Fire: another submission

FOBIF has made a late submission to the Bushfire Management consultation [see our previous post], after our representatives attended ‘drop in’ consultations in Castlemaine and Bendigo this month. The substance of our submission is set out below:

  1. The poor quality of the maps supplied for this process, both online and in the hard copies available at the ‘drop in’ sessions, was such that we are unable to comment in detail on the three options offered in this consultation.
  2. We are quite unclear as to the manner in which DELWP will make up its mind about the three options offered. Discussions with your representatives did not clear up this matter:
  3. It’s obvious—we hope—that DELWP could not be running a crude popularity poll, particularly since online consultations like this are not necessarily representative of the public as a whole.
  4. In any case, we do not see that this consultation will add much to the dozens of such consultations which have taken place over the years. We ourselves have attended innumerable meetings and submitted dozens of submissions on the subject of the many fire operations plans developed since the 1990s. We do hope that this consultation will not take place in isolation from those previous efforts.
  5. In the light of the above, we submit that DELWP should take heed of the findings of the Royal Commission Implementation Monitor, and conduct a carefully conceived risk reduction strategy, not dominated by preconceived notions involving scorched earth strategies.
  6. In the light of this, it seems to us that some combination of options B and C might be an appropriate approach to take.

However, as we have repeatedly emphasised over the last 20 years, everything depends on the detail of the implementation:

Continue reading

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Burns Hill – a recovering landscape

There was a good turnout for the first FOBIF walk this year despite the hot weather. The 5km trek began at the Chewton Shop and followed Forest Creek to the Monster Meeting site. It was then up Burns Hill with terrific views over the township to the south and along the reef to Trapps Gully before coming back down along the Forest Creek. 

Marie Jones who led the walk has been involved for decades in the revival of the Forest Creek area. She gave an excellent running commentary on the impact of mining and white settlement in the area and the extensive rehabilitation undertaken by the local Landcare group and others. Marie also gave us a rundown of the historical significance of the Monster Meeting site and handed out the newly produced Chewton Domain Society pamphlet, ‘The 1851 Monster Meeting of Diggers at Forest Creek’.

Thanks Marie for leading a wonderful walk which introduced walkers to little unknown trails so important in our history and so close to town.

As explained in an earlier post the April and May FOBIF walks have been swapped. The next walk (21 April) will now be led by Julie Hurley or Rex Odgers starting out from Warburton Bridge. As usual meet at Continuing Ed at 9.30 or at 9.50 at Warburton Bridge, Glenuce. 

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Fire 1:Take your pick…hang on: whose pick will count?

DELWP and CFA fire officers have conducted a number of consultations on the ‘Safer together’ fire management strategy in Bendigo and Castlemaine in the last few weeks.

As we noted two weeks ago, the Department is considering three strategy options for the Mount Alexander shire. These can be found online here. The three options are ‘in the DRAFT stage. As such they are subject to change based on the feedback’ received by the Department.

‘Draft Strategy Option A: This draft strategy option has been developed with fires starting in the worst possible weather scenario in mind (Black Saturday conditions). Fuel management will mainly occur on National Parks and State Forests around townships and identified priority assets. In areas with high risk reduction potential fuel reduction activities (burning, slashing or mulching) will be intense and frequent.

‘Draft strategy option B has been developed with tailored weather scenarios for each local council area in mind. While bushfires at Black Saturday weather conditions will always be most destructive, these events are very rare. Fires under less ferocious conditions might be much more frequent, but still destructive as well. This strategy also considers the likelihood of a bushfire starting at each weather scenario. In addition to focussing on townships and priority assets, this strategy considers access and egress to these areas as well. Ecological values are more prominently reflected in this strategy.

‘Draft Strategy Option C: This draft strategy option builds on draft strategy option B, but considers fuel management outside National Parks and State Forests in addition. Where possible, and only with landowner’s consent, fuel management will be targeted at areas that have the highest risk reduction potential, regardless of land tenure. This strategy also takes access and egress to and from bushfire prone areas into account.’

It’s clear that the three strategies vary in the severity of ‘fuel reduction’ burning involved, the most severe being option A.

