FLOOD RECOVERY UPDATES

 

Fish Falls Walking Track Reopens for the June Long Weekend

In a significant milestone for the Grampians Flood Recovery Program, Parks Victoria advises that the MacKenzie River Walk between Zumsteins Picnic Area and Fish Falls has re-opened. This walk sustained extensive damage during the January 2011 floods that impacted the Grampians region. Works have been completed along the entire length of the track to reduce ongoing maintenance and improve the experience for visitors.

While the restoration of Zumsteins Picnic Area continues, visitors are advised to park in the car park at the western end of the picnic area and following the directional signs. These signs will guide visitors across the MacKenzie River, past the three Pise Cottages and along a new section of walking track before linking with the original MacKenzie River Walk.

The section of walking track between Fish Falls and MacKenzie Falls will be open in late June 2013. The works on MacKenzie Falls walking track to the base has been completed and is now open for walkers.

 Venus Baths and Wonderland Area

 The Wonderland Loop Walk suffered significant damage from the January 2011 flood event that devastated the Grampians National Park, Flood waters caused destruction along the entire length of the walk which has led to the lengthy recovery program. Two footbridges have been replaced, another footbridge has required extensive repairs, two large landslides have required the construction of new walking track alignments, and almost the entire length of the walking track has required repairs, ranging from complete realignments, to the reconstruction of stone staircases and retaining walls.

Eight contractors, a Landmate crew from the Ararat Prison, up to 25 locally employed staff and Parks Victoria staff have completed works on the loop walk across the recovery program. The stonework is really impressive. Parks are going to be working with the Halls Gap and Grampians Historical Association on new interpretative signs here and at Heatherlie Quarry.

The Mt Rosea walking track has also been re opened with a realignment in some areas, and new railings at the lookout. (actually not flood recovery, but as part of the Grampians Peak Trail).

 

THE BURNING ISSUE

 

After the discussion at the two advisory group meetings, I wrote the letter below to several local politicians, with copies to DSE and Parks. I sent it as an individual, not as Advisory group nor as a Foggie.

I am writing to you over my deep concern as to some unforeseen consequences of the burn targets set after the Bushfire Royal Commission. I am not at this point commenting on the targets themselves, but on how wildfires and different suppression activities are not taken into account.

The recent fire in the Grampians highlights the problem. The fire burnt through 28,920 hectares, almost one fifth of the park’s 168,110 hectares, of which 15,000 hectares was planned to be burnt this year. And this only 7 years after the Mt Lubra fires, so that now only one third of the Park’s vegetation is more than 7 years old. Yet under the rigid burn targets, none of this reduces what is supposed to be burnt in the next couple of years. There have also been fires in the less populated areas of the Mallee, which face the same problems.

In addition, other suppression activities such as bulldozed areas are also disregarded.

Much good work is being done by DSE and Parks Victoria staff to improve our understanding of the role of planned fire in protecting both the environment and human life, but this is undermined by meaningless academic targets which do not take into account the areas where fire and suppression activities have already created fire breaks.

I realise that it is probably too late for this years Prescribed Burning Plan but would urge you to bring these arguments to the Minister so that action can be taken before the next plan. I am not arguing for no burns, only for a more rational calculation of what is needed and that all fuel reduction, whether it occurs through planned burning or bushfire be taken into consideration.

Yours etc

Margo Sietsma

I had only cursory acknowledgements from the government members, but support from my local Labour member.

ADVISORY GROUP REPORT June 2013

 

The group has met twice this year. The first meeting was a combined meeting with the Round Table, and the second was a stand alone meeting.

The meeting with the Round Table group on 9 April was interesting. I was there wearing two hats, substituting for Wendy as FOGG rep, and as Advisory Group convenor. Wendy was unable to attend, but has been keeping me up to date on what has been happening. The meeting specifically focused on the recent Victoria Valley Complex Fire which impacted on private property and National Park Estate. It looked at the fire, its impact, the response and recovery processes. It was also going to discuss the implications on our burning program which is of particular relevance to the Advisory Group, but ran out of time.

Attending the meeting were Graham Parkes and Russell Manning who were both Incident Controllers throughout the fire as well as Dave Roberts and Glenn Rudolph in operational roles. Some of the Round Table members had involvement in the fire as did a number of advisory group members

We had a lengthy discussion on the fire, and its frustratingly unusual behaviour, in that it started when the weather forecast was for low fire danger then spread so fast during the night. The stretched resources of PV and DSE were also a hindrance as firefighters had to be called back from the Mallee and Gippsland fires. Unfortunately we ran out of time to discuss the impact on the Park’s natural and cultural values or the wider implications. So it was good to have our regular AG meeting in April.

