As we’ve reported (see our posts, with maps, here, here and here), DELWP is planning to create Strategic Fuel Breaks (SFB) in our region over the next two years. Castlemaine households have been recently letterboxed about this program. Note that the works as originally proposed have been held up by approvals problems. Initial works will be re-instating previous fire-breaks and concentrating on woody weeds: these are the works shown on the letter to households.
Several local enviro groups have been in consultation with DELWP over the implementation of this program, with the focus being on protection of biodiversity values. Castlemaine Field naturalists, FOBIF, Castlemaine Landcare, Muckleford Landcare, Golden point Landcare,Friends of Kalimna Park and several individual community members have engaged in a detailed set of meetings on the project, including onsite meetings to look at the challenges involved.
The letter below to the SFB implementation team was drafted by Euan Moore, Castlemaine Field Naturalists Vice President, on behalf of the local groups involved.
First, I would like to thank you and your team for your patience and time working with our community group here in Castlemaine. We do appreciate your efforts.
So that we can avoid misunderstandings in future, this letter summarises what our community group believes is the way the Strategic Fuel Break (SFB) program will be implemented. Please let us know if we have misunderstood what your team said.
1 The SFBs to be implemented in the 2021/22 year are:
- Daltons Rd,
- Woodbrook Rd,
- Youngmans Track,
- Chewton-Fryerstown Rd & Wattle Gully,
- Around the Loddon Prison,
- Forest Creek / Leanganook Track,
- Kalimna Park adjacent to houses, etc.
2 The other SFBs (Fryers Ridge, Irishtown Track, Porcupine Ridge, Muckleford Forest, etc.) may be constructed in 2022/23 or later.
3 Thinning of dangerous trees will concentrate on Red Stringybark coppice trees of small DBH.
4 Thinning within the SFB is preferred to mulching, particularly if that removes the need for mulching the understory layers of the forest.
5 Larger old trees will not be touched.
6 Some trees with coppice hollows may be felled up to 1.5m above ground to preserve the habitat value (hollows in base and lower trunk) although this may cause issues with regrowth.
7 Mulching of the shrub layer will occur where the current height of the shrubs is > 1m. This will be down to 10cm. We are opposed to this for reasons already canvassed in our discussions. It would be a death sentence for many roadside vegetation communities, and would lead to the creation of bare soil and increased erosion.
8 Mulching will be done from the road using a tractor with reach arm mulcher head, or a smaller machine that uses a cutting blade which minimizes uprooting and tearing of the remaining vegetation.
9 The mulched area will be less than the 20m on either side of the track first proposed, and in biodiversity hotspots may be as little as 5m.
10 Measures will be taken to avoid introduction of weeds inadvertently carried on equipment and clothing during the treatments.
11 Important biodiversity assets will be avoided as far as is practicable e.g. thinning instead of mulching as mentioned below in relation to Youngmans Track. The community group has supplied and will continue to supply details of important flora species in the SFB areas.
12 Our community group has been offered the opportunity to view the work area after trees for removal have been marked but before removal starts. This is to allow us to assess the extent of hollow loss in the SFBs.
13 Our community group has been offered the opportunity to accompany the SFB team to visit the worksites while work is in progress. We welcome this and will probably photograph the operation from a safe distance.
Of those SFBs planned for the current year our main concern is the Youngmans Track SFB where there are high-value environmental assets (Grevillea dryophylla). We welcome the work that is being carried out by ARI and others to assess and mitigate damage to these assets. We would appreciate further information on what this work involves and when it will be carried out. We are pleased that the SFB team has recognized the importance of remeasuring the three Perkins quadrats in this area and will assist with this. We understand that some sections of this SFB will require thinning up to 20m back from the track although little thinning will be required in other areas that are part of an old firewood thinning operation. Thinning/removal of Red Stringybark in these areas may remove the need for mulching and reduce the impact on the shrub and herb layers. Small areas of high value vegetation along Woodbrook Rd were identified during a site visit and will not be mulched.
Along Forest Creek / Leanganook track the SFB team will work with Castlemaine Landcare Group between Happy Valley Rd and Colles Rd so that only woody weeds are sprayed or removed by the SFB work. This area also has patches of Chilean Needlegrass and will require strict hygiene measures with plant and equipment to avoid spreading it. Upstream of Colles Rd mulching will be the main method used to remove woody weeds.
Weed and old fence removal will be an important part of the work along the Chewton – Fryerstown Rd. Much of this work will be to protect the power lines and other services to Fryerstown and to improve emergency access to and from Fryerstown. There will be hazardous tree removal although Ironbarks close to the road should not need to be removed.
Weeds, including pampas grass, will be removed around the Wattle Gully mine and into the Castlemaine Diggings National Heritage Park. Some care and possibly the use of hand tools will be required within the park boundary to enable separation of Bursaria spinosa (Eltham Copper Butterfly habitat) from the extensive gorse and other weeds.
Along Daltons Rd mulching will be up to 8m from the road. Some thinning may be required although this stretch has been scalped in the past. Friends of Kalimna Park (Geoff Hannon) had a briefing on the Kalimna Park SFB where it was indicated that there would be no tree removal as part of the SFB program. Some hazardous tree removal may occur as part of fire operations plans. Works will concentrate on treatment of gorse.
Cassia Read has mentioned that the shrubby area between the prison and the railway line provides important bird habitat which needs to be considered. Wholescale clearing at one time is to be avoided, with smaller patch treatments implemented at different times. It is our understanding that the latter SFB is on Justice department land and therefore not within the scope of our discussions.
Across all areas it is essential that ground staff are sufficiently trained and able to recognize important biodiversity assets e.g. Bursaria spinosa, Grevillea dryophylla, etc, so that these can be protected and not mistaken for weeds.
Questions / issues remaining
- Monitoring before/after/ongoing. This is vital to assess the value of the SFBs. A community project is possible but would be a big effort and require resources.
- Can we get habitat offsets/counter-balancing for the loss of hollow bearing trees? What would they be? This is a threatening process under the Flora and Fauna Guarantee Act. Suggested offsets include nest boxes, additional weed control, support for the work of Landcare groups, re-introduction of threatened species to improve population resilience. It is important that these offsets are provided within our area.
- Throughout this process there appears to be a lack of coordination with the fuel reduction program which operates on a wider scale. This is concerning as from our point of view each of these activities influences the other making it difficult to evaluate the success or failure of either of these activities.
- We would also like to ensure that the very welcome engagement between the SFB team and the community is continued into the future, as plans and circumstances may change and require further discussion.