For our annual catchup with Dave Roberts, we had 12 members sitting around the board table at the Parks office in Halls Gap. As usual there were many topics, and lots of information covered. I’ll try and condense it down to a shortish report.
Dave began by giving us a summary of important numbers for our park:
1.3 million visits last year, of which 500,000 visited McKenzie Falls, the most visited site in the park. 40,000 children involved in school camps and educational activities come through the park. This makes the Grampians the third most visited park in Victoria. We are beaten by the 12 apostles, with 3.8 million, and Great Otway NP is the second most visited.
There have been 30,740 volunteer hours spent in the park on a wide variety of projects. (This is the equivalent of 18 additional full time staff!) This figure may well drop with Caitlyn O’Reilly’s position probably ending on June 30th, due to lack of funding. I just can’t see how volunteer work can be run so effectively without our dedicated volunteer coordinator. The trail rider and Sherpa programs may well be at risk without her role.
Tourism in the Park contributes $475 Million of the $20.6 Billion to the Victorian economy. From $140 Million in assets. And yet less than 8% of Victorian tourism recognise the Grampians as a location.
There are many licensed tourism businesses operating within the park. 395 to be precise, covering everything from bus tours, guided walks, birdwatching, fourwheel driving to action sports like canoeing, cycling and rock climbing.
We have the largest concentration of Aboriginal cultural and art sites in Victoria, with 88% of all known sites within the Grampians region, including one of the oldest, confirmed at 22,000 years old.
There are so many more details, but it would take all day to list them. In short, ours is a very important piece if countryside for Parks Victoria, the state and the nation.
We then moved on to staffing matters. Ryan has gone to NSW to do species reintroduction, something he enjoyed while working on the Rock Wallaby project here. But as compensation Mike Stevens has returned to replace him. Mike is a small mammals expert. Monitoring programs and Grampians Ark project were originally driven by his push and we are lucky to have him back. His most recent project has been designing and implementing the Feral grazing animal control project. 12 months funded herbivore control program for deer and goats
The Judas goat program has been working well, with 12 goats in one shift last week. However the Deer program is slower progress, with 7 shooters, seven zones resulting in a total of 12 deer. Private property permissions and operations adjacent to the park may be more effective. This does seem important to get right with the park now containing 3 or even 4 species of deer, perhaps due to recent illegal releases by deer hunting enthusiasts within the park.
We came then to the topic of fire. A senior staff member has been here 35 years, this is only the second year he hasn’t attended a fire in the park! This has been great to see, as there has been a lot less environmental and asset destruction than in many years prior.
No controlled burning took place Easter weekend, which has traditionally been a big part of the fire program. They were not too stressed that the wet came in early, previous fire history means there hasn’t been as much need to burn. There is no longer an area based program. More risk focussed planning will become the standard.
The Peaks trail is still a major work underway with September 30th 2019 the projected end date for works. The planning is quite an arduous process. 8 different planning approvals to be gained for each stage. Cultural approval, Fire safety, Emergency management, Local Government, Native Title process, and finally biodiversity/environmental management for all 3 levels of government!
The planning framework is the same as for a high rise in the city, even for a bush campsite!
Any vegetation removal has to be offset by buying other vegetation. This cannot be done for this length of track, 100 km of new trail, so planning has to come up with another proposal, such as the purchase of private land adjacent, or maybe closed trails could contribute to offset. The North South runway of Victoria valley air strip will be decommissioned soon, as it is no longer used. This will be a major contribution to the offset. Unfortunately we are the first park to go through this process under current rules, so it is trial and error procedure.
11 campsites are yet to be built. With environmental offsets adhered to.
There is still no extra money to maintain new facilities and sites. A pity considering the use the trail may be getting after completion. The first 12 months Bugiga campsite saw 1300 walkers, generating $20,000 revenue that goes to central revenue, Victorian parks are not allowed to retain revenue, so it goes to Central and is redistributed, not necessarily back to maintain the facilities that earn it. $17,000 was expended to maintain the campsite, toilets etc from the park budget.
This would indicate the State invested in trail not for Parks Victoria’s sake but their own.
We also discussed the fox and feral cat control programs. 100 cameras in park are recording 3 cats for every fox seen. It would appear they are a bigger problem, but harder and more expensive to set up control programs due to the fact that cats (even feral, marsupial hunting monsters) are a domestic animal. They must be taken alive to a vet for microchip check, and given the green dream needle, at the park’s cost.
The recently adopted single use Candid injectors for 1080 are being employed on fox control. They are well designed and set up so that only a large animal can be dosed. There are 40 in use, but Ravens have been eating lure meat and rendering them useless! Cagy foxes eating lure from side. The design ensures that only an animal of a certain size, pulling upwards on the bait with 5kg of force will set off a spring that launches a 1080 pellet into the mouth of the animal. This prevents other species from being effected, and those dosed get a strong dose and are killed rapidly. The biggest issue is they are single use and need to be reset after each firing. There is a multi dose bait injector in use in U.S. Hopefully after going through the process it will be approved here soon.
At this point we decided Dave had been in the interrogation chair long enough, and sent him home to his family, and the rest of us adjourned to an evening meal together to continue talking.
Yes I know, its not that short!