At the April meeting we started the very full day with discussing the Round Table Forum. The group felt that it had been an excellent idea to have us there, and should be continued.

We do not see the round table as a replacement for the AG, because of its focus purely on fire, and its uncertain future. We then had a closer look at the fire. DR showed us a map of fire severity. It showed just how hot some of the fire was, and also how last year’s Fuel Reduction Burn slowed the fire and achieved patchiness in some areas. A rapid assessment team has been and has produced a report which will be generally available shortly. This will go to the Department of Finance and request about $3m, but given the huge bill of all the fires in the state this year ($110m) we are unlikely to get that much. DPIE are running the recovery. There’s about $1/2 million damage to roads: 44 culverts and kilometres of damaged road from the heavy machinery, plus170 km of control line needing rehab …., plus damage to infrastructure at cultural sites etc.

Lessons learnt:

The value of a few sensitive burns, and the preparations which were made when it was planned to put a burn in some of the area. Not only the patchiness in the burnt areas, but some cultural sites were better protected. (There’s some ex-foliation at the Camp of the Emu’s Foot, and where arsenic treated pine was used, a specialised team will have to be used to remove it.)

FRB implications. 15,000ha of this fire were planned to be burned this autumn, and now obviously won’t be. But on the current way targets are interpreted, this is not subtracted from the district quota. Some of the group expressed their disappointment with the fact that FRB targets do not take into account wildfire. However this is not something the AG can change. Individuals should consider writing to their local members. (as I have subsequently done: see my letterbelow.)

We covered a lot of ground during the meeting and I’ll deal with the major points.

Flood Recovery Update (Andrew Roach):

Milestones, openings. In all 67 local roads and 12 walking tracks have been worked on, and most work is now complete or almost so. However at Zumsteins there have been frustrating delays. The painting of the bridges was poor and the contractors have to redo it. Paper work from Melbourne has been slow. A decision on a date for the official reopening will be made soon. (Now confirmed as 22 September)

Environment and Heritage Update (Ryan):

    1. BRTWs. The project is facing real challenges,with several more deaths.

    2. Foxes. There will be extra fox baiting in the fire affected areas. Next year it is planned to put gps collars on some foxes to track their movements.. Cats are also a concern, and it is hoped that there will be better control techniques soon.

    3. Bioscan. In addition to the youtube clips, a more comprehensive written report will be done. DVDs of the history interviews have been produced.

    4. Deer research. The student’s PhD on deer diet in different vegetation communities is complete and will be presented soon.

  1. Flood and Fire recovery Projects.

    1. Mammal trapping has recommenced and is extended . Four of the sites were affected by the fire, so having several years prefire data and getting in quickly post fire will be very valuable.

    2. There are three new research projects. One is on Smoky Mouse. The second is on birds, and follows on from the Bioscan. Recorders will be set up, able to identify the birds from their calls, and also a study of data from long term bird watchers. The third is on aquatic refuges.

    3. Volunteer Co-ordinator. Thanks to Katherine, a big impact has been made on the outlier sallow wattle infestations.

Staffing update (Dave Roberts)

The Volunteer Coordinator position has commitment from PV & CVA(Conservation Volunteers Australia) for another 12months. The AG group welcomed this news and confirmed our support for the position to continue and build. Parks Victoria still need to shed 100+/- positions. The impact will be non “front line staff” initially, via voluntary redundancies. However, inevitably there will be impacts to on ground capacity. The amalgamation of DSE and DPI has not altered the status of PV. Parks will not be absorbed into the new body.

Commercial development in the Park. The group was divided on whether this would help or hinder the park, which is so strapped for funds. But we all agreed that adherence to the guidelines and community consultation was essential, and that the AG should get early notice of proposals.

Finally,Dave informed us that the Grampians would star in the forthcoming series of The Biggest Loser. Participants would be filmed out exercising in the Park.

If anyone is interested in more details of any of these, do contact me.

Margo

The missing fauna of the Grampians – Quolls By Mike Stevens with Eric Barber

 

Official wildlife database records are poor when attempting to understand the historic habitat ranges of many wildlife species. This creates difficulties when investigating the potential for large-scale fauna restoration opportunities across landscapes such as the Grampians. Common questions arise; What species used to occur in the landscape? How abundant were they? What was there habitat preference? Why did they go extinct?

