From Our Very Busy Ranger In Chief

David Roberts, Area Chief Ranger, Grampians Gariwerd

Over the past 6-8 weeks, there have been many activities undertaken that have been very important to the Grampians National Park now and into the future.

Cleanup Australia Day Week – Grampians Style

A full week of activities was planned and undertaken by over 200+ volunteers, community members and Parks Victoria staff across the Grampians National Park and surrounding Reserves. The intent of the activities was to focus on the high visitor use areas and really promote the right behaviours expected when visitors visit our natural areas. There is a need to reinvigorate the message “leave no Trace” and we’d welcome any opportunity for FoGGS, and other volunteer forums to spread the message through all available forums.

Sallow Wattle “Mechanical Control”

The next phase of our Sallow Wattle control has been underway with the use of a mulching machine grooming semi mature wattle in the Rose’s Gap Area. The trial of different control techniques has included various chemical controls, manual cut & paste techniques and now mechanical. In the coming months we will also trial brushcutters with blades.

Nature Play Week  

Parks Victoria partnered with Victorian National Parks Association to run an activity in the School Holidays as part of Nature Play week. The activity centred around primary school aged kids and was well received. It is something we want to build on as we reinvigorate the Education Program in the Grampians.

Rock Cataloguing and Registration 

Parks Staff have been working with Ben Gunn (Cultural Heritage Consultant) to record and catalogue recently discovered Art sites across the Park. It is incredibly important to know what we have and where it is located so that our management decision are informed. These sites once recorded sit on the State-wide register that ensures future land managers have access to the information.

Fuel Reduction Burning 

There has been a concerted effort placed on preparing the nominated burn areas for treatment during Autumn and Winter 2016. As it stands, much of the forest fuels are still too dry to initiate our burn program. Some smaller burns will be undertaken around Stawell & Ararat where there are Asset and community protection objectives. We will continue to implement an expanded Winter burning program which allows us to run fire in the cooler conditions and achieve a greater mosaic of fuels across broad areas. This year we are also fortunate to be undertaking research and monitoring around Small Mammal presence with the Wannon River Catchment, Burning Prescription development for the western slopes of the Serra Range and the development of Key Fauna management tools for the Grampians with the Geometric Means of Abundance measure – a project which I’ll describe in more detail in the coming months.

 Grampians Peaks Trail  Alignment Planning

Has been progressing across the entire length of trail by Parks project officer and contractors. The scale and complexity of the task shouldn’t be underestimated as we transition from concept phase to feasibility to delivery.

Grazing Management 

A project has commenced in the Grampians assessing the impacts and populations dynamics of Goats as we move towards initiating a control program in the future. Monitoring of goat populations is 2/3 complete with the early data indicating that numbers are steadily increasing from previous counts in the late 2000’s. Our ultimate aim will be to establish partnerships with community based hunting groups (SSAA or Field & Game) to assist us in targeted control programs. Once a management program has been planned and implemented for Goats, our attention will move towards Deer.

Stapylton Camp Ground 

Post fire recovery works continue at the camp ground with all the road and track work complete. A contractor has been engaged to install all the fencing and park furniture with an objective to reopen the site ASAP upon completion.

From Our Ranger In Charge

Spring has sprung in the Grampians following a cold but surprising dry period. The Parks Staff have been steadily working on a number of initiatives that are worth updating you on:

  1. Fire recovery projects continue to be rolled out, with works complete and openings occurring at Smiths Mill camp ground and the day visitor site at Hollow Mountain. Both sites bore the full brunt of the Northern Grampians fire in January 2014 and following a period of asset renewal and environmental recovery, the areas are now accessible to visitors once again.
  1. Goat Control. The environmental team have been placing some priority on targeting goats along the Mt Difficult Range, Mt William Range and Black Range State Park. Remote cameras have been deployed along with increased surveillance which targets the shooting program and creates efficiency. The program will continue for the next 4 months.
  1. Asset improvement program. Capital upgrades to Lakeview and Sundial lookouts along with major upgrades in the Grand Canyon are nearing completion with an improved and long term outcome in place. The use of Stone has dominated all works complimented by stainless steel barriers at the Lookouts. It is great that we can get these jobs completed predominately using local skilled contractors and construction firms.
  1. Conservation Volunteers successfully managed the Grampians GreenArmy project finishing up in early September. The team of 10 young people capably worked throughout the Winter controlling Sallow Wattle, Boneseed and assisting in other Land Management activities over 22 weeks.

