Parks Victoria: good ideas, bad ideas

Parks Victoria has released a draft Land Management Strategy for consultation. You can find it here,  together with info on how to put in a response to the strategy. The consultation is open till November 1.

The draft document has many pictures of happy people and healthy wildlife. It has some good material in it too, about indigenous co-management, population pressure, and responses to climate change.

Parts of it, however, are less attractive, even downright sinister. Look at these objectives:

–Ensure that existing and proposed private operations add value and deliver benefits for parks

–Work to ensure that private operations and Parks Victoria’s own business operations in the parks are efficient and sustainable

–Adapt and reuse heritage places where appropriate to support tourism, commercial and community activities

–Develop, where appropriate in partnership with private operators, sustainable tourism businesses

(Our emphases)

It’s clear that Parks Victoria is now in thrall to the idea that it has to encourage private and profit making businesses in the Park estate. This is not in fact the purpose of national parks, as defined in the 1975 National Parks Act, though of course well managed parks do bring tremendous financial and social benefits to the community. The above proposals are full of jargon about sustainability (the word appears multiple times through the document). Further, marketing jargon like ‘target markets’, ‘visitor segments’ and ‘nominated indicators’ infests the document. There are probably people who are excited by such language. It’s not the language of conservation, however.

Is there a problem with tourism enterprise penetrating the parks? There is, if ‘licensed tour operators’ actually replace park rangers as the face of our parks system. The problem with this document is that it doesn’t even canvass the problem as a problem: for Parks Victoria, and the state government, the debate, if there has been one, is over. Maybe the state of thinking on this theme is summed up by this sentence, on page 34 of the document:

‘Partner with tourism, industry organisations and Traditional Owners to initiate and promote.’

That’s right. The sentence makes no sense. But we get the meaning: we want to initiate and promote… whatever.

Have a look at the document, and offer an opinion. But maybe we should draw attention to the quite menacing caveat offered by Parks at the very start:

‘This publication may be of assistance to you but Parks Victoria and its employees do not guarantee that the publication is without flaw of any kind or is wholly appropriate for your particular purposes and therefore disclaims all liability for any error, loss or other consequence which may arise from you relying on any information in this publication.’

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Excellent spring reading

In case you’re not already in the loop: the September edition of the Wombat Forestcare newsletter is now online. You can find it here.  Among many excellent articles is one by Tanya Loos on echidnas, with much useful info on this ‘ecosystem engineer,’ very common in our region–this, for example:

‘Australia’s most widespread mammal’: you can see it–and signs of its diggings–all over our region.

‘The characteristic digging pits of echidnas (often with a little round snout-hole impression at the deepest point) create microclimates and diversity in the soilscape. A study in the arid and semi-arid areas replicated the size and shape of echidna diggings and found that these pits had greater rates of seed germination and leaf litter decomposition than in soil without diggings.

‘Echidnas are Australia’s most widespread mammal, ranging from alpine areas to deserts, and even beach habitats. As long as there is food to eat, and sites to shelter in, the echidna can survive. They are absent from cleared
farmland, upland rainforest, and the deepest fern gullies.’

Also out now is the North Central Catchment newsletter North Central Chat, containing among other material a very informative article by Ivan Carter about the Eltham Copper butterfly.

Look them up!

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Looking for some garden info?

FOBIF has sets of Australian Plants magazine, dating from 1969 to 2009, looking for a good home. They’re a fascinating record of enthusiasts’ and experts’ reflections on the place of Australian plants in gardens and the environment. Interested? They’re free to a good home. Contact us at

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Reminder to register for FOBIF walk

The next FOBIF walk on Sunday 17 October will be to the Fryers Range area. See the walks section of the website for more details. If you are interested email FOBIF ( to register. At this stage the walk will probably go ahead with limited numbers but check the website before the walk as things could change. People will have to wear masks and car pooling won’t be possible.

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Strategic Fuel Breaks 1: settlements

The draft map below shows the strategic fuel breaks proposed for the Castlemaine township area. Final decisions about the breaks are yet to be made, but the works are expected to be completed this financial year.

The main fuel breaks projected are

North of Castlemaine: Dalton’s Track and Youngmans track.

In the township: borders of Kalimna and Kaweka

South of the town:

—areas along Moonlight and Forest Creeks

—Poverty Gully, Little Bendigo, the Loddon Prison, Mathiesson Drive.

—Chewton: around Adelaide Street and the Fryers road.

The fuel breaks are essentially mulched areas up to ten metres wide along roadsides: but we are assured that they will not be all the same. The Forest Creek works will involve removal of weeds, for example, as will much of the work around Kalimna. The Castlemaine Field Naturalists have expressed concern about the effects of mulching Youngmans Track, a notable wildflower area: discussions are proceeding on this part of the project.

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Strategic fuel breaks 2: bushlands

The draft map below shows the strategic fuel breaks proposed for the Castlemaine region. The lines are provisional but we are assuming they’ll be close to final.

The black lines are the breaks around the Castlemaine-Chewton area, plus the important Chewton-Fryerstown road. They are to be implemented this financial year.

The blue lines are for works planned for 2022-3. They include an east west break through the Muckleford Forest, along Bells Lane Track; and Fryers Ridge Road and Salt Water Track in the Fryers Forest.

