What a difference lack of water can make

A good group rocked up for FOBIF’s April walk into the Salter’s Creek-Smutta’s Track area on Sunday. As expected, the bush is showing numerous signs of drought stress, including a significant number of dying Golden Wattles. Nevertheless, this corner of the Diggings Park has plenty of charm even in its present desolate state, and the walk was completed in good spirits, although it must be said that no one sprinted up the almost vertical track out of the Bradfield flumes.

The following photos will give an idea of the different faces of this little valley. First, after a week of heavy rain, in 2013:

Salters Creek, August 2013: after good rain, the creek filled nicely – but we were aware that this was an unusual event.

And here’s the same spot, as walkers passed it yesterday–almost unrecognisable:

The same spot, Easter 2019. The forked tree in the top photo has collapsed into the dry creek bed. Even the deepest pools in the creek are now dry.

Our thanks to Rex Odgers and Julie Hurley for taking the group into this great corner of the Park, and for the informed commentary on the history of the water race.

Noel Young sent us these photos of the walk.

Next month’s walk is in the area of Stone’s Gully, south of Vaughan Springs. Check the program for details.

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Change of route for FOBIF’s April walk

The route for FOBIF’s April walk, next Sunday the 21st, has been changed. It will now start at the Hunters track dam, on the corner of Irishtown Track, and cover about 5 km, partly on tracks, some through bush along the Salters creek bed; there’ll be a couple of rough steep climbs. We suggest if people usually use walking poles they’d find them helpful. As it’s Easter Sunday and a short walk we plan to be back in town by 1 pm. For more information contact Julie Hurley or Rex Odgers 0427 002 913.

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Driving 1: ‘For fun’s sake’

Viewers of sporting coverage on television last Friday might have noticed, if they weren’t asleep, a commercial for Suzuki, which featured a car tearing through a muddy road, then reversing, bouncing over some obstacle [possibly a dead body?]. The clip also featured a car being driven with brio round and round a suburban roundabout, accompanied by the slogan, ‘for fun’s sake’. You can look at the ad here   If you concentrate very hard, you’ll see at the bottom of the screen at the start the words ‘filmed under safe and controlled conditions’.

Image from a Suzuki TV commercial. The commercial’s main message is that sedate driving is for boring conformists.

Do such ads, which proudly feature environmental vandalism and unsafe driving, influence driver behaviour?

It’s an interesting question. The voluntary code of practice for motor vehicle advertising of the Federal Chamber of Automotive industries seems to suggest that they’re at least undesirable. The code features, among other things, the following:

… ‘use of disclaimers indicating that a particular scene or advertisement was produced under controlled conditions; using expert drivers….should be avoided.’[Our emphasis]

… ‘Advertisers should ensure that advertisements for motor vehicles do not portray…deliberate and significant environmental damage, particularly in advertising for off-road vehicles.’

Car advertisements regularly violate the second of these conditions and often promote unsafe driving. For some reason showing cars skidding through dust and gravel is a favourite theme of most of them. Skidding out donuts is another regular. Our favourite is a Toyota clip which shows a poor oppressed suburban bloke who sees a massive Toyota truck pull up alongside him in traffic. He instantly fantasises about skidding around sand dunes in that truck…then subsides into repressed good behaviour. But will he stay that way? Will the next episode show him in a cowboy hat, ripping up the country in a car which, as the ad proudly declares, ‘eats utes for breakfast.’ Stay tuned.

Meanwhile, we can see the effects of such propaganda on our roads and in our bushland. And we can pretty safely conclude that voluntary codes of conduct are a bit of a joke.

If you want to complain about a particular ad, you can do it at the Advertising Standards Bureau. Click here.

Signs of ‘fun’ on public highway, Taradale, June 2016: sights like these are common on our roads, and they are actively encouraged by TV advertising.

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Driving 2: Do gladiators have sensitive thighs?

A regular offender in the matter of promoting tough guy destructive driving is The Age Drive section. Its edition of last Saturday [April 13] featured an extensive review of the Suzuki Gladiator, complete with pics of mud being spattered, and a car conquering an impossible slope.

A strange feature of SUV ads is that in an increasingly urbanised society, they try to flatter the viewer as an intrepid adventurer raring to go out and tear up the world. A chink in the armour of this adventurer was inadvertently  revealed in the Age’s account of the Gladiator.

Generally favourable, the review noted that ‘the front seats… are a bit flat and the cushion lacks under thigh support…’

Our readers will not have failed to note the heroic names attached to most off road vehicles: Wrangler, Gladiator, Ranger, X Trail, etc…We did not previously know, however, that the heroes who thrash these vehicles over our long suffering soil were so sensitive in their  under thighs. Toughen up, Fellas!

