Brush-tailed Rock-wallaby Update

Ryan Duffy
Team Leader, Cultural And Natural Values

Since November 2012, the Grampians rock-wallaby reintroduction has experienced its share of highs and lows. November  saw the largest single release of wallabies to date, with 17 animals being released at Moora Creek. This was part of a new strategy to introduce greater genetic diversity into the population which was anticipated to alleviate depressed breeding. This was certainly a high for the diverse partners involved in the Victorian Brush-tailed Rock-wallaby recovery team.

Soon after the release the program experienced a steady succession of mortalities. Wallabies are radio-tracked on a regular basis, mortalities are retrieved as quickly as possible in order to aid post mortem investigation. Few post mortems delivered conclusive results, however it appears fox predation is still one process threatening the reintroduced colony. This is despite Parks Victoria’s Grampians Ark fox baiting program delivering a Rolls Royce fox control program in proximity to the colony site.

The recent succession of mortalities has exceeded what was identified to be a manageable level of mortality for the reintroduced colony. As a result DEPI and the Victorian Brush-tailed Rock-wallaby Recovery Team decided to suspend further releases until a program review is complete in November 2013. We anticipate the review will look back over the past year to draw upon any learning’s and also look forward to determine if Moora Creek is still a suitable site and if the current strategy is likely to achieve its overall objective, to secure a second wild population of Victorian Brush-tailed Rock-wallabies.

Reintroduction programs are challenging and the highs and lows experienced since November 2012 echo this sentiment. Despite the challenges, although strategies may change our ultimate goal to secure Victorian populations of Brush-tailed Rock-wallabies remains clear.

Celebrating 100 years of Zumsteins – 22 September

The 100 Year celebration of Zumsteins will be held on Sunday 22 September 2013 at Zumsteins Picnic Ground in the Grampians National Park. The day will be also a celebration for the restoration works that have happened since the 2011 flood and storm event.

A small group have come together from the local community, the Horsham Historical Society, Wartook Tourism Association and Parks Victoria to plan for this special day. They would like to invite anybody who has enjoyed or has a strong association to the area, to come and celebrate this much-loved place created over one hundred years ago by Walter Zumstein. The celebrations begin at 10.30am with a number of speakers and displays bringing to life the many memories of the area, and of Walter Zumstein and his family. There will also be many activities such as a community bike ride from Rosebrook, a community picnic and children’s games. Restoration works from the 2011 storm and flood event at Zumsteins will be completed for this event. Visitors will see plenty of evidence of the site’s recovery both in the picnic area and in the surrounding environment.

Zumsteins memories, stories or photos can be emailed to  Rod Jenkinson  or call into the Historical Society rooms at 33 Pynsent Street on Tuesdays or Wednesdays between 1.30 and 4.30pm or phone Ron on 53822573 evenings.

Sharing The Dilemmas: How And When And What Should We Burn?

Glenn Rudolph DEPI

Glenn started by showing photos of the experimental burn they did in the Wannon heathland mid July this year, which Dave R has alluded to in his piece. This area has not been burnt since the 60’s and is a very valuable small mammal habitat. It would be disastrous to have a large fire go through it so they wanted to see how a winter burn would help break it up. They used only 3 matches to light it, no accelerants. They waited till a day when the temperature was below 15, and the fuel moisture level was 16% and lit it in the afternoon. There was much dead grass. Flame heights reached 2 to 3 m. By 5.45 the edges were starting to self extinguish, by 6pm only small pockets were still alight, by 10 pm it was completely out. It reached 8 ha and were very happy with the outcome. They did prefire camera monitoring, and will continue post fire , and used a Tasmanian expert on button grass fires to help the planning.

Glenn then started discussion on this year’s FOP.

Total burn targets – each of these includes about 1000ha of other methods of control eg slashing:

  • yr1: 24,500ha,
  • yr2: 27,000 ha,
  • yr3: 35,000ha.

Most of the work will be done in the Serra Range area. He showed us a map of one large  complex area with different needs, which will need different patterns of burning. There was a query why such a large area selected? Answer: because they want to make the control lines on existing tracks.

We discussed the dilemma of what and when to burn of the 2006 fire area, in the light of research on how the vegetation of different vegetation classes changes in time after a fire. If we do nothing, too much of the Park will be the same age, with no space for new plants to come in. He drew a rough graph of how it would look in 5 years, 10 years. So they would like to start burning up to 100ha of the 2006 burnt area each year, except for the mature trees. There was general agreement that this made sense. We would like to see some winter burning near the old growth areas to protect them. Someone  commented that before the Mt Stapylton fire over 30 years ago the moss beds on Flat Rock were 18 inches deep, and they are only now coming back.

There was a question about monitoring the spread of the African weed orchid as the burnt part of Rocklands had lots of it. Ryan admitted they hadn’t done anything as yet, and didn’t know what they could afford to do.

Protecting the gullies as John White says presents a real problem and dilemma. They are vital refuges, but in a wildfire they are also the chimney that takes a fire up to the top. The burnt wet gullies on the Victoria Range will take 30 years to recover.

There was much discussion of need to mosaic burn and aboriginal burning practices. Also for the desirability of unburnt patch areas for refuges against the desire to have the fire blacked out. Public outcry if a planned fire escapes eg Terrick Terrick.  Discussion of indigenous practices, more burns in winter, more small burns, how to resource, how to better work with CFA inside park especially with changing  management structures and shrinking resources in PV and DSE. There was some discussion of township protection. Halls Gap has a good level of treatment of fuels. Some thought that Laharum is a problem as it is largely the fuel on private properties that causes concern.