The Grampians National Park continues to provide plenty of challenges and rewards. We once again have a bigger than ever program which we will look to achieve with our committed team and passionate volunteer groups.

We welcome John Nankervis to the area as District Manager, replacing Graham Parkes after his retirement in February. John has 20+ years of Park management experience and is quickly getting to know the district, staff and stakeholders.

Regards,
David Roberts.

 

Grampians Peak Trail

You may remember that last year’s Winter newsletter had a long report on what was planned for this long distance walk and the FOGG response to the draft proposal. (We supported the trail in principle but were strongly against any building of lodges. All of this is still available on our webpage ). Since then work has continued, and funding announced for the complete trail. ($29 million including $19 million from the state and $10 million from the federal government). On 29 May the Premier came to Halls Gap to officially open Stage 1.

Stage One: Halls Gap to Borough Huts (3 days/2 nights)

This is a three day/two night loop walk from Halls Gap to Borough Huts covering a total of 19 kilometres for the return trip. The track leaves Halls Gap on the southern side of Stony Creek, past Venus baths towards Wonderland Carpark, which it bypasses, heads to the Pinnacle, across to Sundial carpark and then to Mt Rosea Carpark. From the carpark a realigned track takes walkers to Mt Rosea and then down to Borough huts. Walkers will return to Halls Gap along the eastern shore of Lake Bellfield on the existing track. The new 24 person capacity hiker campsite at Mount Rosea has been completed and is in use. A temporary  group camp is on Stony Creek Road close by while plans are worked out for a new one.

IMG_2250 IMG_2248 Bugiga toilets IMG_2244 IMG_2247I attended the official opening, and listened to all the worthy speeches. I’ve also visited the new campsite on several occasions and walked the first section.  And we are planning a FOGG visit there with Dave Roberts on July 24.

The next stage of the project will be extending the trail 13 km from Borough Huts towards Mount William.  (To create the whole trail will require the development of approximately 80km of new trail and the upgrade of 64km of existing trails.) A group of locals including some FOGG members and Advisory Group members is assisting Parks in deciding the best routes for the next sections.


 

The trail is generating quite a bit of media interest eg  A recent Age two page spread   (22/6/15) describes it as “A landmark 144-kilometre walking trail – which authorities hope will be a tourism magnet in the same manner as Tasmania’s famed Overland Track … With camp sites every 10-12 kilometres, the trail could take 13 days to walk….. While some will be remote, other camp grounds will be close to accommodation outside the park, meaning that walkers could sleep in a bed overnight in a comfortable venue if they prefer that to a sleeping bag. “

Chris Rose, acting chief executive of Parks Victoria, was quoted as saying the Grampians Peaks Trail would become an ‘‘icon walk’’ for Victoria, alongside the Great South West Walk in the south west and the Wilson’s Promontory circuit track.

‘‘The vision is to have a worldclass long-distance walk from the north of the Grampians to the south, or vice versa. And it’s a trail that can be jumped on or jumped off and tackled in one, two, three or four day sections. And for the very fit you could do the whole thing as one experience,’’ he said.

At this stage there have been no expressions of interest for built accommodation along the trail. We hope that remains the case. And the concerns remain about where the money for the upkeep of the trail will come from, and whether that money will come at the expense of other pressing needs of our Park.

From the Park Desk

David Roberts

I hope all Friends of the Grampians Gariwerd had a wonderful, safe and rewarding Christmas period. The Grampians National Park lived up to its reputation as a great holiday destination with crowds flocking to the area and enjoying the best we can offer. The team here were kept busy servicing the facilities, responding to visitor enquiries, providing customer service and trying to manage the huge crowds particularly through the central corridor.

Over these periods we are fortunate to have 2 additional Rangers join our team to assist in the increased workload. As always, the Grampians have attracted 2 excellent Summer Rangers, Amelia Travers and Matthew White, who are invaluable over the December and January period. They work across the range of our teams functions, provide weekend capacity for customer service and business continuity during periods of extreme weather and bushfires. We thank them in advance for their tireless efforts, initiative and maturity as we rely on them to keep our park ticking at a busy time for all.