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Remember the thinnings trial?

The ecological thinnings trial was conducted about 15 years ago in four locations in the box ironbark region. Locally the thinnings plot is in the Diggings Park along Morgans Track, between the Chewton-Fryerstown Road and the White Gum Track.

The principle behind the trial is as follows: devastation of the forests following the gold rush led to the destruction of most large trees, and regeneration of dense stands of saplings. The original woodland structure of reasonably widely spaced large trees was thus replaced by what we mostly have now: forests dominated by relatively spindly trees. These forests are naturally thinning themselves, with the gradual death of weaker trees, but the process is taking a long time. The thinnings trial is designed to hasten the process, by taking out relatively weak trees, thus allowing the better trees to grow more robustly, and thus creating a healthier woodland structure.

Section of the thinning trial near Morgan’s Track…

The project had a biodiversity aim: that is, it was intended to produce a better environmental outcome, not just straighter trees.

FOBIF did not oppose the trials, though we thought it was just as well to let nature do the thinning over time, and we were sceptical of the capacity of managers to maintain a credible monitoring program over a long enough period of time to show how effective the program was going to be.

Well, so far, so good, as far as the monitoring is concerned. A recent paper by researchers from Parks Victoria, DELWP and the Arthur Rylah Institute has given an account of the story so far in the thinnings plots. The conclusion of the paper is that tree growth in the plots is significantly higher than in adjacent control areas:

‘Three thinning treatments, differing in their density and pattern of retained trees, were compared with controls to determine the most effective approach for restoring these systems and increasing the rate of recovery for biodiversity benefits. The thinning treatments applied different retention levels of stems, one which reflected conventional silvicultural practice and two designed to reflect a patchy forest structure. The response of tree diameter growth to thinning treatments, for multiple tree species, was examined approximately a decade after thinning. All three thinning treatments increased tree growth-rates similarly (0.32–0.57 cm/yr), compared with the controls (0.2–0.27 cm/yr). These data suggest that the choice of thinning treatment may not be critical for accelerating tree growth, and land managers can focus more strongly on the treatment that provides the best overall outcomes for biodiversity.’

…nearby section of unthinned bushland. The principle behind the project is that thinning produces a more natural and biodiversity rich woodland structure.

There’s a long time to go, of course: in a drying climate, and with poor soils, growth rates are slow.

The paper is jointly written by Geoff Brown, Andrew Murphy, Ben Fanson and Arn Tolsma. Unfortunately it’s not available online.


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An invasive South American weed: Espartillo

Margaret Panter has produced another weed identification  pamphlet, this time about an invasive South American weed, Espartillo. If the text below is hard to read you could try this link for a clearer copy.

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Black Saturday, ten years on: what’s changed?

The March edition of the VNPA’s Parkwatch magazine is now online, and can be found online here.

The magazine has numerous articles of interest, but we particularly recommend the section where the magazine looks over the Bushfire Royal Commission’s recommendations for action, and assesses how well these recommendations have been followed:

  • Improve community education, the effectiveness of warnings and strategies for safe evacuation.
  • Establish a comprehensive approach to shelter options.
  • Upgrade emergency management, including fire path prediction and the revision of lines of authority.
  • Upgrade the capacity to respond to fire ignitions, including aerial response.
  • Power lines should go underground.
  • There should be a commitment to research and effective action on arsonists.
  • Planning and building controls need strengthening.
  • Improved fuel reduction burning effectiveness.
  • Implementing the recommendations.

For each of these recommendations, the report is mixed: and the magazine concludes as a general comment: ‘The Implementation Monitor for the commission’s recommendations, Neil Comrie, pointed out that the 67 recommendations shouldn’t be considered in isolation. Rather, all identified strategies to protect life (as a priority), infrastructure and the environment should be considered together. Despite its limitations, fuel reduction planning continues, to a large degree, in isolation from other very useful strategic options.

‘And climate change is still the elephant rampaging through the room.’

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Central West forests: sorting out what the public thinks

The Victorian Environment Assessment Council has released a summary of responses to its draft recommendations on the Central West forests. The summary can be found here.

The consultation is an interesting example of a public body sounding out opinion as part of its decision making process. In addition to a widely representative reference group, and direct communication with landholders with an interest in the areas in question, VEAC conducted drop in sessions in the region, and invited submissions:

‘In total, 2698 written submissions on the draft proposals paper were received. Approximately 24 percent were from Melbourne, 20 per cent from in or near the investigation area, 19 per cent from other parts of rural and regional Victoria, and 3 per cent from interstate;34 per cent were submitted with no location information. 137 submissions were from organisations and the remainder were from individuals.’

