euan Moore)

We saw flowers of every colour of the rainbow, plus some!
RED – Downy Grevillea;
ORANGE – Dwarf Bush-pea;
YELLOW – Gold-dust and Hedge Wattles, Erect Guinea-flower, Yam Daisy (Myrnong), Primrose Goodenia, and Handsome Flat-pea;
GREEN – Plumed Greenhood and Greencomb Spider-orchids;
VIOLET – Wax-lip Orchid and Native Violet;
PURPLE – Rough Mint-bush;
MAGENTA – Pink Bells;
PALE PINK – Pink Beard-heath and Pink Fingers (orchid);
CREAM – Creamy Candles and Red Box:
WHITE – Early Nancies, Common Beard-Heath, Caladenia (orchid) and Fairy Wax-flower.
List compiled by Frances Cincotta

Thank to Alex for planning and leading the walk;  Frances Cincotta and others for help with plant identification; and Euan Moore, Liz Martin and Bronwyn Silver for photos.  

The 2023 walks program will be sent to FOBIF members and posted on the website in January.

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