My search started when comparing the data of previous small mammal captures by Seebeck1 in the 1970’s, or Cockburn2 in the 1980’s with recent small mammal trapping in the Grampians3. It is clear that species such as Long Nosed Potoroo, Southern Brown Bandicoot and Smokey Mouse have declined. This is in addition to the species already locally extinct such as White Footed Rabbit Rat, Southern Bettong, Western Barred Bandicoot and New Holland Mouse found by Wakefield4 in the 1960’s in Grampians cave deposits and the loss of poorly documented species such as Quoll5,6 and Dingo7.

However, nothing will replace local knowledge that can only be achieved through time spent working, living, exploring, studying and listening to a landscape. In Eric Barber, the Grampians has a custodian of local knowledge only earned through a long family connection with stories passed from his father, uncle and grandfather combined with a library of references only collected through a passionate career in natural history.

Eric’s oral history and advice has pointed me in the right direction to help paint the picture on Quoll in the Grampians landscape.

Eric accounts that many species that are rare or extinct today were common back in the 1800’s and 1900’s and were not noteworthy to write or document about being considered abundant and vermin. This makes establishing historic habitat ranges difficult when catastrophic disease possibly contributed to exterminating quolls on the mainland between 1901-19038,9. To this point, the presence of both species of Quoll in the Grampians (Eastern and Tiger) has provided many years of conjecture to agree if the species were actually present or not as official documentation is poor.

Eric explains that Quoll were once widespread. Supporting this valuable local oral history is research about to be published by David Peacock and Ian Abbot that has unearthed over 40,000 quoll records hidden in grey literature and family diaries from across Australia. This work includes local Grampians accounts such as; 1872 Mr Macpherson of Vermont noted that his father killed a large Tiger Quoll at the head of the Glenelg River (in the now Grampians National Park); 1875 – a Tiger Quoll was killed at Billgana in the Ararat district in the act of ‘devouring a good sized chicken’; 1882 – The Ararat Advertiser account for Eastern Quolls being trapped and killed during the lambing season in the Mount William district; 1885 – Eastern Quolls were also ‘very abundant’ in western Victoria with an author touring the region frequently seeing their ‘white-spotted carcasses lying about stations where they had been killed in traps’; 1898 – a toddler was scratched on the leg by an Eastern Quoll whilst in the Grampians (all accounts from Peacock and Abbot, unpublished data).

The evidence is now clear for the Grampians and surrounding area. A Tiger Quoll skull was recently found in a cave in the Victoria Range in March 2012. Eric provided me with the memoirs of Mrs M. Bodey5 from circa 1900 who writes from Walmer along the Wimmera River of native cats in their hundreds, unearthing and eating corpses in graves and attacking people in beds!

Over the past few hundred years land clearing has isolated the Grampians, fire regimes have been altered and the introduction of fox and cat combined with sport hunting of species such as Brush-tailed Rock-wallaby10,11 have changed the presence of native mammals we now have. However, imagine if we could play a role in large-scale restoration of our unique wildlife similar to ambitious attempts and plans in the UK or the USA?

I continue to research the missing wildlife the Grampians and am particularly interested in Dingo. Any information, family diaries or oral history accounts of Dingo (or Quoll) would be gratefully received. Please contact if you would like to provide any information.

Acknowledgement

Thank you to Eric and Evie Barber for kindly passing on information, obscure references and pointing me in the right direction. Thank you to David Peacock and Ian Abbot for use of Grampians quoll records prior to formal publication of their quoll database.

Citations:

 1 Seebeck, J.H. (1976). Mammals in the Pomonal area, Grampians. Victorian Naturalist 93. 138-147.

 

2 Cockburn, A. (1981). Population regulation and dispersion of the smoky mouse, Pseudomys fumeus II. Spring decline, breeding success and habitat heterogeneity. Australian Journal of Ecology6, 255-266.

 

3 De Bondi, N., White, J.G., Stevens, M., and Cooke, R. (2010). A comparison of the effectiveness of camera trapping and live trapping for sampling terrestrial small-mammal communities. Wildlife Research37, 456-465.

 

4 Wakefield, N. A. (1963). Mammal remains from the Grampians, Victoria. Victorian Naturalist 80, 130-133.

 

5 Bodey, M. (c.1900). ‘The early Wimmera’. Personal memoir. Personal communication.

 

6 Wakefield, N.A. (1974). Mammals of Western Victoria. In Douglas and O’Brien (Eds.), The Natural History of Western Victoria, pp. 35-51.