There were 1500 identical [ie, pro forma] submissions. Of these, 919 opposed the creation of a Wombat National Park, and 618 were pro forma submissions prepared by the Victorian National Parks Association. These supported the draft recommendations plus the creation of a national park in the Mount Cole area. The individual submissions reveal a wide variety of often contradictory views, which the council will have to account for in its final recommendations. Some of the submissions showed a degree of cynicism about the Council’s independence, but as far as we can tell, the process has been pretty transparent. Given our own cynicism about aspects of the Victorian Government’s ‘engage Victoria’ process, we were interested in VEAC’s comment on the way it considered the public’s views:

Because submitters do not constitute a representative sample of the population, recommendations are not based on the number of times a comment or viewpoint was submitted; rather, it was what was in the submissions that counted.’

The final report will be delivered to the Minister in June.

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Want to be in the Easter bird check?

BirdLife International has identified areas of conservation importance around the world as Key Biodiversity Areas (KBAs). This includes KBAs right here in our region. Our KBAs were designated especially for their importance for two special birds, Diamond Firetail and Swift Parrot, and cover both public and private land.

The three KBAs in the Mount Alexander Shire are Clydesdale-Strangways, Sandon-Strathlea and Muckleford-Newstead.

Sandon State forest: Sandon is one of the key biodiversity areas in our region, along with Clydesdale-Strangways and Muckleford Newstead.

Birdlife’s Easter health check takes an annual snapshot of the threat and conservation actions of the areas that matter most to birds. BirdLife compares results between KBAs across Australia and around the globe. The results are extremely valuable, especially for identifying species decline and targeting conservation work.

BirdLife is looking for local people to complete a 2019 Easter health check for each KBA. To help, Connecting Country is running a workshop on Friday 12 April 2019 in Newstead.   Greg Turner from BirdLife Victoria will talk through the process for our part of the Bendigo Box Ironbark area. Geoff Nevill from the Muckleford Forest Friends Group will also talk about his group’s work in the region.

This annual check is all about assessing habitat and its threats. Anyone with an interest in landscape restoration is most welcome to come along and get involved, whether you’re a beginner or an experienced birdwatcher. Come  to this workshop to learn how you can participate in the Easter Health Check: 

  • Learn about the KBA’s in the Mount Alexander Shire.
  • Find out about KBA Easter Health Check – what it is and how to do it.
  • Meet other people working with KBAs.

Where: Newstead Community Centre Mechanics Hall, 9 Lyons St, Newstead VIC, on Friday 12 April 2019: 9.00 to 11.30 am. It’s free, with morning tea and refreshments provided.

To book, click hereIf you have any questions, please contact Ivan Carter at Connecting Country on (03) 5472 1594 or ivan@connectingcountry.org.au.

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State of the environment: Victoria gets a D

The Commissioner for the environment has released the five yearly State of the Environment report for Victoria. The summary report can be found here.

Even the summary report is not easy reading, but it’s fair to say that in most categories Victoria gets only a ‘fair’ or ‘poor’ for environmental management.

Here are three representative passages from the report. First, on water: given the drastic events along the Darling river this year, the following is a dire warning:

‘Metrics and thresholds currently do not exist to promptly determine when the condition of Victoria’s water resources and waterway health for reasons related to flow has deteriorated to such an extent that urgent action is required.’

Second, on fire, readers won’t be surprised to see this:

‘Biodiversity impacts from planned fires and bushfires at regional and statewide scales are currently unclear. An approach to monitor biodiversity responses (flora and fauna) to fire at multiple scales (regional and statewide) is missing.’

And lastly, on land management, in view of the current forest survey, we offer the following:

‘Various investment programs across multiple land management units have created different, inconsistent data sources and terminologies for reporting on the state of biodiversity, land and forest assets in Victoria. Data is inadequate to answer many of the critical questions about biodiversity science in Victoria. Victoria’s biodiversity science and data capability are undermined by a lack of coordination and a strategic approach to investing in the critical research that will enable an ecosystems approach to decision making and policy interventions…

‘There is only a basic understanding of the effect of land use and land-use change on soil and land in Victoria.’

Cairn Curran reservoir, March 27. The reservoir is currently at 35% capacity, compared to 64% this time last year. The environment commissioner has noted that we currently don’t know when or how poor water flow might impact on waterway health and water resources.

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