In general unofficial discussion after, I felt that many in DEPI and Parks agree the post Black Saturday burn targets are wrong, but they are trying to live with them in the hope they will be changed.

The FOP is on the website of DEPI, and you are encouraged to  make comments.

Cultural Heritage Post 2013 Fire

Suzi Coates (DEPI Ballarat, cultural issues)
Suzi is herself indigenous and has worked on several interesting projects.

There are 99 known Aboriginal cultural sites in the Grampians of which 69 are rock art. All are very vulnerable to fire, as are scar trees and quarries. Damage is caused by ash, smoke, heat. And not just the fire, also the clean up and subsequent erosion. Damage to the art work (heat flaking etc), the surrounding infrastructure, and the subsurface archaeological deposits. The damage may not be apparent to casual inspection, as the micro climate has effects.

The post fire team had 3 requirements: assess and conserve, repair and replace infrastructure, assess control lines prior to remediation works.

Teams have so far gone to 23 known sites and have found 3 new ones. More are likely to be found. The teams have consisted of people from four traditional owner groups and 3 agencies.

Preliminary learnings:

  • It takes time (at least 4 weeks) to get the right teams organised
  • the need to use experienced staff
  • the need for a formal debrief, feedback and evaluation mechanism for both successes and things needing improvement
  • heritage assessment is a priority early on.

It was lucky that there had been plans for a prescribed burn in the area, so work had gone into clearing vegetation from the sites, thus there was less defoliation of the rock as less heat close by.

It will be important to use the more open bush to look for sites and register them with AAV. A team is coming soon to register and reregister sites, both within and outside the burnt area.

Partnerships, both with natural values work and cultural heritage will be essential. Traditional owners and AAV. Rock art conservationists are rare and expensive.

There was quite a bit of discussion about how non-indigenous people can get involved in cultural heritage.  Rock climbers make discoveries, some pass them on, others keep quiet over fear of losing sites. But many are passionate about preserving the sites. Other members of the public are keen to help but don’t know how to. No definite answers, but at least the question has been raised.

The Impact Of Fire On The Ecology – Both Short Term And Long Term

Prof John White of Deakin University. ( He was Mike Stevens supervisor in 2007,8 as Mike started his honours thesis on small mammals after the 2006 fire. He currently has quite a few different honours students following up the research.)

Climate change will most likely cause more frequent and more intense wildfires, bringing significant alterations to fire regimes and the potential for more loss of flora and fauns species. Also predicted is an increased chance of drought, punctuated by extreme rainfall events.

There are big knowledge gaps. Most research is on prescribed burning and small fires. The critical gap is large fires, which are going to come more often.  Who survives a fire, and why? Where do the recolonising animals come from? What is the role of the climate conditions post fire on the recovery?

What they are doing: Monitoring 36 sites set up post the 2006 fire, but not immediately. 26 in burnt area, 10 outside it. 6 of these sites were burnt in Feb 2013 (I didn’t catch how many of these were previously burnt ). Each site is trapped 4 nights a year, with individuals sexed, tagged and identified. In 2012 they started genetically sampling, which they now wished they had started earlier. He showed a  detailed slide of the story so far (see below). Steady slow recovery at first, great increase 2011,12, dramatic slump in 2013 especially bandicoot numbers.  He also showed slides of the rainfall history, clearly a major factor. 1995 -2010 was the longest and most serious drought in 150 years: = slow recovery, 2011 serious rain event := boom, 2012,13 very hot ,below average spring and summer: = crash and another fire. Rainfall is a bottom up feeder (the increase in vegetation speeds up the recovery). The long term detailed data we are collecting in the Grampians is critical to our understanding of fire and climate. No-one else is doing it anywhere ! [Editor’s comment:Hooray for Mike Stevens for starting it!] And it has to be done regularly so as to pick up the booms and busts. If it was annual or  less,  they would have missed some of them.

He highlighted a few important findings and questions up to before the Feb 2013 fire:

  • systems can recover from large fires.
  • Distance from the unburnt part of the park did not affect the small mammal recovery, so where do the colonisers come from?
  • Recolonisation being uniform supports that the role of refuge habitats is important. So what are the important habitat refuges in the Grampians landscape? Who survives a big fire?

Camera surveys in April – June 2010 helped explore the role of gullies and depressions. There are more small animals in heathlands than in forests, more animals in gullies and depressions than elsewhere.

Then came the Feb 2013 fire. This time they were able to come in quickly. It is very early days but there are some preliminary findings: some survival in the burnt areas, mainly antechinus. Logs and structures are critical.

In talking to John and Ryan at lunchtime, I mentioned that FOGGS had in the past helped some students with costs. Ryan then told me that there was indeed an urgent need for more money to help student work. This Ballarat Uni one is covered for this year, but the surveys arising from the Museum Victoria snapshot has insufficient funding. We decided I would approach the FOGG committee about providing $3000 to help .

Here are two of the slides John showed us. He stresses that they are simplified, and provisional, yet I found them really interesting, and I hope you do too.

Animal Survey Results

I had to look up the common names of these animals: M.musculus is the common house mouse, A.agilis is the agile antechinus, P shortridgei is heath mouse, R.lutreolus is  swamp rat, S. murina is common dunnart, A. flavipes  yellow-footed antechinus, A. swainsonii dusky antechinus, T vulcepular  brushtail possum, R. rattus common rat, I.obesulus southern brown bandicoot, C. nanus Eastern pygmy possum, P. Breviceps  sugar glider, P. fumeus smoky mouse. Of these, all are native except the house mouse and the common rat.

Animal Survey Results 2

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FOGGS are hoping that later we will have a presentation to us, either from John himself or some of his students. It is such an important project.