When we had asked Mike to update us on environmental issues in the park, particularly on the overgrazing issue, he was not yet acting as Ranger in Charge, so in the end we got some of each.
Sallow wattle: The aim is to control as much as possible, using a mix of handpulling and mechanical mulching. We really have to do as much as we can as it potentially could cause huge problems. In Wilsons Promontory a weed teatree has spread and spread. We asked about the sallow wattle monitoring that some of us had volunteered to do while Ryan was in the position. Mike was not very familiar with it and asked each of us to collate what we had done so far and show him, so he could see what use could be made of it.
Predators: We have both foxes and cats. Fox baiting has been going on for over 20 years now and is working to some extent to keep the numbers down, but the cameras show that cat numbers are now very high. It is at last recognised that cats should be dealt with but it will be probably over a year before cat baiting can start. Mike hopes that then we can follow the lead of SA where aerial baiting in winter has been very effective.
Fire : The fires of the last 12 years have had a massive impact on the Park and work is needed to recreate a diversity in age groups. Mike would like to see more winter burning, and more small patch burning, but this requires hard work.
Water Management: The wetland areas need better management. Some experimental work was done to improve Bryan Swamp, but the management of water needs more thought and negotiation.
Herbivores: We have both deer and goats. We have rabbits and hares too but they are a lesser problem. We have recently received funding for large scale shooting of both deer and goats.
Goats: To eradicate them is going to be impossible, but if we could reduce the numbers by 35% each year, the numbers would remain stable or decline. But the current shooting programme is only achieving 16%. The extra funding will of course help, but that requires constant monitoring feedback to convince the money holders to continue.
Deer. A real concern and we are trying different methods of control, using licensed shooters. The shooters are able to take the meat but not the antlers. But again at this stage it is impossible to eradicate them so we are concentrating on the areas where they are doing the most damage, such as in the areas in the north recovering from the 2014 fires. Plus work with neighbouring landholders is underway.
What to do about the over abundant macropods? This is a real dilemma. The exclusion plots that were set up at Cooinda Burrong (and which FOGGS used to monitor) and another site nearby clearly demonstrated that the damage was not being done by rabbits, but by large animals. However there was no way of distinguishing between deer and macropods. Other research is indicating that on the fringes of the park the culprits are both deer and kangaroos, further inside it is swamp wallabies and deer in different habitats. (Interestingly swamp wallabies only arrived in the Grampians in the 1970s and numbers are steadily increasing). But getting approval, let alone funding, for macropod reduction is going to be a real battle. So the strategy is to go all out against deer and goats for the next five years, while educating and arguing for macropod work as well; then hopefully we will be able to address the macropod issue.
Partnerships are the key to getting better information and particularly the Deakin Uni partnership has been great. But funding remains a real problem, the park has to contribute to the uni costs.
Mike also gave us a bit of a general update, some of which was very similar to what I had heard at the Advisory Group meeting and have reported elsewhere so I won’t repeat it here. We then had a chance to ask questions. Mike confirmed that the lack of regeneration of banksias on the red gum walk was likely to be deer predation. Other questions were on Golton Gorge work and the Peaks Trail.
We also reminded Mike that we are very happy to support any research done by students, that we have funds that could be used for travel costs etc.
We then let Mike go and join his family for dinner while we also adjourned to the pub for a meal together.