I’d also like to highlight again and thank all of the Grampians Team for their continuing professionalism and commitment to the task in the face of emerging challenges. We have very capable people across the entire team who are passionate about the park and their respective roles. I could easily talk about them all, however I’d like to focus on a few key members of the team who go about their work with minimal fuss. The Visitor Facility and maintenance team led by Stewart Davidson and ably assisted by Lockeah Sabbo, continue to provide high standard servicing across the park estate to the ensure the 1million + visitors to the region go away satisfied with their Grampians Experience. We all know that a Clean toilet and having toilet paper is a simple thing, however it is often the element of the visit that supports the overall experience. Stewart and Lockeah with support from the team, continue to service all 12 camp grounds and multiple day visitor sites like MacKenzie Falls, Wonderland and Mt Zero, with little fuss and to a high standard. It is these often unsung members of the team that are the back bone of the operation that keeps the park going and people wanting to come back and experience our spectacular landscape.

As we progress through another long, hot dry summer period, I hope we can continue to stay safe, provide a valued community service and get through the next few months with minimal damage.

Update On The Grampians Peaks Trail

Margo Sietsma

Prior to the election both parties made firm commitments to the Trail, and it seems assured that the new government will honour the promise.

The plan is to start with upgrading and building in the popular area near Halls Gap. The first section of the walk starts by following Stony creek past Venus baths, with a new section linking to the Pinnacle track (so not going into the Wonderland Car Park). From the Pinnacle it heads towards Mt Rosea Carpark, with a hikers camp site about a kilometre before reaching the road and there will be a separate camp for groups on the other side of Siverband falls Rd.. The Advisory Group visited the site and I was most impressed. The setting is charming, in low forest with views across to the opposite range. All 12 sites are for a 2 person tent on an elevated timber pad with a timber boardwalk between the sites. There will be an open ended communal shelter with a bench down each side, also on a timber pad. This means that the footprint of the camp site should be kept to a minimum. There is also a toilet, but no fire place and no fires will be permitted. There is no water tank. Under each tent pad is a lockable locker. There will be quad bike access to the site, I am not sure whether there will be a locked gate. But Park staff will be able to easily clean the toilets, and empty them from time to time. Private contractors could support walkers by arranging to deliver tents and food and water so people walk with only a day pack. The VNPA are concerned about the communal shelters, but I think they are an excellent idea. Without them, I think groups of friends would clear areas of bush to sit communally. Also I think that making it comfortable and attractive to walkers will lessen the possibility of private lodges being erected, with an enormously larger footprint.

The walk will continue over Mt Rosea, past Borough Huts to a new campsite close to Redmans rd. They may trial a quite different campsite layout there and see what the feedback is. Each day’s walk will start by being wide enough for two people side by side, then narrow to single file.

There will be a fee to stay at the hiker camps along the trail and the Advisory Group recommended that it be kept affordable to all users.

Park Report – Dave Roberts, Ranger in Charge

A wet July and August in the Grampians has restored good flows to our creeks, rivers and wetlands and recharging an otherwise dry system.

Up until this time, park staffs were engaged in trial winter burning operations in the Wannon River heath, an area of the park long unburnt and known to house significant small mammal populations including Long Nose Potoroos & Southern Brown Bandicoots.  The objective of this experimental burning is to introduce fire at small scales into this landscape over a long period of time to help protect the old growth river frontage vegetation from large scale intense fire impacts. The results achieved to date have been mixed which is exactly what we need, some hot, some cool. Prior to the burn we undertook both fauna and flora monitoring to ensure we could assess and interpret the outcomes. It has been interesting to note the amount of diggings and foraging activity occurring in the freshly burnt areas. A camera set up in the most recent strip captured a very healthy Bandicoot scratching around.

Fire in the Grampians is more and more being viewed and used as an ecological process that should be applied to manage, protect and conserve. This may seem counter intuitive, but applied at the right time, in the right way, in the right place we can make progress towards reducing the impacts of large scale, damaging fires and promote a different fire regime based on ecological and risk principles. This is all about challenging our historic views of land management and requires support from our partners including the Department of Environment & Primary Industries, research partners including Deakin University, The University of Melbourne and the Arthur Rylah Institute.  Adaptive Management is the key to this and continuing to learn, improve and evaluate what we are doing is a major reason why we are optimistic about fire in the Grampians Landscape.

Parks Victoria wishes to past on our condolences to the Thompson Family for their recent loss. David was a passionate and tireless advocate of the Park and its establishment, whilst playing a very significant role in the FoGG’s over numerous decades. The recent memorial at Laharum was well attended and spoke volumes of the respect people from all walks of life had for David and his achievements.

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.

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.

CELEBRATING 100 YEARS OF ZUMSTEINS – 22 SEPTEMBER 2013

 

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 has 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.