As we’ve previously reported, FOBIF is generally supportive of appropriate fire protection works around settlements, or directly concerned with settlement safety. Our main worry with this project relates to the forest breaks: in our view, mowing high value roadsides permanently down to 10 centimetres and mulching the result would be an amenity catastrophe and a serious biodiversity setback. The fuel breaks project includes provision for research by the Arthur Rylah Institute on the ecological effects of mulching, but in our view such research would have a lot in common with an autopsy.

Fryers Ridge Road, September 2021: Under current proposals this would be mown down to 10 centimetres, mulched, and kept permanently in that state.

FOBIF has asked the fuel breaks project leaders to consider whether the desired safety outcome could be achieved by extra tree thinning and judicious understorey management along roadsides. A justification for this approach can be found in Melbourne University research. The authors of the research conclude:

‘Thinning to reduce fire risk is intended to slow the rate fire spreads, lower flame heights and improve recovery after wildfire hits. This was shown in a 2016 extensive review of US research, which found thinning and prescribed burning helped reduce fire severity, tree mortality and crown scorch. A 2018 study on Spanish pine forests had similar results.

‘Our own research on Australian forests also supported these findings. We found mechanical thinning plus burning in silver top ash reduces fire fuel hazard, with major reductions in dead trees, stumps and understory.

‘We compared thinned and unthinned alpine ash forests using computer modelling, simulating severe to extreme weather conditions. And we found modelled fire intensity decreased by 30% and the rate of fire spread and spot fires moving ahead of the main fire decreased by 20% with thinning.’

Thinning, properly implemented, can also have ecological benefits.

FOBIF is not wedded to this or any other specific approach to fire safety: what we are urging is that fire managers investigate approaches which might have safety and ecological benefits. We are as concerned about safety as anyone: but we are opposed to any approach which assumes that human safety is incompatible with ecological health.

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October walk

Our next FOBIF walk will be led by Christine Henderson in the Fryers Ridge area on October 17. Check the walks page for more details. If you are interested in coming you will need to register by emailing FOBIF ( Check the website before the walk in case regulations change regarding outside gatherings.

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Strategic fuel breaks: is it necessary to flatten nature to make our forests safe?

As we reported on August 16, DELWP is planning to create fuel breaks in this region, both near settlements and through bushland: ‘Strategic Fuel Breaks are a strip of land where vegetation has been permanently modified to reduce the rate of spread and intensity of fire for the direct protection of assets and/or assist fire control.’ (FOBIF emphasis).

Fryers Ridge road: how would this verge look when turned into a fuel break?

The breaks will generally be along tracks or roads. They could be up to 40 metres wide, including the width of the roads, though in our region they may be narrower. There is some confusion about how they’ll look: some documents say that they are mown down and mulched to 10 centimetres, others that they can resemble ‘open grassy wood or heath lands.’ The difference is important: no heathland would survive being mown and mulched to 10 centimetres. We’re hoping to clear up exactly what is meant by the breaks proposed for our region.

Some of the proposed breaks are centred around Castlemaine and Chewton, others are planned for the Fryers Forest and the Diggings Park, including Fryers Ridge road and Porcupine Ridge road.

Last Monday the FOBIF committee adopted the following position on the breaks:

  1. Fuel breaks near settlements are in principle a good idea, consistent with the principle of giving priority importance to human life.
  2. Thinning of bush roadside trees, and removal of hazardous ones, is a sensible safety measure, if properly done
  3. The mulching of bush tracksides is a serious biodiversity and amenity risk. Each trackside should be treated on its merits, but we believe that mulching the Fryers Ridge and Porcupine Ridge road verges would be

–an amenity catastrophe: the status of the roads as wildflower hotspots will be perhaps definitively damaged. We believe that the view shown in the above photo will no longer be seen along these roads.

–a very serious reduction of biodiversity value for the whole of those forests, regardless of the protection offered to pockets of endangered species.

FOBIF is acutely aware of the risks posed by fire in a warming climate. We believe, however, that fire protection measures should be undertaken with every effort made to avoid damage to natural systems. There’s not much point in destroying the village to save it.

Is it possible to manage vegetation along major bush roads so as to ensure firefighter safety, without reducing vegetation to a lawn? We hope so.

So far, consultations between local environment groups and the fuel breaks team have been constructive. We hope they continue that way.

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September walk cancelled

We have decided to cancel Geoff Nevill’s September FOBIF bushwalk due to the current restrictions on group gatherings. Hopefully we will be able to offer the walk next year.

The October walk in the Fryers Ridge will be led by Christine Henderson. Check out the details here. Once again check this website beforehand.

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In case you missed it…

ABC Television’s Gardening Australia program ran a segment on our local bushlands on August 20.

Gardening Australia’s Millie Ross (right) discusses carnivorous plants with Cassia Read. The program covered soil crusts, Ironbarks and quite a lot in between.

The program, filmed on the Monk, packed a lot into its 8 minute duration. Local ecologist Cassia Read invited viewers to take a close up look at their surrounds, starting from the ground up; and presenter Millie Ross reminded us that gold was just a ‘moment’ in the history of this place, and that we would do well to take the long view on what is of value in it.

You can find the program on iview, here. The segment starts just after 29 minutes.

And while we’re on the subject of looking about us,  it’s National Wattle Day this Wednesday, September 1: not a big day on the calendar, maybe, but worth a moment’s reflection. We recommend Megan Backhouse’s short Age article on wattles, here.

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