It’s not clear how officers will make a decision about which option, or variation to choose. All we could get from the consultations is that a ‘balance’ will be sought from the views submitted by community members. This, as always, transmutes quickly into a political matter: the land managers have to get the best scientific and practical advice on fire, then have to gauge how that advice can be sold to a community divided on what the ‘balance’ should be on safety and ecological health—or whether you can actually achieve one without sacrificing the other.

FOBIF will be putting in a submission to this process, and we recommend that you do, too.

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Fire 2: how to deal with ‘reckless ignorance’?

The Safer Together documents available as part of the fire consultations (see above) are headed ‘better bushfire management’. It turns out that this means, ‘better fuel management’, which is not at all the same thing. ‘Management’ includes a whole lot of other things, like prevention, for example.

Readers of the Midland Express last week will have been struck by the front page article headed ‘Reckless ignorance’,  detailing how CFA brigades had to suppress a large campfire thoughtlessly lit by campers in the tinder dry Wombat forest. The article ascribed the fire to ignorance or thoughtlessness or both and noted the frustration of firefighters at having to spend time on such events.

The item is a timely reminder about attitudes to fire: it  confirmed extensive anecdotal evidence from local firefighters on the extraordinary heedlessness of many people on the fire question.

It’s six years since the Mount Alexander municipal fire plan pointed out that ‘Historically there have been 53 fires per year on average in this region: of these, only 6, on average, have been ‘natural’ [ie, resulting from lightning strikes]. The rest have been caused by carelessness, technical malfunctions or arson.’ [42% of fires dealt with statewide since 1972 have been accidents, 35% were deliberate, and 17% ‘unknown or other causes’].

That is, most local fires are avoidable, if people behave responsibly in dangerous times. But how can you persuade them to be responsible?

We were informed at last week’s consultations that the government is working on ‘pilot’ programs on ‘prevention’ in two regions. It seems strange that we’re only at the ‘pilot’ stage, ten years after Black Saturday. The government’s task is not easy–there’s obviously a small but significant number of people unable or unwilling to accept that fire is not a harmless toy. All the more reason to tackle the problem more energetically. Prevention is better than cure.

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Another reason to slow down…

Travellers on the Pyrenees Highway east of Newstead will have noticed that work is under way on Vicroads’ wire rope project. A last minute series of meetings between local residents and road engineers has failed to bring any further modification to the project, which will involve significant vegetation removal.

Discussions are ongoing on possible speed reduction changes on this winding stretch of the highway, notable for animal crossings. Vicroads, as in the past, is curiously reluctant to reduce speed limits on its roads. We thought we’d just offer another reason to take the matter more seriously.

The photo below shows an Australian Common Longnecked turtle rescued from the road in Strangways. The mud on the shell suggests that the turtle had just come out of a local dam and was perhaps looking for a better refuge nearer the Loddon.

Australian common longnecked turtle (Chelodina longicollis), Strangways, March 10: these creatures undertake perilous journeys in search of better water body refuges

The Bendigo Field Naturalists’ excellent Frogs and Reptiles of the Bendigo district says of this species, ‘It can live in semi-permanent waterholes and survive summer drought by digging into soil or leaf litter of drying water bodies and aestivating. Alternatively they go in search of a better water body, a behaviour that leads to them being killed on roads and trapped by fences.’

In this case the driver was able to avoid the turtle because he was travelling relatively slowly. As we’ve pointed out before, the animal carnage on our roads is eloquently present in the form of many corpses, most visibly of kangaroos and wallabies. Smaller animals aren’t so obvious, but they are there.

Another reason for slowing down, especially on minor roads.

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It’s a mouthful, but definitely worth putting on your table

Here’s an event with a rather long title–but which looks like it could be both engaging and seriously informative:

The interactive workshop will cover two important databases in detail:

– State Wide Integrated Flora and Fauna Teams (SWIFFT): a knowledge sharing network for biodiversity conservation and threatened species.
– Visualising Victoria’s Biodiversity (VVB) – a web portal containing spatial information on environmental values, conservation activities and research.

