Muckleford Forest: proposed DSE Fire Operations Plan fuel reduction burn

DSE held a meeting at the SEC Dam, Muckleford Forest, on Thursday 21st September at 10 a.m. as part of its community consultation process. Chris Johnson wrote the following report on the meeting.

Who was there from DSE: Steve Nicholson (Bendigo); John Hosking (Castlemaine); Jamie Roberts (Castlemaine); Petina Blackwell (Biodiversity).

Who was there from community: members/reps from Newstead Landcare, Friends of Box Ironbark Forests; Castlemaine Field Naturalists;  people from Green Gully (including those who are part of Green Gully Community Fireguard); interested locals and apologies were given for a number of others who couldn’t make it.

What is the purpose of the proposed burn? Answer was to protect Castlemaine from fire from the west on a wind change. This was a surprising answer as the FOP (Fire Operations Plan) says it is to protect Green Gully and Newstead.  It was also mentioned that access between Newstead and Castlemaine via the Pyrenees Highway was important.

What is driving this and so many burns? The Royal Commission’s recommendation that 5% of Victoria’s public land be ‘burnt’ each year and DSE is required to implement government policy.

What determines the area and amount of burning proposed? The fire management zones. These are set by another part of DSE in consultation with other government agencies. The DSE people said they were just responding to the burn requirements of the zones. There are 4 zones – zones 1 and 2 affect the Muckleford area. In Zone 1 (red on map) the goal is to reduce fuel load to moderate across 90% of area – and its 80% of Zone 2 to moderate. (Zone 3 is 30-50%, and Zone 4 is no burning). The frequency of burning – possibly every 10-12 years in these zones depending on conditions.

What studies and science underlie the burn? Very little it seemed. There was talk about fuel loads but it was clear that they had not been mapped for this area of forest. Transects to determine fuel loads were mentioned but DSE were unclear where those transects were in this forest.

What will happen when they burn? They will burn on a southerly – so fire will head north. They will actively protect northern flank. They say there is little risk for those living close by to the south. The highway won’t close. They will notify the local community via the media and notices at the local shop – but agreed to do something more direct. This means they need phone numbers for residents adjoining the burn area (to north, west, east and south – Green Gully community fireguard group can help with part of this).

What is their process now? After receiving submissions, DSE will respond to submissions, review the FOP – potentially making changes to exclude some areas or change how they burn to protect certain areas. They then send the FOP to the Regional Director for approval. Once approved, they can act on the plan. And it was clear they want to burn as soon as they get the OK – their plan is to have the about to burn signs up “by the end of the month”.

The biggest issue? Biodiversity! Everyone was concerned about the impact of the burn on biodiversity especially as the forest was full of new plants (perhaps unrecorded) and young plants as a result of rains after a long drought. There seemed to be agreement that the fuel load across this forest was very low. Heaps of questions probed this issue and I think that no one was satisfied by the answers on this issue.

So what can we do now?

Seemed like some things might influence their decision:

  1. Identifying special areas – aiming to get them excluded from the burn
  2. Putting in further letters and submissions to DSE – they emphasised all the different views they had to balance out
  3. Challenging the zones – but this means lobbying a different DSE person – it would be wonderful if we could get most of the proposed area rezoned into Zone 3. How can we lobby on this?

I have got both of the maps they pinned up. I would like to pass these maps around quickly so we can map the areas that are important to us as locals – bringing our knowledge into the process.

It might only make a small difference but it does seem worth trying to quickly map any special areas: areas with high biodiversity, areas we love walking in, areas with any special features known to locals. It may be all we can do right now (though if anyone has access to those higher up in DSE and/or Minister or media folks who can help – please do what you can and let us all know what we can do to help).

If you can contribute to mapping areas you know about and that are important to you, please email or call me and I will get the map to you so you can add to it. My number is 54762457. I think we need to do this very quickly – within a week – so that they have to consider our information. And I am only a part-timer  so I will need to pass on the map before I go back to Melbourne on Tues am.

I hope others will add to my notes and share what they think we could do to stop our beautiful Muckleford being burnt.

Great to meet you all – I hope we can achieve something together on this!

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