 

7 Carter, S. (1911). ‘Reminiscences of the early days of the Wimmera’. (Norman Brothers Printers: Melbourne.)

 

8 McQueen R. 1960. Native Cats on Wilson’s Promontory. Victorian Naturalist, 77, pp 206-207.

 

9 Paddle, R. 2002. The Last Tasmanian Tiger: The History and Extinction of the Thylacine. Published in Australia by Cambridge University Press

 

10 Fountain, P., and Ward, T. (1907). ‘Rambles of an Australian naturalist’. (John Murray, London.)

 

11 Lobert, B. (1988). The Brush-tailed Rock-wallaby (Petrogale penicillata) in the Grampians National Park and Black Range, Victoria. Part 1 – Survey. Arthur Rylah Institute for Environmental Research Technical Report Series No. 64. Department of Sustainability and Environment, Heidelberg, Victoria.

 

 

June 2013 Natural values updates from Ryan

 

Research Projects: There is an impressive list of projects being undertaken at the moment: birds, aquatic creatures, small mammals, importance of unburnt patches, Chytrid fungus survey of frogs, cinnamon fungus research, impact of sallow wattle infestations. To take just one of the research projects that has been borne out of the 2012 Grampians Bioscan, demonstrating the direct management benefits of our Museum Victoria and Parks Victoria partnership/relationship. It will assist us to understand the re-colonisation of Smoky Mice after a significant disturbance event such as the February 2013 Fire Complex.  The research provides us with a unique opportunity to learn and adapt our fire regimes and predator control program to help protect this species. The project is funded by Museum Victoria with in-kind and material support from the Grampians Ark program. There’s some great pictures and further information on: 

http://museumvictoria.com.au/about/mv-blog/may-2013/smoky-mice-in-the-grampians/

Brushtail Rock Wallaby update

Autumn health check trapping was suspended as we suspected one of the female wallabies had 'young at foot', which is good news. The female in question is the longest persisting wallaby at the site, hopefully she can pass on behaviours she has learnt at Moora Creek onto her offspring. 
- We are currently using a new fox control trap close to Halls Gap in order to determine if it will be useful to deploy within the Rock-wallaby site. The trap is called a 'collarum' and is a non-lethal neck-hold trap. This trap has several advantages in that it is target specific (should only be triggered by a fox); does not need a toxin (like 1080); and as it captures and holds a fox we would be able to confirm we have removed a fox from the wallaby colony. We have special permission to use these traps from DEPI and are the first to seek permission to use them in Victoria.

From our Ranger in Charge – Dave Roberts June 2013

 The months keep rolling by and our Park keeps us busy working through a myriads of Projects. It is with great satisfaction that our team starts to wind up the Flood Program and unveil the countless days, weeks and months of effort that has gone into the reinstatement and reconstruction of the Park’s assets. We look forward with anticipation to your feedback on the new designs, materials and final outcomes which have been built with a long term view in mind. This work has been lead by Andrew Roach and Kyle Hewitt who have ensured that presentation and sustainability has driven the decision making around any assets being reinstated. Huge credit goes to these 2 individuals and also the local walking track crews who have evolved and crafted their skills over the past 2 years to really be high quality track construction specialists. It is a sad thing to see them finish up on June 30 as there is always more work.

 

The Flood program has yielded some great outcomes for our environmental and cultural values in the park via a range of research and assessment projects. Possibly the most rewarding project we have initiated has been the engagement with Traditional Owners to come out on Country and get involved in protection works around important Cultural Sites in the Park. Parks Victoria has worked hard with our Traditional Owners to ensure all have access to employment opportunities as part of the recovery effort. It was great to have these important members of Gariwerd’s community active and engaged capably lead by Jake Goodes and Suzie Deason.

 

Environmentally our focus has been on measuring and assessing the impacts on our critical park values. Understanding Aquatic values, refugia, location and extent of Citrid and Cinnamon fungus, small Mammal Response to seasonal events and funding initiatives such as the incredibly important Museum Victoria Bioscan has been a huge undertaking in the past 2 years. The reward of these endeavours are longer term as we continue to learn about the park and adapt our management regimes accordingly. Knowledge is the key and as we all know, the moment you stop is the moment you should probably give up. This team has been ably lead by Ryan Duffy and Jacinta Williamson. Their commitment to getting the best outcomes has been faultless.

 

The theme of this update is really around the fact that all recovery requires an effort from a lot of people and the entire Grampians Team whether directly employed on Flood Projects or continuing on with normal business, have gone above and beyond due to the passion and commitment for this place and this community. The effort should be and will be acknowledged not through formal occasions or ceremony, but more importantly by the fact locals and people visiting our Park will be able to access fantastic features, on high quality infrastructure while continually learning more and more about what this park is and what it means to people. It really is easy being the Ranger in Charge of such an important Landscape and team when the people around you make it so rewarding.