Rod Thompson, President
I am breaking a little from my normal format of the president’s report this issue. There were many things raised in our meeting with the chief Ranger Dave Roberts that I wanted to expand on, and felt for the benefit of those who could not attend, I would use my column to do this. That means less rant and more information this quarter. Thats my intention anyway. But I might slip a little.
Fire management is well resourced due to govt. push at the moment, but not other areas of park management. In general across the staff long term stability has been consistent. However older staff are retiring, some will be replaced some not. This gives the park a balance of new enthusiastic and experienced staff. Unfortunately staff levels are declining, and responsibilities are increasing, so they have to prioritise. Cleaning toilets etc must now be performed by Rangers as there is not enough funding to pay for contractors. This takes them from other duties but the management team have to do what is best for the park long term, based on the funding currently available. It still seems wrong to see people with tertiary qualifications in resource management and other degrees cleaning toilets, filling toilet rolls and cleaning up after lazy tourists. Some of this funding has to be applied for annually, so some positions can’t be permanent. Additionally there are positions which depend on project funding which is also time limited. This results in a turn over of staff in some positions, such as the Grampians Ark coordinator (the fox control program), where Ben Thomas (formerly DELWP who fortunately has lots of experience) is replacing Ben Holmes who has gone to a position with Conservation Volunteers Australia overseeing a re-wilding project at Little Desert Nature Lodge.
We are lucky due to location and size to have the only parks road team in the state, consisting of 2 drivers and grader.
Disaster recovery has been prominent in recent years but the tide is turning back to normal management issues such as education and relating with stakeholders to work towards the future of the park. But bear in mind these recovery programs have opened up other infrastructure rebuilding and renewal at rapid rate.
Goltons gorge will be reopened eventually after consultation with stakeholders and user groups, and some of the FOGGs and other representatives from the local area will aid in a type of advisory group.
Stapleton campground will be reopened in coming months, including school group facilities. Many northern walks will be reopened after that, there was no point while the camp was closed. This closure was necessary until the site was brought up to the safety standards required by Parks Vic across all its locations.
Construction of the Peaks trail will then be creating new tracks and new alignments on old tracks. This will change usage of northern Grampians. New vistas will be visible from these tracks and will often be used by day walkers not just long distance hikers.
One such location will be Dead Bullock Falls, and up to the plateau and a circuit on Mt. Difficult range including Briggs bluff. Troopers Creek infrastructure will be moving to Dead Bullock creek. The reasons are twofold. The beautiful location, and the need to protect a newly located art site near Troopers Creek that has been mindlessly vandalised by some visitors.
In an ideal world everything would be reopened ASAP but practicality means investigating need, usage and environmental purpose/impact. Parks Vic. need to do this properly instead of just following desire or hedging bets. Some areas are very susceptible to erosion and damage due to fire impact, and it is necessary to keep people out to allow proper recovery. After the January 2014 fires The Bush Fire Rapid Risk Assessment Team created a new category for the severity of impact on the Wartook plateau catchment. There is not enough data yet to know the full impact, or causes but current fire and burning regimes seem to be not right, They are certainly not working properly for current climate and weather patterns.
There are more winter and heathland burning trials taking place-low intensity, smaller area, more mosaic style burns may be the answer. The trick is to manage ecosystems, and older age class vegetation needed for survival. Unfortunately, due to the impact of large severe fires and incorrect burning regimes, now only 20% of park is mature forest. Different parts recover faster than others, gullies much quicker than plateau areas. Some animal species rapidly returned, but need food sources to survive. And in the case of insectivorous small mammals and birds, this is problematic with the destruction of the leaf litter layer on the forest floor.
The central corridor of the park seems to be over used by visitor numbers, with too many people for the number of car parks. This may be contributed to by the number of areas closed since the fires, and even the flooding back in 2011. Traffic management has become a big issue in area and this raises the concept of a shuttle bus project again. It has been trialled before but the ever increasing numbers mean it has to be seriously looked at. A suggested alternative would be to make the Mount Victory road one way, creating a loop that returns through Roses Gap, but this requires a lot of community support, and Vic Roads to be on board too. I don’t think we are ready for that as a park yet.
School education programs are hopefully being rebuilt with new resources, making use of study and research results. Concerns have grown about this issue after discovering there is currently no pool of resources to answer information requests from students and community groups. This is an important thing for the future of National Parks and their place in the community, and their ability to get ongoing funding. Many schools are interested but need more school programs. Some enquiries even coming from Adelaide, Melbourne and other locations further away, not just the local area. Maybe a bush classroom or some similar learning system can be put in place from state funding, with a rollout hopefully starting springtime.
One worrying issue is funding. The only revenue developed by Parks Vic is from camping fees. No walking fees are currently allowed, and in a cash strapped economy, where the environment is not seen as a major priority, that means Parks budgets are not enough. We all need to lobby our decision makers to put the environment we live in, and its health, as a priority ahead of economic growth. If our environment falls, so does our economy.
The Rock Wallaby population has been a concern for some time, with attempts to reintroduce a viable population struggling, due to a lack of breeding success and higher than expected mortality rates. Now after reaching a conclusion that viability is an issue due to the dwindling population, one of the females, known as KR1, has sub-adult joey at foot and pouch young. Nothing has ever survived this long in this attempt at a breeding colony. However the population of 4 wallabies and 3 offspring will not be viable. With 6 months till the offspring reach breeding age there has to be decision about how it is managed. DELWP don’t want to do more releases but something has to be decided to prevent in-breeding. It seems that stability has occurred in conjunction with lower numbers. Perhaps early planning over estimated viability of site? Our colony size is similar to Gippsland, but they have 6 satellite populations whereas we have only one here. Watch this space.
In some of my own research into the history of deer within the park I find references to an 1863 visit by the crown prince, who spent the day shooting wallabies off the rock faces. Some of these reports suggest many hundreds were shot. One eye witness even suggested thousands. When he became bored of shooting ‘stupid animals’ and watching them fall lifelessly to the ground below, he asked to go big game hunting. When informed that there was no native big game in Australia he suggested something was done about it. This brought the Acclimatisation Society to introducing the deer. These deer are now protected within the park, and it would take an act of parliament to change the rules and remove the deer protectorate status. (the wonders of the commonwealth, even here they are the queens deer!) But the beautiful little rock wallabies he, and others, so happily slaughtered have struggled ever since.
Dear to the hearts of many of our group is Sallow wattle management, particularly to those who reside on the northern end of the park. It is a tough fight, and almost a loosing battle. The first method is mechanical control. This involves cutting and mulching with bobcat around significant vegetation to prevent losses.
Experimental control plots for manual, mechanical, chemical and brushcutter are taking place, and other control forms are being looked at too. Gall wasp, as trialled and used in South Africa, appear not to be effective as it is too dry here and only seems effective in wet locations. There is also a team in one of the tertiary institutions researching carbon buildup and if it helps sallow proliferation.
Mapping is taking place, and we as FOGGies are participating in photographic monitoring of the spread. Containment is possible, stopping spread, but eradication is questionable due to the area impacted and the lack of money available. It saddens me that this is the case, but when you consider that the only effective method so far has involved someone actually handling every individual seedling or tree to remove it, and there are hundreds of millions in the park. If you miss one and it sets seeds, they remain viable for more than 70 years. One natural disaster allows them to take root again. I am ashamed to admit that this is a truth at my place adjacent to the park.
It is great to know that our park is on the personal radar of the New Parks CEO. It may not change anything for our park, but at least we know we are not forgotten due to our distance from the capitol.