When: Friday 22 March 2019 from 9.30 am to 2.30 pm
Where: Buda Garden Room, 42 Hunter St, Castlemaine

At the workshop we will:

  • Showcase projects run by community groups and researchers
  • Participate in an interactive session about sharing and accessing biodiversity data
  • Explore ways to improve knowledge sharing through online platforms
  • Network with other biodiversity organisations and community groups in your region

It’s in the lovely Garden Room at Buda Historic Home and Garden and it’s free. Workshop numbers are limited: to book online please click here

For further details please contact Ivan Carter at Connecting Country on 03 5474 1594 or email ivan@connectingcountry.org.au

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The remarkable world of wild orchids

Newstead Landcare are delighted to present a talk by Emily Noble on ‘The remarkable world of wild orchids’ at 8.00pm on Thursday 21st March at Newstead Community Centre.

As the Secretary of the Field Naturalists’ Club of Ballarat, Business Manager of the Ballarat Environment Network, Coordinator of the 540ha Clarkesdale Bird Sanctuary in Linton for Birdlife Australia, and proud owner of a bush block south-west of Ballarat that is home to at least fifty different wild orchids, Emily has ample opportunity to pursue her interest in orchids and their interactions with the co-habitants of their environment. Trying to catch these interactions on camera provides her with many unexpected insights into their ecology, helping inform her conservation activities, and providing a source of ongoing wonder.

Come along to learn more about these remarkable plants and their fascinating relationships with their world. All are welcome to Emily’s presentation and supper afterwards. There will be no business meeting to sit through. A gold coin donation would help us cover costs.

Parson’s  Bands Orchid (Eriochilus-cucullatus) and a pollen thief ant. Photographed by Emily Noble

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Change to Walks Program

We have swapped the FOBIF walks for April and May due to unavoidable circumstances.

Revised program

21 April    Warburton Bridge
We’ll start our May loop walk at Warburton Bridge campground, walk up to Smuttas, Damper and Hunters track, and return to Warburton Bridge. c. 7-8 kms. For more information contact Julie Hurley or Rex Odgers 0427 002 913.
19 May   Stones Gully
We’ll angle towards the gully across a ridge on one of the few blank spaces left on our maps, starting on the Glenluce Road. Return will be via a figure 8 route above Sebastopol Creek. Some off track walking is involved. c. 7 kms. For more information contact Bernard Slattery 5470 5161.

This months walk on 17 March will be lead by Marie Jones in the Chewton area. Click here for more information.

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Another consultation epic: fire

The Victorian Government is running an online consultation on approaches to fire management. It’s a continuation of the consultation started last year on the subject. The info gathered from Phase One of the survey has been processed, and the results have no surprises:

Ninety seven people from the Loddon Mallee region responded to the survey, half of them from Bendigo. This is not really a sample big enough to build a policy on, especially since respondents aren’t necessarily representative of the community as a whole. What’s more, on the basis of these figures, it’s hard to establish a clear set of priority actions–it seems that the respondents, sensibly enough, consider all the categories important.

Nevertheless, the phase 2 section of the consultation proceeds to ask people what they think should be done in fire management. This is too long and complicated to summarise here. Two things are worth noting, though. First, the option of fuel reduction on private land is put up as a practical proposition for the first time. And second, the consultation is regionally specific: there’s a special section on the Mount Alexander Shire, which you can find here. Good luck with the maps, which are dreadful.

In practical terms, face to face sessions have been organised. In Castlemaine, these are scheduled for:

–Wednesday March 6 from 6 pm to 8 pm at the Ray Bradfield rooms. Drop in any time.

And

–Castlemaine farmers’ market, next Sunday March 3.

At these sessions you’ll possibly get a look at decent maps which will give a clearer idea of what the proposed options are. We’ll report in more detail on this process in future posts.

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Landcare stories

In 2018 the Midland Express published a series of ‘Landcare stories’ as part of Connecting Country’s ‘Nature News’ series. These stories are now available to read in electronic format (as pdf file), or as a printed booklet. Click here to download the file, or drop in to the Connecting Country office for a hard copy. Continue reading

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